Millennials and Gen-Z: Office Design that can Meet them in the Middle

The Multigenerational Workplace Challenge

Young Millennial or Gen-Z professional woman with tattoos and a thoughtful expression, sitting in a modern office and working independently

Millennials and Gen-X run most of today’s businesses. Now, these generational powerhouses are joined by Gen-Z, the youngest members of the workforce. Millennials and Gen-Z have some similar ideals and visions for the future. However, they have very different expectations when it comes to their workplace design. As technology advances at faster rates, the years separating generations are getting shorter. In fact, the next generation, Generation Alpha, has already been born. To accomodate the increasing prevalence of multigenerational workplaces, employers will need to stay flexible when it comes to workplace design. For now, how can employers update their offices to accomodate the different demands of Millennials and Gen-Z? It’s best to have a bit of background information on each generation first.

Millennials: The Largest Workforce

Its no mystery that millennials changed the face of office design. They make up the majority of the current workforce. This makes them a powerful factor when it comes to companies’ workplace design choices. Their tech-savviness and desire for collaboration have led to the rise of certain trends. For example, open floorplans, collaborative spaces and increased amenities. Even brand identities are changing. While shopping, you may have noticed brighter color palettes, softer logo fonts, and more interest in corporate social responsibility and activism. Thank millennials. They want the companies they work for and shop at to match their modern aesthetic and ideals.

Gen-Z: The Workforce of the Future

The oldest members of Gen-Z are now 22. This generation has grown up with technology that changes every year. They’ve seen the success of start-up companies, the growth of freelance work, the flexibility of co-working, and they admire the independant lifestyles of remote workers. The workforce of the future is very different from Millennials. Gen-Z workers are entreprenuers and leaders who want to run companies. They want the privacy and freedom to work independently, but the ability to speak fce-to-face when needed. Further, they are even more educated and tech-savvy than their Millennial conterparts, and they are more demographically diverse.

A very near reality for businesses is the challenge of designing a workplace that can account for the different needs of its diverse employees. How can an office support such different demands from two very influential generations?

Optimized Design for Millennials and Gen-Z: Meet them in the Middle

So what do you do when half of your employees want collaboration and the other half wants privacy? Besides assigning work carefully, your office design will have to meet them in the middle. Remaining flexible is key if businesses want their workplace to be relevant to their workforce for years to come. Here are some tips for keeping your office ‘Millennial-Friendly’ while getting ready to welcome in the next generation of workers:

Modular Design

How do you take an open office floorplan and modernize it to provide the privacy that Gen-Z wants while maintaining the collaboration that Millennials crave? Go modular. New furniture designs allow desks to change from shared workstations to private cubicles in minutes. Meeting rooms can be built and torn down easily with sliding walls or bookcases that double as room dividers.

Any element in a modular office can be repurposed in multiple ways. This allows you to evolve your office as needed (and for a much cheaper price point). This is a cost-effective solution for forward-thinking businesses on a budget. It’s also environmentally friendly, which could help get current Millennial employees on your side when making the transition.

Smart Technology

Both Millennials and Gen-Z have a strong interest and skills in technology. It’s important that your company takes advantage of this. However, instead of looking for technology that will serve as a gimmicky decoration (e.g. large tv moniter walls), invest in technology with a purpose.

Digital solutions can provide increased connectivity and communication between teams. Millennials tend to prefer collaboration and digital communication. Gen-Z employees prefer to work alone, but want to speak face-to-face when needed. Technology is a bridge between their work styles. In addition, technology can help track progress on projects, establish valuable databases of information, and even help keep your office space aligned with your environmentally friendly values. Think buildings equipped with smart heating and cooling systems or other similar green-tech.

Rooms with Purpose

Millennials demanded more amenities when they started working. They wanted to make their work-life balance easier to manage and more enjoyable. Gen-Z, having grown up during the economic recession, is more focused on organization and predictability within the workplace. They want growth potential, great benefits and a steady paycheck. To balance the difference between a generation who wants a ‘livable’ office and a generation who wants a ‘pragmatic’ one, designate each room with a purpose.

Keep open, collaborative spaces available while also providing breakaway space for independent work. You can do this with privacy pods, tables for one, and other creative seating or modular wall options. In addition, consider designating a ‘wellness room’ with yoga mats and quiet music or fitness equipment. Most importantly, make sure that the purpose you give each area in your office is clear to employees. For example, when someone needs to retreat to an independent work area, they shouldn’t be bothered by other employees in a combination team-meeting/fuse ball tournament.

Modernize your Brand and Interior

Something Millennials and Gen-Z employees share is a love for interior spaces that give them energy and a sense of community. If your office is characterized by grey walls and fluorescent ceiling lights, it’s time for a makeover. Consider modernizing your brand by adding a bright new color palette and painting your office walls to match. Even one, colorful accent wall can do wonders for an old-fashioned space. Likewise, look for unique art pieces for your walls and modern, modular furniture options that match the colors of your brand.

Don’t chase the ‘futuristic’ aesthetic too much. Your younger employees don’t want everything to be covered in shiny chrome and black screens. In fact, you’ll want to consider the opposite approach–green and biophillic design. This will help promote the Millenial and Gen-Z values of environmentalism and wellness in your workplace. Opting for natural lighting or simulated natural light are great ways to bring the outside in. In addition, wooden furniture, natural decor, and plant life are other ways to improve the livability of your workplace in a pragmatic way–something both Millennials and Gen-Z can get behind.

In Summary: The Future of Multigenerational Workplaces

Workplace dynamics change with the addition of new generations. Leaders need to study the work habits and design preferences of their employees to keep their offices current and competitive when it comes to the talent market. Now, with Gen-Z’s entrance to the workforce in full swing, it’s time to figure out a way to bridge the gap between two of the most influential workforce generations’ different workplace preferences.

Millennials and Gen-Z will thrive as employees in an office environment that caters to both collaboration and privacy. Modular furniture is a green, cost effective solution for employers who want to open the door to new and effective interior possibilities. This trend is likely to continue as generations become closer together in age and multigenerational workplaces (some including upwards of 5 or 6 generations of employees) become the norm. To maintain order in a workplace with diverse interests, assign a select purpose to each space in the office.

Focus on aligning space with brand values to attract and retain talent. Brighten the workplace with fresh colors and biophilic design to bridge the gap between Millennial interest in livability and Gen-Z interest in pragmaticism. Lastly, use the new technology skills your younger employees are bringing to the table. Millennials’ preference for digital communication is not a weakness. It can be effectively used to keep remote workers in the loop and projects finished on time. Gen-Z’s digital literacy is the highest in the current workforce. Their knowledge of new software will be an asset to any company willing to learn from them.

Above all, listen to your employees and be open to change. Flexibility is a key attribute in modern management and workplace design that is here to stay.

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