By Kristin Bentley

There is a link between the quality and function of a workplace and the level of innovation that employees attribute to their companies, according to San Francisco-based architecture and design firm Gensler’s U.S. Workplace Survey 2016.

In order to better understand how and where work is being performed today, the role design plays into employee performance and innovation as well as gauge workplace effectiveness and functionality, Gensler surveyed a panel-based sample of more than 4,000 U.S. office workers in 11 industries.

we have seen how tech companies really push the envelope, in terms of what they are doing with the workplace

According to Susana Covarrubias, a design director and principal for Gensler Seattle, the companies that scored the highest in terms of being innovative were tech companies. “This really isn’t very surprising because we have seen how tech companies really push the envelope, in terms of what they are doing with the workplace,” said Covarrubias. “For instance, Microsoft has neighborhoods were they work in groups of 15 people. Then they also have rooms for playing games, non-tech rooms for relaxing and open workspaces. The point is that the employer is giving its employees a whole variety of different spaces, where they can work, socialize or collaborate.”

The respondents of the survey ranged in age from 20 to 70, were in differing roles in the workplace for companies of various sizes and were geographically scattered across the U.S. “It was interesting because we found that geography, gender and generation did not give much difference in their responses,” added Covarrubias. “This really surprised me because we talk about how different the newer generations are, the millennials and Generation X. But the responses were all very similar, when it comes to determining spaces that are more conducive for innovative companies.”

The survey received a high level of feedback; 85 percent of those who were sent surveys responded. Of these respondents, 7.9 percent were from small towns in rural areas, 28.6 percent were from suburban towns and 63.5 percent were from cities. Geographically, 20.7 percent were from the west coast, 22.3 percent were from the midwest, 31.4 percent were from the south and 25.6 percent were from the northeast.

According to Gensler’s report, which summarized the findings of the survey, the nature of work and the workplace are facing significant paradigm shifts. The report states that unemployment has dropped since the firm’s last U.S. survey in 2013, however, workforce participation is at its lowest levels since 1978. The report also states that over two-thirds of the workforce is disengaged, and that workplace stress is on the rise, afflicting eight out of 10 employees. Due to this, companies may be struggling to attract and retain good talent, as emerging technologies and co-working trends may empower workers to step out of the traditional corporate structure to become freelance consultants. Forty percent of the U.S. workforce is estimated to be independently employed by 2020, says the same report.

For the majority of the U.S. workforce, disengagement and stress may be compounded by the physical work environment, which continues to challenge productivity and innovation, says Gensler’s report. Smaller desks and less privacy may be the norms for many at work today, at a time when continued urban migration may be forcing many into smaller living situations as well. Other workplace trends may also be compounding the issue, such as a rise in virtual or technology-enabled collaboration that may require new ways of working that many organizations may struggle to support, concludes the report.