Coming (very) soon to a Workplace near you – Generation Z.
To all developers, brokers, business owners, employers and office landlords: Take notice.
Much like the hype around Millennials, the entrance of Gen Z into the workforce promises to once again push boundaries, reshape office design, work style and how companies and buildings themselves seek to remain relevant and competitive in their respective industries and markets.
Although the oldest members of this post-Millennial generation are nearing 20 years old (Gen Zers are loosely defined as those born after 1998), have no fear, because there is still plenty of time left to plan for the first wave of Gen Z talent.
The current challenge employers and property owners face is the need to create a corporate work environment that goes beyond simply having fun amenities like food and fitness, which has been the trend of the last five years.
Growing up in the “shared economy” era, marked by crowdsourcing and interactive video games, studies show that Gen Zers are social, collaborative and less focused on the amenities, because they are simply assumed to be there. Gen Zers instead care more about the feel of the actual place or environment they work in, as well as the work itself. The lines between office and home are blurring – and fast. More workplaces are trending towards resembling residences, with fireplaces, kitchens and pantries (not cafeterias), nap rooms, meditation spaces, game rooms and, even, showers and bedrooms. To achieve the most creative output, Gen Zers will need to be comfortable in an environment that is familiar and makes them feel their best.
It is also equally important for Gen Zers to be part of the right subculture and environment, as well as the right company – one that believes in and enforces fairness and equality. Putting this in practice, the more community-based spaces that are available, the more productive Gen Zers will be, because they are conscious of how their conduct and contributions are both valuable and an integral part of the functionality of a larger, shared vision. Their drive therefore stems not just from individual gain, but from the desire to benefit an entire community and the work space that supports it.
Take for instance the historic Schrafft’s City Center, the former beloved candy factory located in the heart of Charlestown (Massachusetts). This iconic, 90-year-old building was originally constructed in 1928 during Boston’s candy boom. It was recently converted by design firm CBT into a 1 million-square-foot waterfront business campus with a unique, modern design aimed at improving tenant experience, as well as attracting and retaining young talent to a cross-section of companies.
The space now pays homage to the sweets once made there, with a faceted glass curtain wall that mimics a candy wrapper, chocolate tones on the concrete floor and bright, glossy red and orange walls that I call “confectionary contemporary.” Old Schrafft’s ads and historical photos, including candy-making factory workers in hairnets, have been transformed into custom, iconic wall art for the lobby.
An oversized gas fireplace now sits in the center of an elevated lounge, or “living room,” for team meetings and additional collaborations. The Schrafft’s City Center complex has become “an experiential destination” for employees, while also serving as a great civic neighbor as the Schrafft’s brand continues to evolve and pay homage to a former candy factory that was once America’s “sweetest” building. Very Gen Z-themed for those, who in their collaborative and communal way, may appreciate a tribute to the past.
In relation to preceding generations, Gen Zers have an unequivocal inclination towards urgent entrepreneurialism. According to a national study by The Center for Generational Kinetics, 77% of Gen Zers currently earn their own spending money, either through a designated allowance, a part-time job or freelance work. While many are still teenagers, Gen Zers’ proactive approach towards personal finance and employment speaks to a young, burgeoning inventiveness, work ethic and entrepreneurial drive.
As a result, Gen Zers find the line between independent and collaborative productivity more blurred and fluid than previous generations of workers, which stands to impact office layout and design as employers anticipate incoming talent.
Design impacts human behavior. As Gen Zers join the workforce, office developers, designers and architects – and employers – will need to create work environments that enable freedom and flexibility. We have seen many current office environments evolve from a cubicle model to an open, flexible model. The open office concept has largely been the result of the needs and desires of the millennial generation, which include the integration of workplace amenities, such as coffee shops, gyms and spacious lobbies that promote comfort and relaxation outside of work.
The “No-Office” Office
Gen Zers are more community-based and spontaneous; as a result, they will want more “huddle rooms” and “touchdown spaces” where there is an element of pop-up team gathering and where they are able to gain everyone’s knowledge first before walking away and taking on a project.
This is where it comes down to design solutions and the layout of office buildings and work places. Attracting, hiring and retaining Gen Z talent could lead to the creation of the “no-office office.”
This means a floor plan that fully invites and encourages social and community-oriented collaboration, and pushes the boundaries of creativity. It could be 100% open, interspersed with collaboration spaces that invite privacy when needed or have glass walls that minimize segregation – all while reflecting a company’s unique culture and mission. Regardless of who inhabits the space, this floorplan would have no traditionally coveted ‘corner office’ or private offices, resulting in significantly less hierarchy and separation between employees.
At some point in the not-so-distant future, all we may really need are places to gather – to live and work. The way trends are pointing suggests a potential future in which buildings are not necessarily designed for fixed purposes. It doesn’t have to be an office, nor a home, but a place that provides complete freedom and flexibility to accommodate all types of situations. At the end of the day, it won’t matter what the building is because its categorization will ultimately come down to how it serves whatever task, project or goal a Gen Zer is working on.
To anticipate what the next generation of workers will expect, we have a specialized academic group that, as a part of their design work, also researches trends and patterns among college students; and what students today want is a seamless transition to the workforce from the fun, hip and collaborative university life they had before.
As work and leisure continue to blend, young workers expect even more from their office, which is why my new motto is: “There’s no place like work.”