When it comes to gender, all things are not equal in the workplace - but not necessarily in the conventional way. Here, we explore why office decor is more important to men than women - and why they are more interested in flexible working than their female colleagues. We also consider why gender is still a key concern for women today and what this means for office design.

It’s perhaps not remarkable that men and women have different priorities when it comes to their working environment. However, according to our survey of 2,500 European office workers, they are experiencing the emergence of ‘Worklife’ - link to previous blog ‘What is Worklife and why does it matter?’ - in quite different ways.

In fact, it seems that men are feeling the pressure of Worklife - their commitments at work and in other areas of life - more acutely than women. Many are frustrated about not being able to dedicate enough time to their hobbies and extra-curricular interests, compared to women.

Men are feeling the pressure of Worklife more acutely than women.
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Contrary to popular belief, perhaps, men are also more interested than women in having more ‘flexibility’ in the workplace. According to our research, they are nearly twice as likely to work from home as women - with over half of men reporting to do so.

Maybe this is because they are also much more likely to work overtime than women across all the countries participating in the survey - with the exception on the Swedes, where women are shouldering the pressure of additional hours.

Office vs home working

There seems to be big differences in home working habits between the genders and the various countries too. For instance, a staggering 65% of Dutch men work remotely - compared to a mere 40% of Frenchmen. Perhaps Dutch men are striving to fit in more time for their hobbies by avoiding the daily commute, with congested roads being a recognised issue in the Netherlands.

 

Meanwhile, German women are the least likely to work from the kitchen table, with only a quarter operating in this way. With Germany showing the lowest figures for home working among both men and women, perhaps this demonstrates that ‘working from home’ is less accepted in this country than some of the others. Or, perhaps, the Germans simply prefer to focus at their desks - in the office.

In fact, regardless of gender - or nationality - the office is definitely here to stay. In short, this is where the majority of men and women are most productive and prefer to get stuck-in when busy. Equally, given the choice, both sexes want to be able to close the door of their own office. However, men are more likely to have this wish granted than their female colleagues with over 40% able to work in peace, compared to 36% of women.

Zooming in on some of the differences between genders in the different countries, tells a more colourful story though. In Sweden, for instance, nearly half of women have their own office, compared to 44% of men. This in stark difference to British workers where only around a fifth of women and men can enjoy the same privilege. Here, the majority work in an open plan environment. In fact, for British men this is their ‘office of choice’, while all the other Europeans would rather have their own space.

 

Another interesting finding is that although so many Swedish women have a dedicated room, nearly a third of them still opt to work from home when they are under pressure. This is likely to reflect the fact that ‘home working’ has been culturally accepted for decades with great IT infrastructure and high-speed internet making it a very efficient way of getting through the to do list - a top priority perhaps for industrious Swedes.

Considering the implications for office design, our study indicates that while home and remote working is likely to increase in popularity, a dedicated office space remains relevant for both men and women across all the countries. However, so called ‘hot desking’ has never really quite taken off with employees on the whole wanting a their own space in the office that they can personalise and call ‘theirs’. This presents a challenging brief for architects and designers to create spaces which offer enough flexibility - and stability - for employees to thrive, while being commercially viable for businesses as workers come and go during the week.

Workplace worries & key looks

When it comes to what the two genders are concerned about in the office, men and women’s opinions diverge. They both agree that noise is what gets under their skin the most, however while uninspirational decor is men’s second biggest bugbear, women are more concerned about indoor air quality.

In fact, nearly half of all men agreed that their office ‘functions well, but doesn’t look great’ while only just over two fifths of women feel the same way. German men it would seem, are particularly critical of their working environment with 64% complaining about the decor, while Dutch women are the most contented with 58% of them agreeing that their office ‘looks great and functions well’.

This either suggests that Dutch offices are particularly well designed, keeping up with current trends - or that Dutch women are less concerned about the look and feel over all.

Nearly half of all men agreed that their office ‘functions well, but doesn’t look great’ while only 42% of women felt the same way.
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When asked what kind of environment they are looking for, the most popular choice was a ‘modern Scandinavian’ look and feel for both sexes and across all the different markets. Women then put a ‘collaborative and homely’ theme as their second choice.

Creating a ‘home from home’ with informal spaces could reflect a desire for a dedicated area at work to catch-up with colleagues - something highlighted as a potential issue for women. Nearly twice as many women (12%) as men stated that ‘there isn’t a suitable place’ to meet their work friends in the office. These types of informal chats and time out with colleagues are key to employee wellbeing and should be an essential consideration for any commercial scheme.

By contrast, men favoured a ‘corporate-style’ office in steel and glass suggesting a more formal and traditional view of the workplace. However, neither gender was taken with the ‘Googlesque’ adult-playground style environment so popular a couple of years ago. This implies that perhaps practical considerations are more important for both men and women than having a ‘whizzy’ space with hammocks and slides.

Wellbeing & mental health; top office priorities

‘Wellbeing’ was identified as the most important organisational priority for both sexes followed by mental health suggesting that there is still plenty for businesses to do in this area. As employees are becoming increasingly aware of the potential toll the office environment can have on both their physical and psychological health, they are demanding more from their employers.

And, as the results of this survey show, what those needs are depends on a range of criteria including where the office is located - and the profile of the individuals who work there. That said, with noise identified as the top concern for everyone, improving acoustics and creating quiet breakout spaces away from the hubbub of the main office would be universal adjustments that would improve the environment for most people.

However, in terms of organisational concerns, this is where the similarities between the genders end. Men put the environment as their third issue while women ranked this in fifth place. For female respondents, gender equality remains a key priority.

Little wonder perhaps as the survey indicates that while over half of men feel able to ‘be themselves and meet their full potential at work’, only 44% of women agreed. Instead, they felt more ‘ambivalent about work’ (27%).

What is clear, is that fit-for-purpose and well-designed spaces are important to both men and women. And, that it’s essential to create flexible working conditions with a variety of different spaces on offer to allow both genders to work how, when and where they need to - for the benefit of everyone.

To find out more about the differences - and similarities - between the sexes, download The Great Indoors Index.

Rethinking Workplace - Part I
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Anette Timmer EMEA Marketing Director Carpets/Workplace

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