Designing for Four Generations in One Workplace
People start a career earlier, live longer and retire later. All these trends resulted in something truly fascinating — for the first time in history, offices accommodate up to four generations at once. No wonder everyone is talking about ‘multigenerational workplace’ and ‘generation gap’ — and we are no exception. With so many different people sharing the same workplace, designing one becomes quite challenging (and exciting). So, how do you create an office that fits the needs of baby boomers, Gen Z’ers and everyone in between?
Despite today's hype around the multigenerational workplace, the issue itself is not new. It started a decade ago when millennials entered the global workforce. Back then, it was three generations coexisting in one office. But baby boomers aren’t retiring as fast as everyone expected them to, while young Gen Z’ers are joining the ranks of the global workforce already. So, now we are dealing with four generations. What makes them different in terms of working habits and preferences?
‘For the first time in history, offices accommodate up to four generations at once.’
A closer look at generations
Each generation went through some significant events in human history. These social or technological developments shaped their perception of the world, in one way or another. Generation X experienced corporate lay-offs, while millennials grew on the wave of multiculturalism. As a result, their working attitude, expectations and career needs are different. Let’s consider the most striking differences to understand how to address them in workplace design.
The dominant generation
Nowadays, millennials comprise one-third of the global workforce. This generation will make up a majority of employees in the upcoming years — and inevitably shape the workplace to their needs. So, how does a millennial-proof office look like?
‘By 2025, millennials will account for 75% of the global workforce.’
First and foremost, it’s all about experience. Job satisfaction and productivity of this generation directly relate to their working environment, that should be experiential rather than transactional. millennials demonstrate the need to build a personal connection with their workplace and co-workers alike. That’s why they are eager to cooperate and value teamwork a lot.
Gen Z enters the stage
Unlike their predecessors, Gen Z’ers can be rather described as loners at work. They are not so open to brainstorming in a team and prefer to come up with their own ideas first. While ‘born with a smartphone in hands’ may sound too extreme, this generation does prefer virtual communication over face-to-face talks.
Both millennials and Gen Z’ers show high interest in the employer’s mission. These generations also want it to correlate with their personal values. Since Gen Z’ers are deeply concerned about sustainability, they expect the same from their employers. Providing an eco-friendly workplace and committing to social causes would be appealing for this young generation. As an employer, you cannot count on their inherent loyalty — you should earn it. All this makes the young generations harder to attract and retain, than their parents.
‘64% of millennials consider social and environmental commitments of potential employers before choosing one.’
For younger millennials and Gen Z’ers, the office is a social hub where they would stay for after-hour drinks or engage in communal activities. Older employees have different priorities. Gen X, for instance, often feels the lack of time balancing their personal and professional life. Convenience is a top priority for them. Proximity to home, in-office gym and childcare matter to them much more than a game room and after-work activities.
There’s also an interesting similarity between Gen X and Gen Z — they both prefer to work independently. However, there is much more that makes them different. Baby boomers, Gen X and the older millennials choose to spend a lot of time at work. Some of them explain it by the fact that they have too many distractions at home, others are just used to the traditional forms of employment. You cannot say the same about younger millennials and Gen Z’ers, who are big fans of remote employment.
‘Three-quarters of managers say that they have millennials or Gen Z’ers on board working mostly remotely.’
Younger generations prefer to do concentrated work elsewhere — at home, in co-working hubs or coffee shops. For them, an office became a place for collaboration and social interactions. It has to be fun and inspiring and definitely not something mandatory. Gen Z’ers will only come to the office because they want to, not because they have to.
Multigenerational office design
With all the differences in mind, it is important to understand that we are talking in generalities here. Every person has a unique personality and traits that go beyond the generational profile. Company culture is also a powerful source of influence. So, it’s rather a sum of factors that defines the workplace experience employees are going through. And there’s surely no fit-for-all solution when it comes to workplace design. So why trying to impose it? Let people decide for themselves where and how they want to work.
Multigenerational design = flexible design
Multigenerational design basically means making the workplace flexible. If people want to collaborate, they should have a place to do so. When someone is looking for a private corner, they should be able to find it. Flexible office starts with providing a variety of working and breakout areas, adding modular furniture and ultimately giving employees control over their working environment. Letting people choose where and how they want to work is the only way to keep everyone satisfied and engaged.
What matters to all in office design
In addition to flexibility, there’s one more element of the workplace equally important to all generations. We’re talking about wellness. Employee well-being can be improved in many ways. Sufficient natural light, fresh air, proper acoustics and ergonomic furniture will have a positive effect on employees of all ages.
Looking a bit further, it is hard (if not impossible) to predict what the future generations will bring. We will certainly evidence new types of employment, professions that don’t yet exist and technologies we can’t think of yet. This makes the multigenerational workplace an ongoing topic and a constantly-evolving idea in design.