Portland, Where Young People Go To … Work? Building a Hipster Friendly Work Environment

It has been said that Portland is where America’s youth goes to retire.  Our coffee, beer, and bike culture has made Portland the destination of choice for the highly educated and unemployed. Though some may malign their ironic glasses, these hipsters are mobile, collaborative and very creative, making them excellent potential employees.

Many companies see the value of recruiting from this pool of available, talented and plaid wearing workers, but are leery of how these new employees will change their culture.

Here are 10 ways your company can get on board with the hipster movement and make your work environment better for everyone.

  1. Embrace the “strange.”  All too often businesses write dress codes, email etiquette, and performance expectations that are antiquated.  Asking employees to cover their “Muppets for Life” tattoos, not only stifles creativity, but also forces an “us vs. them” mindset.
  2. Allow for “zoning out time.”  Brains can’t handle more than a few hours of information before they start to sputter out.  Allowing individuals time to play pool, grab coffee, or discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones, shows employees that you respect their need to re-charge.
  3. Beer, its what’s for lunch.  Deciding to allow alcohol is not for every work environment.  However, if your business can, think of the message it sends: We trust you and believe that you can have fun and work hard…and we want you to.  Pass the PBR.
  4. Express yourself.  Many businesses have moved from cubicles to open concepts to allow for more collaboration.  The downside of this model is that individuals are often less expressive in their workspace.  Make sure individuals feel free to jazz up their desk…within reason.
  5. Smartphones for everyone!  People love gadgets, so loosen up your tech rules. Allowing personal use of technology (that doesn’t violate any ethical or legal rules of course), says to employees, “We want you to utilize the latest technology to work hard for us…and to watch Keyboard Cat and take selfies.”
  6. Encourage activity.  Getting your employees active has tons of benefits like reduced absenteeism, reduction of benefit costs, and better productivity. Encourage bike to work programs, reimburse gym costs, and let employees flex their time to take a Bikram Yoga class.  These small accommodations reap huge rewards.
  7. Flex time is the right time.  People don’t only do their best work from 9am to 5pm. Allow flexibility in when and how people work. For some jobs, adherence to a schedule is critical, but even for those, try to find ways to allow for flexibility.
  8. Look cool.  Make your work environment somewhere people want to be.  Are there cozy spots in which to sit and gather?  Is the lighting good?  Do people cringe when they see your Thomas Kincade paintings? Take design seriously, because even if your employees don’t have an eye for color, they know what they hate.
  9. Allow for interactions, and force it if needed.  The Millennial generation has been working in teams ever since they left the peewee soccer field, so working collaboratively comes natural to many.  If people are not naturally mixing, find ways to make it happen.  It may feel forced at first, but eventually they will naturally gather… if only to complain about you forcing them.
  10. Encourage mistakes.  It’s been a tough economic road for workers; and because of that, many people may have limited or non-existent work experience.  That lack of experience coupled with the desire to make an impression can lead to missteps. Be okay with mistakes, allow for them and celebrate them.  A company that doesn't allow people to take risks or make mistakes becomes stagnant.

Creating an environment that allows for creativity, recognizes individuality, and allows for flexibility doesn’t just benefit the young and hip, it makes the work environment better for everyone. Even the tragically uncool.

How is your organization changing the workspace to accommodate these new employees?