By almost every measure, America's workplaces are becoming more informal.
Office dress codes are falling out of fashion as every day becomes casual Friday. Management is becoming flatter, with fewer levels of hierarchy and more openness between junior staffers and the top bosses. Formal business communication, once crafted and formatted to meticulous standards, have been replaced by emails or even text messages, which cut straight to the point.
Even office furniture has become more casual, with managers eschewing fancy corner offices to join the rest of the company in an open-office environment. Companies are creating more communal spaces allowing employees to perform their job duties in a more collaborative setting. But as we move into an even more relaxed workplace, it's worth stopping for a moment and trying to understand what's driving these changes.
One of the biggest factors centers on technology. When bosses relied on secretarial pools to type letters needing to be sent across town by bicycle messenger, it was natural they would end up writing in a more formal language. But as managers started getting their own desktop computers in the 1980s, then their own email accounts in the 1990s, business communication started to become more direct and less formal.
Today, as we all tap out messages on smartphones waiting in line at Starbucks, the idea of writing "to whom it may concern" or "with warmest regards" seems trite. Employees now use direct messages and large group chats to get work done efficiently, sharing ideas easily and transparently. New workplace tools like Slack™ are effectively erasing the line between idle chatter and serious business dialect, a trend which will only accelerate as more of these tools find mainstream use within the office.
The physical layout of the office itself has also been affected by technology. Laptops, tablets and smartphones have made it easier for people to work away from their desks, leading to more casual collaboration in conference rooms, at cafeteria tables, or in common areas outfitted with comfy sofas and overstuffed chairs. These everyday pieces of furniture are now being designed with built-in electrical panels featuring USB ports and AC outlets for plugging in and working wherever you choose.
Another factor is changes to the American economy. The more formal workplaces of the past were driven by traditional jobs like manufacturing. With more workers in today's businesses doing creative jobs, such as designing software, it's natural that their office environments would be more casual and even fun to help spark creativity. It's no coincidence that more traditional workplaces, such as banks, are still among the most formal office designs around. The trend is clear, too. Whether they're based in Silicon Valley- or North Carolina's Research Triangle Park - these new creative-class businesses are shaping tomorrow's economy. Even companies not focused on this kind of work are taking notice and evolving their workspaces in hopes of attracting the brightest applicants.
The final major factor is demographics. Millennials are the most racially diverse generation in American history, with higher levels of skepticism toward traditional hierarchies and institutions than the generations before them. With millennials becoming the largest share of the workforce, these trends will only accelerate, as this new generation has little patience for unnecessary formality. They have grown up using social media, smart phones, email and chat programs which encourage the informality already taking root in workplaces globally. Their numbers in the job market will continue to increase, further affecting evolutionary changes within our business environments.
The truth is, it's Millennials who readily adapt to and employ the use of technology. They don't want to spend 30+ years working in the same stuffy cubicle. And they are drawn to a higher purpose during their working years. This generation has been able to chip away at the mold of corporate America, while still finding and defining their place within it.
The American workplace has already become more casual than it used to be. But it's going to become even more informal in the years to come. Will you be ready?
Blake Zalcberg is president of OFM, a family-run office and school furniture manufacturer and distributor headquartered in North Carolina with distribution centers there and in Arizona, California, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and Washington state. For more than twenty years, it has provided affordable and quality furniture through a nationwide dealer network, offering the latest concepts and designs to businesses, and government, health care and educational facilities. Working with manufacturers in Mexico, Taiwan and China, OFM designs furniture to meet the highest industry standards which are sold through a variety of retailers, mail-order catalogs, and online dealers including Staples, Wayfair, Overstock, and National Business Furniture. To learn more about OFM, visit: http://www.ofminc.com