The workforce of today is one of the most diverse in history. Due to current social and economic trends, employees are more frequently choosing to stave off retirement—meaning Baby Boomers, Generation X-ers, and Generation Y-ers (or “Millennials”) must all occupy and collaborate in the same office environments. But Millennials, who are exponentially more tech-savvy and demanding than their predecessors, are causing quite the stir. What is it that these rookie staffers want from employers? And, what type of office design can provide Millennials with their ideal work environment, while still catering to more mature generations?
Contract magazine caught up with Dr. Marie Puybaraud, director global workplace innovation for Johnson Controls and author of the recent "Oxygenz" study, a Johnson Controls, Haworth, and U.K. design consultancy iDEA-sponsored report (May 2010) to gauge the global Generation Y population, about the generational challenges facing designers of corporate workspaces today.
1. Can you talk a bit about how Gen Y is influencing workplace design?
A great deal of our research within the Oxygenz study highlights how Generation Y utilizes space differently than other generations. Specifically, there are four areas that will likely impact this group unlike previous generations:
• Work settings – The study revealed that 70 percent of the generation Y (18-25 years old) want to have their own desk and personalize it, which contrasts the current movement to impose clean desk policies in offices.
• Technology – Clearly to this generation mobility is very important in the working environment and portable technologies like PDAs, mobile phone, etc. means that the generation can be forced into different spaces than a traditional office – using hot desks, using breakout spaces to meet and chat, etc. This generation will continue to adapt to evolving technology.
• Collaborative spaces - The concept of collaboration is very important to this Generation. Oxygenz revealed that 41 percent of the 18- to 25-year-old demographic want to access team spaces rather than a formal/traditional meeting room.
• Ways of working - Mobility and flexibility are key in the working life of this generation. Fifty-six percent would prefer to have a flexible working pattern.
Designing a workspace that addresses the needs of Gen Y is important in order to both attract and retain this generation within organizations. The study also revealed that the generation is interested in an employer that provides opportunities for learning, provides a good quality of life and dynamic work colleagues. The implication for designers is likely to not design singular design for all employees, but a variety of internal design options that meet the workplace desires of multiple generations, including Gen Y.
2. What three major changes are architects/designers now seeing in the workplace?
• Design for Flexibility: The workspace is no longer static but flexible. It also needs to adapt to change on a daily basis.
• Design for Collaboration: Access to a collaborative working environment is far more in demand than in previous eras, causing designers and building management to take this into consideration when laying out floor plans.
• Design for Performance: Creativity and productivity are the major drivers for innovation. Employers now have to understand that human capital is central to this. People and space are working in synergy unlike ever before.
3. How has technology and communication become more or less important due to Gen Y?
Technology and communication have always grown in importance over the last decade and we have reached a point where our reliance on technology, and for all generations, is so high that probably we cannot do without it. The generation Y is bringing another complexity to the workplace in their agility with technology. Technology is crucial to the Generation Y and it is at this point in time, and it is unimaginable to offer a workspace to a Gen Y-er without technology provisions. Many professionals find themselves spending more than 50 percent of their working hours communicating and collaborating using technologies.
4. What challenges do these changes present for designers?
The main challenge is to reconcile in one single space the expectations and desires of several generations, all working and behaving differently. This diversity in the workplace is the most challenging design aspect that architects will have to address, as will employers, especially human resource directors.
Other challenges include: Keeping up with the growth of technology; reinventing workplaces that allow for private reflection and collaborative tasks; and providing a green workplace–not only into its design, but also in the way employees work.
5. How important is the integration of social spaces in the office, as opposed to private offices?
Having a social space does not mean removing private spaces. The two can work well alongside. Gen Y has told us that they still want their own space, but that access to social spaces is also important to meet, collaborate, share, eat, and even exercise. In fact, 33 percent desire a gym on site. They also indicate that access to a café and snack bar is more important than an on-site restaurant.
It is also important to consider how much of an emotional engagement the generation Y has with their workplace. This sense of community is an important factor in their working life.
6. What can designers expect in the coming years if these trends continue?
These trends will evolve, and we know that not all employers will be able to address them in their workplace. Designers and architects should be challenged to consider these trends in their future design rather than ignoring them. If Gen Y, our future leaders and senior managers carry with them ongoing frustration with poorly designed workplaces that do not meet their needs, it may lead to a significant change in the workplace over the next 10 years. But architects already understand that it’s important to consider diversity in the workplace, not only cultural but generational.