Today’s offices are a melting pot of personalities, perspectives and talents. With many professionals working longer in life than they used to, it isn’t uncommon to see organizations with up to five generations working together at one time. The result is a wider breadth of experience and skills that help to diversify the modern office. While this tremendous array of demographics has countless benefits, it also poses unique challenges. In order to harness the attributes of each generation and bring them together towards a common goal, employers and managerial staff must understand their differing styles and strive to create a healthy balance that addresses commonalities. Workplace design should facilitate interactions and support the needs of all ages, creating a comfortable and efficient business landscape that remains aligned with organizational objectives and grows alongside its employees. Let’s explore the experiences that span seven decades of life and what each generation values within their workplace.
Image Source: Office Snapshots, Sacramento Kings Corporate Offices in Sacramento, CA
A 21st Century Workforce
Silent Generation (1929-1945)
Those born during the 1930’s and early 1940’s were defined by extremely trying times, including the Great Depression and World War II. As a result, members of the Silent Generation value hard work, loyalty, respect for authority and hold a strong belief in paying your dues. While this generation expects minimal pampering, we must be respectful of their experience and spend adequate time in training activities and orientation (including the use of technology). A vast majority of the Silent Generation is in retirement, but the remaining numbers are still lending their skills to the workforce. They don’t sweat the small details but value physical comfort.
Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
Members of the Baby Boomer generation, many of whom are now retiring, witnessed events such as the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Liberation Movement. Because this generation often heard of the economic hardship that came before them, Baby Boomers are work-centric, goal-oriented and independent. They steer away from distractions or disconnections and focus on visible productivity. Members of this generation will often gravitate towards quiet, distraction-free offices, as well as collaborative spaces and modular desking that satisfies their craving for face to face interaction.
Generation X (1965-1978)
As of 2017, Generation X accounted for a third of the American labor force. Assassinations, protests, war and riots disrupted the nuclear family during this period and divorce rates were at an all-time high. These events sculpted an independent, self-sufficient and skeptical generation. They appreciate a true work-life balance, viewing work as just a job. For the Generation Xers within the modern office, refrain from extensive supervision and provide innovative means for increased productivity, such as adjustable height desks, integrated hardware and spaces dedicated to the tasks at hand.
Image Source: Office Snapshots, Microsoft PacWest Offices in Bellevue, WA
Generation Y – Millennials (1979-1997)
Millennials account for the largest percentage of our labor force, now surpassing Generation Xers with more than 56 million working or looking for work. Members of this generation have been raised almost entirely in a world of technology and consistent advancements in communication, making them extremely flexible and unafraid of change. Millennials may request to have a minimalistic commuter workspace or choose to forgo a desk altogether and work remotely in the employee lounge when on the premises. This generation brought the open office back to life, incorporating natural light and eliminating walls wherever possible. Provide these workers with bright and unique offices, communal work tables and collaborative spaces that allow them to stay connected on the go.
Generation Z – Postmillenials (1998-Current)
The Postmillennial generation are just beginning their careers and seek the guidance previous generations can offer. Those born in the late 1990s and early 2000s live in an untethered world, thriving on the constant connection they achieve through digital and social media. While Postmillennials are still learning their preferences in the professional environment, they are natural collaborators, empathetic and realistic about challenges and changes at hand. This generation prefers coaching rather than an excessive amount of direct supervision.
Image Source: Office Snapshots, Hudson River Trading Offices in New York City
Designing an All-Inclusive Office
The modern workplace has become a unique blend of experience and perspectives. Varying work styles and mindsets have pushed employers to turn toward design in order to accommodate the needs of their diverse workforce and harness its power for cross-generational connection. While many organizations may struggle in creating an age-neutral office, there simply is no “one size fits all” solution for today’s employees. By understanding the strengths, limitations and values of each generation, employers are better equipped to address their needs through design and create a landscape that delivers balance to its workforce.
Examples of a balanced office include:
- Modular workstations that can be customized for personal comfort and productivity. These areas could include height adjustable desks, ergonomically friendly seating solutions, privacy panels, invisible wiring and integrated hardware and data cables.
- Collaborative spaces that promote face to face interaction, host training activities and facilitate transient workers. These spaces include formal conference rooms and informal touch-down spots. Communal tables, lounge furniture groupings and integrated technology for continued connection are all tools that can be utilized in these areas.
- Corporate “third spaces” untether employees from their desk and provide an opportunity to decompress. These spaces have become a key component in attracting and retaining workers and in overall employee productivity. After gauging workplace demographics and understanding the needs of its employees, employers can tailor third spaces for maximum functionality. Workplace cafes, lounge areas and technology-powered patios are all examples of third spaces that have individual and collective benefits.
- Resimercial designs bring homelike influences into commercial spaces, creating a flexible workplace that employees want to stay longer, work harder and enjoy themselves. These spaces allow for natural employee connections and collaboration, along with necessary time to decompress from their daily tasks. Many manufacturers offer lounge furniture with added privacy for those workers who wish to enjoy a quiet moment.
Image Source: Kimball Case Study, Sixers Innovation Lab in Philadelphia, PA
Creating Your Balanced Workplace
As people continue to work longer and delay retirement, our business landscape will continue to diversify. Whether our multi-generational workforce feels energized and productive or challenging and stressful is, in large part, up to the workplace we create. Harnessing the incredible array of skills and knowledge our workers possess can be made possible by evaluating their needs and providing a balanced, flexible environment for maximum productivity and cross-generational interaction. Contact CDI for further guidance in creating a balanced workplace and unleash the tremendous capabilities of your team.
Featured Image Source: Office Snapshots, Havas Media Offices in London
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Corporate Design Interiors (CDI) is an industry-leading commercial furniture dealership whose award-winning product knowledge, thoughtful design coupled with strategic planning deliver functional and inspiring interiors designed to foster employee well-being, productivity and engagement. CDI’s relentless focus on delivering positive workplaces mirroring the culture and vision of companies while delivering a high value investment has earned CDI diverse clients including; established Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits/public sector and energetic startups.
As a “Select” Kimball dealer, CDI’s excellence in sales, partnership, quality improvement, community involvement and overall business best practices earned it the 2017 Kimball Premier Partner Award. CDI was selected among 52 other Kimball Select dealerships throughout the country for this industry-leading honor, earning additional praise for its company culture and enterprise practices.
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