Workforce & Workplace
Workplace Design for the Generations
Kevin Rettle
Kevin Rettle

Vice President,
Global Offer Development – Universities
Sodexo

Today’s office planning approach has come full circle, from the organizational needs of the late 20th century to the uber-individual focus of the dot.com era, to what is now a hybrid of both. Companies have long seen space as a differentiating factor in attracting talent, but with four generations, with vastly different attitudes and work styles in the place of work, companies must now re-think how space works for them.

Innovation, speed to market, security, safety, and image still continue to drive design decisions, but now we must layer on the workstyles of most organizations spanning four demographics: Baby Boom (born 1946-64), Generation X (born 1965-77) and Generation Y or the Millennials (born 1978-99), and Generation Z (born starting in 1990). Aging boomers are still the largest group, but the mix is changing quickly as 20-something workers bring new attitudes to the workplace. For example, the youngest workers, who have grown up wired, love technology and the flexibility it gives them to multitask in a variety of settings, including non-traditional ones.

Designing space that capitalizes on the strengths of this new generation of workers and, at the same time, serves the broad needs of the entire workforce has encouraged the development of more options for everyone. Choice and control are critical concepts in the new workplace. Workers want to be able to choose the appropriate environment for the task at hand — be it focused work that demands concentration or room for collaboration. And workers or business units want to be able to modify and adapt features of the workplace to enhance effectiveness.

On one hand, that translates into more open work environments with lower panels and a greater number and variety of meeting spaces, from small conference rooms to informal meeting places. On the other hand, most workers, particularly knowledge workers, still need a certain amount of privacy. While private offices occupy a decreasing percentage of space in many organizations, even offices with a small footprint can provide workers with the tools they need using specific furnishing components to support different job functions. In fact, what most companies require are optional settings for individual or collaborative work that can be adapted to suit personal or team work styles as the need for different spaces changes across the course of a normal day.

Careful planning also encourages cross-generational or team collaboration. Transparency and visibility reinforce physical accessibility to supervisors, colleagues or mentors, as well as the increasingly important sense of trust in the organization — transparency of corporate operations — and among coworkers.
In companies where more traditional workstations offer the most appropriate solution, plans that cluster the workstations in groups around common work areas to create “neighborhoods” provide clear sightlines and easy circulation to facilitate interaction among workers.

What style workstations have worked well for your office? We’d love to hear why.

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