The Multigenerational Office Space
Different Ages, Different Values
Designing a good Millennial workplace is a hot topic for facilities managers and office designers. Why? Workers born between 1979 and 1997 are expected to make up more than half of the workforce by the year 2020.
Their Baby Boomer peers (those born between 1946 and 1964), on the other hand, will only comprise about a quarter of the workforce. This estimate has designers looking to the future, and imagining what a millennial-dominated office will look like.
For now, however, the challenge is accommodating the various generations who share one office building. Let’s take a look at who these groups are, what they value and how you can plan an office space around what they need.
The Silent Generation
Years of birth: 1929–1945
According to a report by Knoll, a workplace research firm, this group values “loyalty, respect for authority, obligation to personal and community needs and sacrifice.” Their worldview has been shaped by events such as the Great Depression, World War II, and the Korean War. Their approach to work is obedient and straightforward; they aren’t prone to complaining. Because of their age, the most important part of a pleasant office is working in a comfortable environment.
Years of birth: 1946–1964
Boomers are divided into two groups: the “Traditionals” (born 1946-1954) and “Generation Jones” (born 1955-1964). Events such as the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War shaped the former into a socially conscious group. Unlike their parents, they do not hesitate to question authority, and they believe in performing work that supports their own ideals.
The latter, influenced by the recession and oil price shocks, are more concerned with material goods than older Boomers; they’re also more concerned with advancing in wealth.
In general, however, Boomers value “acoustic privacy” and “formal meeting spaces” the most in their work environments; unlike younger generations, they place little importance on their offices being an “engaging workplace.”
Years of birth: 1965–1978
Because of a rise in both divorce rates and mass firings, Gen X’ers were brought up to be more independent than previous generations. For this reason, they’re most concerned with job security and financial compensation. It’s in this generation that we see more emphasis placed on an engaging workplace.
Years of birth: 1979–1997
These individuals have grown up in a world of rapidly evolving technology, a fact that’s reflected in their work habits. Thanks to smartphones and email, the lines between their work and personal lives are fluid; and the idea of work is no longer necessarily tied to one particular place. Millenials want their work to contribute to something larger than themselves. They value engaging workplaces the most, and formal meeting spaces the least.
How to Design for Four Generations
Given that some of these generations have starkly opposite values when it comes to a good working environment, what are some ways that facilities managers can make the office comfortable for all four? Here are some quick tips to keep in mind.
1. Mixed Office Space
While Baby Boomers may value having their own spaces, Millenials prefer working in more open environments. To fit both of these needs, consider having a mix of different spaces in your office. Both open-office layouts and dedicated quiet spaces can ensure that all generations have access to the kind of environment where they’ll excel.
2. Desk Partitions
Partitions are a good compromise between cubicles and totally open desks. They can provide the privacy needed to get work done, but they’re not so high that they prevent easy communication with neighbors.
3. Comfortable Design for the Silent Generation
When it comes to making the office comfortable for Silent Generation workers, consider their needs and what you can do to make the office the most comfortable for them. This may mean having them sit in an area where they can easily reach restrooms, elevators and break rooms, as well as ensuring that your office is designed with good ergonomics.
To ensure a workplace that people of all ages will enjoy, use a variety of design principles that acknowledge the unique needs of each generation. When both older and younger generations are in an environment where they can excel, that can set the groundwork for each to learn, work and collaborate much better.