Designing Your Office for the Largest Generation

By June 11, 2019 January 18th, 2020 Stories

Workforce, make way: the oldest members of Generation Z are graduating college and university. Born between 1996 and 2010, these teens and young adults number 2 billion worldwide, making them the largest generation. By 2020, they’ll make up 20% of the American workforce.

Generation Z are our first, true digital natives; they don’t remember a time before the world wide web. On average, they use five screens a day. They spend 6-10 hours a day online and, according to Forbes, have only an eight-second attention span. Technology is integrated into their social relationships; that may sound concerning to other generations, but it’s the new normal to them.

This generation saw their parents struggle through the great recession. As a result, their career priorities are often pragmatic. While Millennials seek out purpose, Generation Z is focused on stability and financial return. They also believe they’ll have to work harder and longer than previous generations.

So how do we help this generation succeed in the workplace and be happier in their careers? Their work environment plays a key role.

Spaces for collaboration and solitude

Gen Z’s ideal workplace has “a mix of private, dedicated workspaces, collaboration spaces, cafe-style temporary workspaces and lots of meeting rooms,” writes Work Design Magazine.

According to Inc, 72% of Gen Zers prefer face-to-face communication. Text messages came in second for preferred communication methods at 11%, followed by emails (9%) and the now “archaic” phone call (2%) (perhaps surprisingly, social collaboration tools like Slack were cited at 1%). So those beautifully-funky communal spaces you designed for Millennials—they’re important for Gen Z too.

But this generation craves time and space to work alone too. And they don’t want to be stuck at their desks all day.

Creating quiet enclosed spaces where people can hunker down will appeal to Generation Z. Away from the open-layout desks, these pods can be acoustically enclosed with soft walls and floors, and a tight door. Comfortable seating invites the mind and body to relax and let the ideas flow.

Flexible spaces are also ideal. Check out this education room in Chicago.

Flexible Education Space
Millwork in an Education Space

“When the folding LEAF wall is open, it can be a large meeting or education space that still feels homey,” says Tori Cnudde, DIRTT Interior Designer. Closing the wall creates a more intimate collaboration space. “We used DIRTT millwork to create a desk and library with cabinets that can be used for display and create practical storage. The curved DIRTT Timber nook is a great place to work alone or curl up with a book.”

One large collaboration space, two small breakout rooms and a funky nook for some alone time all in one package. Cool, eh?

Next level technology

It goes without saying these digital natives expect the latest technology.

The DIRTT technology integration team “takes technology elements and bring the walls to life,” says architectural technologist Brett Allen. He adds: “DIRTT doesn’t provide the technology. We trial run technologies and recommend solutions for our clients.”

For example: at a recent DIRTT retirement party, the team was able to bring the Chicago-based retiree to the Calgary office on human-size screen where everyone toasted him. Technologies like these can potentially bring remote workers into the office—and give Generation Z the human touch and sense of community they crave.

Human-Scale Video Conference

Another thing about this tech-savvy generation? “Generation Z wants to configure and customize their space,” says Brett.

The DIRTT team created this space to adapt to different moods: concentration for working or studying; creativity; party; and relaxation for yoga or meditation. Just tell the embedded Alexa speaker what you’re up for and she’ll adjust the temperature, lighting and music accordingly.

Smart Space

“Soon, we’ll be able to customize space like this by tapping our phones on the wall,” says Brett, “using the same NFC chip we use for Apple Pay now.”

What’s so exciting about both of these examples is that they’re not just about cool tech. The technology satisfies the very human needs of Generation Zers too: whether it’s togetherness, or alone space catered to the mood of the moment.

Well-being and flexibility

Because Generation Z believes they are going to have to work hard, your office should promote productivity while lowering stress. Your workplace will need to be and feel healthy.

Movement promotes brain function, productivity and health. It behooves you to get your people out of their chairs. That can start with well-designed collaboration, breakout rooms or those enticing nooks we’ve talked about earlier. Dedicated nap, mediation or yoga rooms are a clear signal you care about your employees’ health, physical and mental. You may even encourage your employees to take the stairs with the right design.

Staircase at DIRTT Chicago

DIRTT builds sit-stand desks that give people the opportunity to get their blood flowing while they work.

Adjustable-Height Desks

Incorporating plants with biophilic design and bringing comfort to the office with resimercial design are two other design trends that are proven to promote happiness and productivity.

Undoubtedly, Generation Z will have their own ideas about the spaces they want to work in. Like technology, design is constantly evolving. We’re excited to see what inventions, evolutions and ideas Gen Z has in store for us.