by Lauren Brousell

8 cutting-edge workplaces that millennials will love

Jun 18, 2015
CareersIT Jobs

These eight large companies ditched the boring old cubicles for modern, open workspaces in an effort to both attract new millennial workers and retain key existing employees.

Only 35 percent of millennials are attracted to large, global companies, according to a recent survey from Deloitte. One reason why is that millennials would rather work at smaller startups and fledgling tech companies, because their offices don’t look or feel like the traditional, uninspiring “Office Space”-esque workspaces of old. Instead, millennials are attracted to companies that create innovative, stylish and modern workspaces infused with the latest technologies. Some traditional companies are catching on and creating innovative workspaces of their own. Here are eight examples of large, established organizations that are changing the face of the “old school” workplace.

CBRE Workplace360 and first-come, first-serve desks

CBRE is a Fortune 500 real-estate services and investment company founded in the early 1900s. After the company gave its European offices a modern redesign, CBRE’s U.S. division began the Workplace360 initiative to rethink the design and function of its Chicago headquarters, as well as its offices in other select locations.

Many CBRE employees are constantly on the move due to client meetings, so they don’t have designated desks. Desk selection is first-come, first-serve. Workers connect their laptops to Wi-Fi and use wireless keyboards, mice and dual-screen monitors, and the desk phones can be set to use workers’ specific phone numbers. The conference rooms use flat-screen technology from Oblong Industries on the walls so presenters can drag windows from screen to screen.

Lisa Konieczka, CBRE executive vice president and head of the Workplace360 technology committee, says the initiative is not only meant to attract and retain millennials, but also Gen X-ers and Boomers. “We need to be progressive, we can’t stay in the past,” Konieczka says. “If you haven’t thought about your space, you’re a lot farther behind the curve than you realize.”

Out-of-this-world offices at NASA’s JPL

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., already has a notable cool factor, thanks to an onsite museum, coffee shops and the occasional Mars rover rolling around, but the agency also recently spiced up some of its offices. The JPL has an “IT petting zoo” where employees can tinker with new consumer technologies such as Google Glass, 3D printers or Oculus Rift VR headsets. And JPL created a space it calls “The Hub,” which has modern couches, chairs and group workspaces, as well as an IT information desk and various tech toys for the staff to play with.

JPL [employs] some brilliant people, and today they get 400 emails a day,” says CTO Tom Soderstrom. “They are distracted every five seconds with bells ringing and meeting reminders.”

So the IT department is experimenting with a concept called “Brain 2.0,” as part of which employees would have uninterrupted time to think, no matter where they are. For example, employees could wear Oculus Rift headsets for quiet think-time while looking at a beach scene using augmented reality.

Urban innovation at Staples Velocity Lab

Office-supply company Staples is based in suburban Framingham, Mass., but when the company wanted to expand its ecommerce and technology footprint, it opened innovation- and collaboration-focused offices in one of the state’s urban technology centers: Kendall Square in the city of Cambridge, just across the Charles River from Boston. The Staples Velocity Lab opened in 2012 , and it operates like a startup, using nearby resources from MIT and Oracle. It also hosts hackathons.

The 60 Velocity Lab employees work on apps designed to provide a seamless shopping experience online and in stores, including the Staples mobile website and mobile app, and the in-store kiosk systems. The space features a large café, collaboration areas with couches, private meeting rooms with glass windows and plenty of bulletin and white boards.

Staples also recently opened a development center in Seattle (shown above) to attract more ecommerce and software engineering talent. The new facility, which currently houses 75 employees, allows pets, and has a conference room with a garage door and a wide-open layout.

School gets cool at EF Education First

EF Education First, an international education company with 500 schools in 53 countries, opened its redesigned headquarters in Boston last year.The office features a cascading staircase and has 16 different types of flexible workspaces, including soundproof phone rooms and boardroom-style meeting spaces on each of its 10 floors.

Half of the office’s meeting spaces have walls with IdeaPaint, a writable and erasable surface, and Cisco videoconference tools. Other meeting rooms have Apple TVs, Chromecasts and flat screen displays to stream and present content, as well as smart glass technology that goes from clear to opaque with the flip of a light switch. The company also has a Hubway bike rental station, an onsite restaurant, a salon, and it plans to open a fitness center later this year.

Interactive, international collaboration at Dentsu Aegis

Collaboration used to be a real challenge for digital marketing and communications firm Dentsu Aegis, which has 27,000 employees across five continents and 24 time zones. So the company installed videoconferencing collaboration technology from Oblong Industries in its conference rooms in London, New York and Tokyo. The Oblong system let Dentsu Aegis staff see the same screens wirelessly, on any device, and remote workers can swipe through and mark up content. The company also built breakout areas with couches and chairs, and new kitchens where groups can grab snacks.

KPMG’s innovative ‘Ignition Centers’

U.S. audit, tax and advisory firm, KPMG, calls its new high-tech, idea labs “Ignition Centers.” The first one is based in Denver, Colo., and the company aims to eventually bring on 125 employees to fill positions in data science, enterprise architecture, application programming, solution development and IT integration.

The Denver Ignition Center does not have offices; instead it has an open layout with standing, adjustable desks, whiteboards and meeting tables that resemble restaurant booths. KPMG’s desks have two monitors, and they can be raised, lowered and moved around on wheels. The company has a second Ignition Center in Grand Rapids, Mich. and two more are planned for Atlanta and San Diego.

Fashionable, functional offices at LPL Financial

LPL Financial had employees spread across several buildings in San Diego. In an effort to unite those workers and encourage greater productivity, the company moved them into a single, modernized building.LPL installed ergonomic desks that can be adjusted for sitting or standing, HD videoconference tools with multiple screens and cameras, and an open layout that provides an outside view for 94 percent of its workspaces.

Sara Nomellini, senior vice president of real estate at LPL, says the redesign helps engage existing employees, and attract and retain millennials. “Millennials want to work someplace where they are proud of their company. Demonstrating that appreciation of them and creating a productive and comfortable workspace contributes to that.”

Western Union’s modernizes Denver, San Francisco offices

(Editor’s note: This slide has been modified to correct an error that referred to new features in Western Union’s San Francisco office. The features are actually in its Denver office. Changes are marked in bold.)

Western Union is a 164-year old money-transfer company that’s trying to modernize, and it redesigned its offices as part of the effort. The company’s headquarters in Denver, Colo., used to have traditional cubicles, and open areas for group work were few and far between. So Western Union revamped the Denver office, and also opened a new space in San Francisco for the company’s digital business.

Today the Denver location has an open area called “Mediascape,” with tables and couches so employees can plug in, share screens and use a nine-monitor jumbo screen for presentations. The Denver offices also feature screens that show real-time social media feeds and scrolling facts about company history; an onsite help desk called the “Wunderbar,” modeled after Apple’s “Genius Bars;” and a customer-experience center where workers can tinker with technology platforms and listen to customer service calls.