Back to school? What employers can learn from universities about working environments - Spaceoasis

Research & Thinking

Not just a pretty room…Our research-informed design means every aspect of every space is there for a reason. Our spaces aren’t just beautiful, they work brilliantly. Here we share our research and thinking to help shape your ideas.

Back to school? What employers can learn from universities about working environments


Universities have been forced to think long and hard about the role their environments play, both in attracting and retaining students and delivering a high quality learning experience. With the advent of tuition fees the relationship between universities and students has fundamentally changed; students have become ‘customers’ with high expectations.

Combine this shift with the proliferation of mobile technology and the demand for graduates with soft skills and you begin to see the challenge universities are facing. Where this becomes relevant to employers is in graduate expectations of the workplace.

Young people entering the workplace expect a flexible landscape that is relaxed and adaptive

“In a bid to attract students we are seeing more “high-end” fabrics being specified into Higher Education installations, with an emphasis on wool or wool blends and sustainable fabrics,” comments Catherine Counsell, Design and Development Manage for Camira. “Since the introduction of tuition fees students’ expectations have risen, resulting in changes in campus layouts and improved accommodation. As young people are entering the workplace, they expect a similar environment to the one they experienced at university, namely a flexible landscape which is relaxed and adaptive.”



Students now expect to be offered a range of flexible work areas that accommodate mobile technology, with charging points and wifi, allowing them to work alone or in groups. They expect to be able to choose how and where to work, whether that’s at a table, a touchdown bar, inside a pod, slouched on bean bag or comfy on a sofa. Access to frothy coffee is now pretty much de rigeur too. And when they start work, they are looking for the same flexibility and choice.

Many universities draw inspiration from innovative workspaces, in a bid to create ‘real world’ environments that prepare their students for working life. Being able to collaborate, think creatively, work independently are highly prized skills that can only be developed in a flexible environment.


The battle for talent

Just as universities compete for the best students, employers compete to attract the brightest graduates and environment has an increasingly important role to play. Having been ‘customers’ at university and invested considerable sums into their education, today’s graduates bring their high expectations with them to the workplace. Smart firms are recognising that offering a variety of attractive places in which to work, that enable movement throughout the day and encourage collaboration, can put them ahead of their competition when it comes to choosy graduates. When deciding between job offers, a great environment can have more sway than salary. Charities in particular recognize this, and invest in their workspaces as a way to win great people despite paying less than commercial rivals.


A flexible and adaptive environment does far more than simply appeal to entitled 21 year-olds. Attracting and retaining talent at all levels is made easier when your people enjoy being at work and recognise that you’re investing in their wellbeing. Adaptive, varied environments also strengthen cross-company networks and facilitate the cross-fertilisation of ideas that sparks innovation. It seems that universities are the font of all knowledge in more ways than one.




Three ways to transform your workspace

  • Embrace the liberation afforded by mobile technology and wireless access – you don’t need to be tethered to your desk any more, try group tables, desks and single-person booths with lockers for storage of personal effects.
  • Install informal soft seating areas, they have an extraordinarily uplifting effect and they are great for informal meetings.
  • Pods make brilliant breakout and brainstorming areas, especially if you specify dry-wipe screens inside and out, with touchdowns around the outside. It’s a fast way to create an additional space without calling in the builders.