Office design tips for the multi-generational workforce

Managing a workforce is already an often difficult and complicated task. But a multi-generational workforce – one with diverse ages and expectations – is even harder to satisfy. A multi-generational workforce has four distinctive groups, and catering for each one in an office environment requires design flexibility. Read on to find out how you can design a workplace that performs for all ages.

What is the multi-generational workforce?

With the retirement age steadily increasing, it is expected that the UK workforce will comprise of four generations by 2020. While this will allow businesses to combine the experience of their seasoned workers with the new approaches of their younger and digitally orientated employees, making the best use of office space to meet the different values and demands of these age groups will be challenging.

Baby boomers

The baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. They are characterised as being optimistic, loyal and stable. However, they are generally ‘technology challenged’ and often prefer their own private, traditional office space. They like structure in terms of both hierarchy and office layout.

  • Percentage in UK workforce: 33%
  • Aspiration: Job security
  • Signature Product: Television
  • Communication Preference: Telephone

Generation X

Born between 1965 and 1978, they are self-reliant, well-educated and entrepreneurial. However, although they are comfortable with technology, they can be quick to criticise. Although they like team areas, they believe closed and private office spaces should be earned.

  • Percentage in UK workforce: 35%
  • Aspiration: Work-life balance
  • Signature Product: Personal Computer
  • Communication Preference: Text messaging or Email

Generation Y: The millennials

Born between 1979 and 1994, this tech-savvy bunch are knowledge thirsty and confident. They thrive in informal environments and prefer to have a choice of workspaces. They want a modern, social working environment and don’t believe in hierarchy.

  • Percentage in UK workforce: 29%
  • Aspiration: Freedom and Flexibility
  • Signature Product: Tablets and Smartphones
  • Communication Preference: Text or Social Media

Generation Z

While the impact of generation Z (1995 – present) in the working environment is yet to take full effect, this generation has grown up in a world surrounded by rapid technological advances. They are even more sophisticated when it comes to technology than their predecessors, and they value personal space to complete tasks. However, they also want an open office design for interaction and socialising with their colleagues.

Percentage in UK workforce: Currently employed in either part-time jobs or new apprenticeships.

  • Aspiration: Security and Stability
  • Signature Product: Google glass, 3D printing, Wearable tech, Driverless cars
  • Communication Preference: Facetime

So, what is the best solution?

Once upon a time, the open office space was a desired concept. The idea that an open layout could foster better collaboration made sense, and it was presumed creating a space free of walls would increase creativity. However, in recent years, open office design has received a lot of backlash, and the open office concept is now synonymous with causing distractions and loss of productivity. However, there are still elements of an open office design that can be carried forward to provide a winning solution.

The office of the future

So, how do you design an office that caters for a multi-generational workforce? The answer is combining the best features of different office designs to create a hybrid working space. Combine private offices, communal areas, cubicle banks and soundproof rooms to provide employees with the opportunity to move freely between the range of spaces throughout the day.

Avoid assigning desks and provide communal areas to allow for engagement. Have separate spaces dedicated to meetings and provide break areas so that people don’t eat lunch sat at their desks. With a multi-generational workforce, office layouts need to be agile in order to meet the vast number of requirements outlined above. Achieving a collaborative workspace is achievable as long as you strike the right balance.

This new, agile approach is undoubtedly allowing businesses to design their environments to suit the needs of their dynamic workforce. However, for a hybrid office to be successful, employers must ensure all of their staff are clear on the purpose of the spaces available to them. A common understanding of the office layout will avoid potential clashes arising, and will provide the foundation multi-generational employees need for cohesive collaboration and communication.

Paul Ramsey is the Director of OFAI Office Furniture. Paul’s 25 years of experience has given him an industry expertise of office furniture, and how to create a productive and ergonomic working environment.