I recently gave a presentation at CoreNet Global, where my coworker Heather Turner Loth and I discussed the future of the workplace and the impact being made by the newest generation, Gen Z – people born between 1995 and 2010. In preparation, we sent a survey out to get a sense of where Gen Z’ers see the future of the workplace, and what they envision as the best working atmosphere. With the understanding that generational traits and values differ, and given that Gen Z is the first generation to grow up in a wireless world, we wanted to uncover how Gen Z’s life experiences will swing the pendulum of workplace design.
Through the survey, we discovered 5 workplace drivers that will shape the future of workplace design:
1. Limitless Connection
2. Purposeful Environments
3. Personal Well-Being
5. Infused Technology
Through the internet and social media, Gen Z has experienced constant interconnectivity. The majority of Gen-Zers who took our survey ranked the need for collaboration and socialization much higher than focused work and training, with a preference for face-to-face collaboration. Information has become accessible anytime, anywhere and Gen Z are accessing people at the same rate, making limitless connections a natural driver within the workplace.
Connectivity can be applied in design by creating a designated “Social Work Hub" at a centralized intersection that all employees pass through, promoting the interaction and constant communication that Gen Z is craving. Consolidating coffee & amenity locations to a single hub supports daily use of the space and encourages chance encounters amongst coworkers. Additionally, a variety of meeting settings provide ergonomic choice and customization of work space. Wi-Fi and charging ports are also necessities for this space be used as a secondary work zone.
Gen Z and beyond are currently experiencing these flexible spaces in their education settings, a drastically different experience than the traditional classroom setups with a teacher standing at the front, flanked by a chalkboard and rows of desks (yes, even Millennials survived this setup). Providing choice through purposeful environments relates to Gen Z’s precedent experience in flexible settings and allows for customized work zones by utilizing simple furniture and space dividing solutions.
With an overload of information and social connection, Gen Z desires the option to control privacy and interactions in order to get work done. Casual bar height seating allows for individual or group work and signals an approachable, social workstyle. Individual acoustical pods allow for focused work yet are open to workplace surroundings to empower connectivity. Enclosed ‘do not disturb’ pods provide space for complete focus and acoustical privacy and are transparent to maintain visual connection.
Constant connection to the workplace continues to increase through mobile technology, making it even harder for the next generation to disconnect from work. According to our survey, 55% of Gen Z said work + life balance is key when choosing a new employer with benefits ranked second and amenities third. Personally, I perceive “work + life balance” as a code of trust. For an employee to feel balance within their lives, they must be offered some level of flexibility to accommodate those times when life just happens.
In the future, I predict we will see less emphasis on adding more on-site amenities to keep employees in the office longer but rather, a well-rounded offering of benefits and support spaces for moments when we need to call our doctor, work from home or let off some steam. With the blurred lines between work + home, and the mobile workstyles Gen Z are accustomed to, why wouldn’t we provide accommodations such as comfy furniture, outdoor space and elements of the home to support current and future workstyles? Seems like a no-brainer to me.
With the recession in the early 2000s and the tragic events that happened on 9/11, Gen Z grew up in an era of economic and social instability, making it natural for them to want increased transparency in the workplace in terms of internal communication and access to leadership. For Gen Z, not knowing what’s going on behind closed doors is equivalent to going mute on Instagram.
Transparency in the physical environment can address uncertainty, build trust and company authenticity. Creating spaces with clear paths of travel, and increased glass and visibility eases spatial anxiety. Access points for security is also key. Many of our projects are introducing meeting spaces and interview rooms near reception areas providing separation of public and private spaces. Integrating brand transparency and messaging in a high traffic location also keeps employees connected and up to date on internal news.
According to a Monster poll, 9 out of 10 Gen-Zers said technology would impact their decision to work for a company.
If tech tools and software aren’t current and user friendly, the next generations who are accustomed to multi-tasking at light speed are going to move on. Within your workplace, it’s important to create flexible spaces that can accommodate mobile technology rather than designing around products that will become outdated, dust collectors.
Trends are like pendulums, they constantly swing in one direction or the other with different influences from generation to generation. Following trends in the workplace can result in an inauthentic design solution for your workforce needs, resulting in spaces that are underutilized or abandoned. I like to reference the example of the infamous, most underutilized “Millennial recruitment tool” the foosball table. Providing space that is true and authentic to a company’s culture while supporting the way individuals and teams need to work, will allow your workforce to bring their best and whole selves to the workplace, resulting in elevated performance for your people and your business.
I believe that Gen Z will be the generation that slows the swing of the pendulum down for workplace design solutions. We will see an increase in authentic design with a greater degree of customization so that employees can work the way they need to in order to be successful. Based on the 5 Workplace Drivers discussed here, what will swing the pendulum in your workplace environment to become genuinely authentic to your culture and brand?
Allison Pfeifer, NCIDQ, IIDA