Workspaces for Different Generations

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How Workspaces Matter: A Generational Perspective

Why does the VP get a door? Why don’t I get a laptop? Why can’t we meet at the coffee shop when the meeting rooms are always booked?

You’ve probably heard questions like these ones, or have heard employees be confused about the configuration of your offices and work cultures have heard You may have even noticed that the four generations (Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Ys) have their own ideas and thoughts about how a work place should operate.

When it comes to office workplaces, understanding the generational perspective is important.

How Different Generations See Workspaces

During the high-tech era during which many Gen Xers first entered into the workplace, the workspace was designed to be open. Lower or no cubicle walls and lunch rooms that looked more like cafes were common. For many Gen Ys, they see doors and walls as counterproductive to collaboration and innovation. Since Gen Ys view every colleague as a peer, why separate people who are all working on the same project or organizational goal?

Also, they don’t want to be tied to a desk, they want to have the possibility of working wirelessly throughout and outside of the office.

Gen Ys are much more likely to work from home or while traveling than other generation. Accustomed to high levels of collaboration and teamwork, Gen Ys expect that the physical space and the office technology will facilitate their work style. They are more inclined to use Skype to hold a meeting than they are to pick up the phone.

Conversely, many Baby Boomers are used to having a desk to call their own. They want a place where they could put up pictures of their children; many feelthat a permanent physical space equals security.

How can you structure your office to meet the expectations of all four generations?

Structuring Your Office Workspace: Hoteling

It is important for organizations to create workspaces that meet the expectations of all four generations. In the last 10 years, some organizations have moved to the concept of ‘hoteling’ where few employees have permanent offices. In this structure, employees sign out a desk space to work for the day as needed, rather than having a full-time workspace. This strategy is particularly popular in consulting firms where employees spend a large portion of time on site with clients. Organizations that may be looking to cut operational costs could also use this approach.

A participant in one of our workshops was charged with executing hoteling in her organization. She was less concerned with how the younger employees would respond to the change, as many would be happy to work from home. Her concern was the response from her Baby Boomer colleagues. How could she make them comfortable with this situation? She recognized that it is so important to take all four generations into account when making physical changes to office workspaces. Ensuring that everyone understands and is comfortable with the changes is key.

Offices Workspaces: Walls, Doors and Cubicles

Traditionally, the way in which a workplace was physically constructed was a representation of the status of the colleagues within the office. The more senior the colleagues, the more they were separated from everyone else. The dream was to have the corner office: There were only 4 of them on any floor, thereby signifying employee value through scarcity. In some traditional offices, the quality of furniture and the quality of the carpet also signified status. For those who did not achieve the status of a private office, the next symbol of status was having one’s own cubicle. Within cubicle hierarchy, wall height was often used to show status. Those with higher walls were typically more senior.

Today, many organizations are moving away from the historical construction of offices. The formal, structured workspace is being changed in favour of more open spaces that allow for greater technology use and inter-peer collaboration.

Meeting Rooms & Training Rooms

Meeting rooms in many organizations are often hard to book as there are usually not enough of them. During the high-tech era, many organizations solved this issue by designing workspaces that allowed for impromptu meetings. Often employees’ desks were grouped together alongside movable tables, so that impromptu workspaces could be created where and when they were needed.

This type of workspace aligned well to Gen Xers expectation of being kept in the loop as to what people were working on, without actually having to attend the meeting. If a Gen Xer was not involved in that meeting, he or she had the option of wearing earphones. In general, Gen Ys are less distracted by noise and, in fact, they thrive in noisy, busy environments.

Structuring the Workspace in your Office for all Generations

Given the range of workspace design options, spend some time evaluating your office space – does it suit the needs of all four generations? How could you make small or large physical changes to your workspace that would drive greater employee engagement and team results?

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