How the Workplace Has Evolved With the Generations

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As generations change, so does the workplace. Millennials now make up a significant portion of the workforce, overshadowing Gen Xers and baby boomers as the largest actively working generation. Couple this with advancements in technology like email, video conferencing and other communication tools, and you can see why workplace culture has changed dramatically. As demographics shift, workplace culture inevitably shifts too, changing the expectations, habits and layouts of a typical office. Let's take a look at how the workplace has changed alongside the generations.

2017 Office Design Trends

Values and attitudes

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From generation to generation, the makeup of the workforce changes. The past few decades have seen the most dramatic shift; more women, minorities and people with disabilities are currently in the workforce than ever before. Paired with the influx of tech-savvy millennials, the changing demographics often result in differing world views, attitudes and work ethics competing in the office.

Depending on the industry, workplaces usually include a mix of baby boomers, Gen Xers and millennials. Offices are experiencing an increased proportion of older employees (baby boomers), who hold a significant percentage of managerial, executive and other senior-level positions. This generation is known for working long hours and maintaining the same employer for many years, and they may be less adaptive to ongoing workplace changes. By contrast, Gen X employees are often characterized as pragmatic and independent, and likely to work hard but change workplaces often. Finally, millennials are considered flexible but self-indulgent, with a sophisticated understanding of technology.

While these traits can be considered generalizations, the mix of demographics in the office can result in clashing work ethics and expectations that employers are forced to navigate. On the other hand, contrasting skill sets between generations provide opportunities to mentor and teach each other.

Communication tools and methods

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Gone are the days of inefficient communication practices. With instant messaging tools and new cloud-based software designed to streamline and automate operations, workplaces have had to strategize ways to incorporate new technologies without isolating their older, less tech-savvy employees. On a rudimentary level, this includes designing internal communications plans that consider all workers, and properly training employees on all technologies used in the office.

Technological advances have also changed the role of the office for employees.

Cloud-based collaboration platforms such as Dropbox, GitHub and Google Docs enable remote employees to stay in sync even if they're out of office.

Companies may hire employees in different cities or those who only work in-house part-time. This freedom and flexibility was impossible in previous decades, and has resulted in new configurations of in-house and remote staff. While this can sometimes lead to a less cohesive team, the ability to work remotely is also associated with greater work/life balance and employee satisfaction.

Office layouts

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With changing office culture comes different layout opportunities to promote and support a positive and collaborative environment. In years past, office layout primarily involved private offices and large desks allocated to employees based on their seniority. Then came the wave of cubicles, which rose in popularity after their introduction in the late 1960s, mainly due to the privacy they allowed large numbers of workers.

Fast forward to present-day, where many companies are embracing open-office design and collaborative work spaces. These types of office layouts take remote and part-time workers into consideration by offering flexible spaces and communal work rooms to encourage collaborative brainstorming and inter-departmental interactions.

With an increase in startups in Silicon Valley and beyond, office layout has also evolved to be more casual, playful and creative.

Many of these offices offer amenities to foster office health and social engagement.

With companies increasingly considering how their office design aligns with their business goals, the isolating corporate offices of past generations seem to be nearly obsolete.

Office culture, tools and layouts have adjusted alongside the demographics that make up the workforce. As we brace ourselves for Generation Z, the workplace is bound to continue to change—so long as managers encourage inter-generational communication and cooperation, these changes can drive efficiency, creativity and internal mentorship that are beneficial to every business.

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