George Burns once said, “Look to the future, because that’s where you’ll spend the rest of your life”. For millions in the corporate workforce, this couldn’t be more true. 4
Much has been written about how this is the first time there are four generations in the workforce. Characterizing and understanding the attitudes and expectations of these generations – Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millenials – inside the workplace has been deemed the secret to integrating everyone and therefore creating a successful workplace.
But what is a successful workplace? Michael Greene, National Director, Corporate Solutions, Jones Lang LaSalle believes “to accommodate any group of individual’s requirements means a partnership between Human Resources, IT and Corporate Real Estate and building a culture that allows flexibility. An environment that caters for different workstyles and different generations should measure success through:
- Staff retention and attraction
- A built environment that can support change
- Instilling corporate culture into a disparate workforce”3
Okay, so you know that Millenials are collaborative and feedback oriented, Gen Xer’s are motivated by autonomy, Boomers “live to work” and Traditionalists are hierarchical and loyal.
So what does this really mean and how does it affect furniture purchasing?
Today’s office spaces need to adapt to both the Millenials’ inherent need for constant communication and feedback and the Gen X and Boomer’s need for autonomy and privacy. The point, therefore, is not to contain and direct each group1, but as Gensler points out, to design and fit out a workplace that supports the ways in which everyone works. To that end, Gensler has determined that work falls into four general categories: collaboration, focus, learning and socialization.2
While this is a major theme for Millenials, they don’t own the need to collaborate. Extending beyond the boardroom, areas for collaboration include flexible, comfortable spaces that allow employees to re-arrange furniture to meet changing needs and encourage impromptu meetings. Wireless access is critical, and whiteboards should abound. Accommodating this can be as simple as a bench or a table alongside workstations, or some comfortable couches in the lunchroom.
Every generation still requires privacy. Private offices should not only be the purview of senior staff but be determined by position and work role. Privacy needs can vary from needing a “phone booth” to make a private call, to a secluded “study carrel” away from visual and audio distractions to write a report.
In today’s knowledge economy where technology changes as it happens, training is a constant. Research shows that learning is the most efficient when it happens in dedicated spaces. Tables should integrate power and data for laptops, or projectors. They should also be flexible to allow for classes to break into smaller groups, providing a balance of formal and informal learning.
Socialization spaces are becoming increasingly crucial. Beyond the cafeteria they can serve as an opportunity to build relationships, trust and shared ideas. Varied in their design, they can be small or large, but more and more these spaces are being integrated into the rest of the workplace and not tucked away. Comfortable chairs and sofas encourage informal interaction and are a place to refresh and recharge.
Focusing on the ways in which everyone works, rather than the differences between the generations, enables functional, comfortable and productive spaces can be created. Not only will this bridge the gap to create a more cohesive team environment, it will also support individuals throughout the stages of their careers.
1. Pink, Daniel (2010, November 6). Think Tank: Fix the workplace, not the workers. The Telegraph, Finance. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/jobs/8113600/Think-Tank-Fix-the-workplace-not-the-workers.html
2. Strombom, Dean. Accommodation of Multiple Generations in the Workspace. Facilities Management Journal. Retrieved from http://facilitymanagementresources.com/article.cgi?type=Magazine&title=Accommodation%20of%20Multiple%20Generations%20in%20the%20Workspace&pub=FMJ&id=30957&mode=source
3. The impact of age-based demographics on design. Facilities Management Magazine: RFP Office Space. Retrieved from http://www.fmlink.com/article.cgi?type=Magazine&title=The%20impact%20of%20age-based%20demographics%20on%20design%20&pub=RFP%20Office%20Space&id=31127&mode=source
4. Epstein, Royce (2010, March 26). Future Furniture Trends. Contract. Retrieved from http://www.contractdesign.com/contract/Future-Furniture-Tre-1288.shtml