From amenities to flexibility, here's what tech companies need to prioritize in a working environment to stay competitive. Courtesy of HOK

Nowhere is the rapid pace of change more apparent than in the tech sector. Fierce competition for talent, an evolving regulatory environment, and mounting privacy and data security challenges confront both well-established tech leaders and startups, forcing them to continuously adapt and innovate.

Companies that succeed in this hyper-competitive market have two things in common: workforces and workspaces that can pivot to address new demands and business models. In a recent report titled HOK Forward: Tech Workplace Takes Center Stage, HOK explored the impact tech industry challenges are having on the office space and examined design solutions that can make these spaces more responsive and successful.

The report found that workplace flexibility is key when it comes to spurring innovation and collaboration. So too is personalization. Each company's ideal environment should reflect its culture, work style, mobility profiles, and business goals and be continually re-evaluated as the organization grows.

Five workplace trends that are gaining popularity in the tech sector include:

  • Activity-Based Workplaces (ABW) – This office concept encourages movement and empower people to select the right space for the job at hand. ABW environments are typically designed to serve four major work functions: solo work, collaboration, learning, and socializing and rejuvenation. These spaces work nicely for organizations that are market-oriented in organizational structure.
  • Neighborhood-based Choice Environments (NCE) – A variation of the ABW model, these spaces create a neighborhood or home for teams to operate out of while still allowing people to have access to a variety of work settings. These spaces are ideal for organizations that are team-based and mobile, but seek to build community.
  • Agile Environments – Scrum spaces where project-based teams from different business groups or departments can gather to collaborate on special projects. These spaces are helpful for team-based organizations that desire belonging and community, as they are highly interactive and collaborative.
  • Maker Environments for Mobile Occupants (MEMO) – These spaces are emerging in sectors where rapid development is key. They encourage experimentation and group work in entrepreneurial environments with flat organizational structures.
  • Immersive Environments – These spaces pull the best lessons learned from ABW, NCE, agile environments and MEMO and tailor them to meet the specific needs of a company to create custom spaces.

These creative approaches meld the needs of an evolving workforce with the needs of the organization. But attracting talent extends far beyond the work styles accommodated. So, how can tomorrow's tech workplace attract and retain top talent?

Amenities play a critical role. Amenity offerings should be diverse and speak to the culture of an organization. Nap pods, wellness rooms, medical clinics and maker spaces are benefits gaining popularity in the tech industry and beyond. These amenities speak to a workforce that values convenience, works hard and finds inspiration in unique ways.

Smart workplaces are gaining popularity in the technology sector. Complete with multiple sensors that track office use—such as how often a space is used and the peak times of activity within a communal space—this advanced technology can help building owners and operators optimize a space and better understand which kinds of environments are in demand.

In addition to leveraging data, tech workplaces are on the cusp of merging the digital realm with physical space. This move towards seamless technology that anticipates behavior and needs and creates immersive experiences has the potential to transform the work experience. At the center of this evolution should be a commitment to engaging, equipping, and empowering individuals to excel, which requires developing flexible, technology-infused space solutions that accommodate a growing diversity of work styles, preferences and personalities.

The tech industry's increased focus on the human experience—from amenities to immersive technology—can be applied to workplaces in other sectors. While the next big technological advancement isn't set in stone, one thing is certain: Companies that wish to remain competitive and responsive in the future will need workplaces with the flexibility and personalization that allow their people to gather, connect, innovate, and simply be their best.

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Amy English is the director of interiors for HOK.

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Houston SaaS startup closes $12M series A funding round with support from local VC

money moves

A Houston startup with a software-as-a-service platform for the energy transition has announced it closed a funding round with participation from a local venture capital.

Molecule closed its $12 million series A, and Houston-based Mercury Fund was among the company's investors. The company has a cloud-based energy trading and risk management solution for the energy industry and supports power, natural gas, crude/refined products, chemicals, agricultural commodities, softs, metals, cryptocurrencies, and more.

"We led the seed round of Molecule upon their formation and are excited to participate in their series A," says Blair Garrou, co-founder and managing director of Mercury, in a news release. "Molecule's success in the ETRM/CTRM industry, especially in relation to electricity and renewables, positions them as the company to beat for the energy transition in the 2020s."

The company will use its new funds to further build out its product as well as introduce offerings to manage renewables credits, according to the release.

"In 2020, we realized that electricity — the growth commodity of the 2020s — represented over half of Molecule's customer base, and we decided to double down," says Sameer Soleja, founder and CEO of Molecule, in the release. "We were also rated the No. 1 SaaS ETRM/CTRM vendor. With this fundraise, we have the fuel to become No. 1 SaaS platform for power and renewables, and then the market leader overall.

"Molecule is ready to power the energy transition," Soleja continues.

Molecule's last round of funding closed in November 2014. The $1.1 million seed round was supported by Mercury Fund and the Houston Angel Network.

Houston-based afterlife planning startup launches new app

there's an app for that

The passing of a loved one is followed with grief — and paperwork. A Houston company that's simplifying the process of afterlife planning and decision making is making things even easier with a new smartphone app.

The Postage, a digital platform meant to ease with affair planning, recently launched a mobile app to make the service more accessible following a particularly deadly year. The United States recorded 3.2 million fatalities — the most deaths in its history, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After losing three family members back-to-back, Emily Cisek dealt first hand with the difficulty of wrapping up a loved one's life. She saw how afterlife planning interrupted her family's grieving and caused deep frustration. Soon, she began to envision a solution to help people have a plan and walk through the process of losing someone.

The Postage, which launched in September, provides a platform for people to plan their affairs and leave behind wishes for loved ones. The website includes document storage and organization, password management, funeral and last wishes planning, and the option to create afterlife messages to posthumously share with loved ones.

"Right now, as it stands ahead of this app, end-of-life planning is really challenging. It's this daunting thing you have to sit down and do at your computer," says Cisek. Not only is it "daunting," but it's time-consuming. According to The Postage, families can expect to spend nearly 500 hours on completing end-of-life details if there is no planning done in advance.

With more than 74 percent of The Postage's web traffic coming from mobile users, an app was a natural progression. In fact, Entrepreneur reports the average person will spend nine years on their mobile device. Cisek wanted to meet users where they are at with a user-friendly app that includes the same features as the desktop website.

"What we wanted to do [with the app] is make it so easy to plan your life and the end of your life using one click — as easy as it was for posting and commenting on social media," explains Cisek. "People are so used to reflecting on those behaviors and clicking one button to add a picture ... we wanted to make it that simple," she continued.

Cisek and her team focused on providing a "seamless experience" within the app, which took approximately four months to build, which mirrors the desktop platform.

Though The Postage's website had mobile functionality, the app includes the ability to record and upload content. Whether snapping a picture of their insurance policy or recording a video to share with loved ones, The Postage app allows users to capture photos and videos directly within the app.

After snapping a picture, "the next step inherently is sharing it with your loved ones," says Cisek. Photos, family recipes and videos can easily be shared securely with loved ones who accept your invitation to The Postage so "that legacy continues on," she says.

Since The Postage's fall launch, the company has grown a steady base of paid subscribers with plans to expand.

"We're really starting to change the way people plan for the future," says Cisek.