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Office Design for the New Workforce

Jun / 2019

Our workforce is changing. Baby boomers are retiring. Gen X are leaders. Millennials are growing up. And Generation Z is graduating. But what does all this mean to workplace design?

Office Design for the New Workforce

Our workforce is changing. Baby boomers are retiring. Gen X are leaders. Millennials are growing up. And Generation Z is graduating. But what does all this mean to workplace design?

In this two-part series, we here at Built will let you in on the secrets to attracting and catering to the up-and-comers with your office interior. Today, Millennials (a.k.a. Generation Y).



Millennials are no longer the new folks on campus. Born between 1981 and 1995, Generation Y makes up 50% of the workforce. Six years from now, they’ll be the majority at 75%.

There’s high turnover among Millennials. Gallup research says 60% are open to new job opportunities and 21% have changed jobs in the last year (three times the number of non-millennials). But this isn’t necessarily because of the negative stereotypes that they’re entitled and difficult to please. Instead, Millennials are aspirational; they hope to lend their talents and passions to make the world a better place. They prioritize experiences and are technology pioneers.

For all of these reasons, we’ve seen office design transform from lifeless grey “Office-Space”-like cubicles to Google “wonderlands” where anything is possible. The challenge of making interiors both aesthetically amazing and highly functional is one we’re tackling every day.

Google Sydney
Google, Sydney Office

Showcase your culture + purpose

When Millennials look for work, they prioritize purpose. Ideally, their employer’s values align with their own. At minimum, they seek out companies whose vision speaks to meaning. Bottom line: millennials want to feel like they’re part of something that has a positive impact.

One Calgary-based tech company – where purpose is at the heart of their culture and their work – designed bold, colorful graphics with inspirational messages and printed them directly on DIRTT walls. Here, the walls do triple duty: they bring the space to life and make it fun to be in; an ever-present reminder to employees and visitors of the company’s why; and they accomplish their more ho-hum space-separating duty too with the option for future flexibility.

Mariner Holdings in Kansas celebrated their culture with a massive mural on their DIRTT walls. An employee-wide competition invited people to design something that represented the company and the winner became a focal point for the office.

Designing around your values can be a subtle way to make a big impact. GM Financial Service Center in Texas designed their office to show how much they care about how their employees feel at work. Breakout spaces incorporate timber, art glass, and comfortable seating. Cozy banquettes in the café overlook treetops through huge windows. Punches of bright colour make the space vibrant and fun. All of these touches invite employees to feel at home, at work.

Embed experience into your design

Most millennials value experiences. A study by Harris Group found that 78% of millennials would rather spend money on a memorable experience than on things. Spending on live events, eating out and travel is on the rise according to McKinsey.  When design is done right, spaces can create experiences for people in their daily work environment too. DIRTT opted for a slide instead of the stairs.

“We incorporate Java Centres or kitchenettes with a great coffee machine and coffee bar that brings coffee culture into the office,” says Tori Cnuddle, DIRTT interior designer. These spaces give employees a place to dip out of their work and chat, refuel or take a much-needed break.

An experience can be something beautiful or unexpected. Interesting shapes, colours, building materials, ceiling pitches and swings all transform this meeting room into something far more than a place to meet. It’s comfortable, interesting and creative: the kind of place where fresh ideas are born.

Keep your open concept office acoustically sound

Traditional top-down design has largely been shirked for open concept offices. Millennials don’t want to lead from a corner office. But working from the hive presents its own challenges, like noise.

“Acoustics are super important in an open office,” says Tori, who takes noise into account for all of her designs. That can mean making an enclosed space sound proof with soft floors, double or triple insulation in the walls and sealed doors.

In common spaces, bespoke ceilings, which, like all DIRTT solutions, are beautiful (any design you want) and practical (sound absorbent). DIRTT’s Micro Perforated Tiles have a 75% noise reduction coefficient (NRC), which means they absorb 75% of the sound that strikes them. How? Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) baffle is combined with a micro-perforated surface and an acoustic fabric backing. The acoustic needs of every space are different; it all starts with a conversation to make sure you have the speech privacy you need in balance with your budget.

Bespoke Ceiling at DIRTT HQ
Bespoke Ceiling at DIRTT HQ

It makes sense that millennials want the same intuitive technology at their fingertips at work that they use in all other aspects of their life. Brett Allen is an architectural technologist who leads DIRTT’s integrated technology team. “We’re not only integrating interactivity,” says Brett. “The biggest challenge for new technology is adoption. We want to keep it familiar, like the things people use at home, so they’ll know how to use it at work.”

That can mean empowering your company to turn existing TV screens into multi-touch screens using Displax film – a capacitive touch technology. Or embedding smart speakers throughout your office.

The team is always looking for ways to use technology in creative and unexpected ways. Like, replacing a static anatomy poster with an interactive touch screen that changes and adapts to the situation at hand.

Or (perhaps paradoxically) using technology to bring a touch of nature inside.

Millennials demand offices with flexible and functional design that inspires. For us, that demand is fundamental to the way we do things.

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