Generational Relevance in the Workplace: Who are we designing for in 2030?

by William Hendrix
Jun. 3, 2019 | Back To Explore

We’re on the cusp of a generational transition in the workplace and anticipate workers in 2030 to be comprised of three generations who are accustomed to co-creating, co-working, and co-relating:  Generation X, Generation Y (Millennials), and Generation Z.  With this in mind, how do we generate relevant workplaces of the future? Who will we be designing for, what will their needs be and what will be the real drivers for a successful workplace?  

Based on our research into the goals and character of the “worker of the future,” we challenge you to imagine what your world will need to be. We encourage you to explore the potential and profound shifts in workplace interiors, architecture, and development and urban design that this future implies. A generation is defined as a group of individuals born about the same time, who have a shared set of influences that define their values and aspirations. By 2030, 22% of the workforce will be Generation Z – that’s one of every five workers! If you were to build today, by the time your investment has fully depreciated (15 years), over 35% of your work population will be Generation Z.

When designing for the worker of the future, we first need to understand them. Generation Z grew up in a digital world. They are also living in uncertainty and have beliefs shaped by their Generation X parents who raised them.

7 Characteristics of Generation Z:

  1. Gen Z-ers suffer from an intense fear of missing out (FOMO). The good news is they stay on top of all trends; the bad news, they worry they’re not moving ahead fast enough.
  2. From uber to Airbnb, Gen Z-ers have only known a world with a shared economy. They will push to break down internal and external silos like never before.
  3. Generation Z’s fierce, independent nature will collide head-on with many of the collaborative cultures that millennials have fought for.
  4. With parents who drilled into them that there are winners and there are losers, this demographic is one motivated group. 72% say they are competitive with people doing the same job.
  5. 91% of Gen Z-ers say a company’s technological sophistication would influence their decision to accept a position.
  6. Generation Z has always worked hard at identifying and tailoring their brands for the world to know. From job titles to career paths, the pressure to customize has been turned up. 56% want to write their own job descriptions.
  7. Growing up with skeptical Gen X parents in the aftermath of 9/11 and the great recession, Gen Z has a pragmatic mindset when it comes to preparing for the future.

So, how do we design for the generation of the future? We need to keep 5 principles in mind: flexibility, authenticity, choice, convenience, and integration.

Flexibility

The definition of flexibility for Gen Z is predicated on two shifting desire lines about their lives and

their environments — definitions of time and the availability of alternatives. Gen Z works hard. They also want to enjoy life. To create flexibility, consider finding locations and building developments with places for all aspects of life that are close by. Employ technologies that help facilities run efficiently without limiting access and enable individuals to efficiently and effectively juggle fluid work-life schedules.

Authenticity

In any place, it helps to know that what can be relied upon is predictable — and safe. To achieve authenticity, start by finding locations that have evolved organically from the special qualities of the local culture and build on these qualities. Build places that are honest representations of the values in the Gen Z profile. Put an emphasis on design strategies that promote well-being. Finally, be sure there will be uninterrupted Wi-fi and cell connectivity.

Choice

With or without such characterful infrastructure, functionality and choice in Gen Z work and life environments will reign. Work bottom-up to figure this out, engaging Gen Z to offer ideas and solutions. Even better, design places that are easily modified, rearranged and reconfigured

and use technologies that help make this happen.

Convenience

Thinking of convenience immediately exposes the challenges of mobility for the Gen Z lifestyle. Mobility, or getting between places, is a time intensive sideline to other activities. It is no secret driving is not a high priority for the younger generations who value convenience and financial savings over car ownership, and prefer transportation that allows them to be social or multi-task

while in transit. We suggest that providing and facilitating both subscriptions and a range of transportation alternatives will be the most successful in attracting this generation.

Integration

Placemaking for Gen Z proposes a paradigm shift from creating objects to providing experience.

While Gen Z has spent years texting and tweeting, electronic communication is not the only medium. What is essential is that their connected lives are interactive. The Gen Z office will need to become a thriving ecosystem infused with new technologies, new cultural norms and a variety of spaces for participation in the larger community while simultaneously supporting work and life. The office will become a resource responsive to a diverse and mobile workforce, driven by technology to support a combination of heads-down focused work, formal and informal collaboration and social activities to enhance loyalty among employees, customers and stakeholders. It is no secret that keeping up in today’s world is critical at many levels. In real estate, making and changing things takes time, often a long time relative to the pace of technological advancement and adaptation in other aspects of life. This confronts the challenge of permanence vs. transformability inherent in built form. Standard construction methods are slow and building in flexibility often means extra upfront cost. For example, planning a parking garage for conversion given current waning demand for cars requires structure to support much higher loads. The glacial rate of zoning change regulatory constraints also limit the speed of project delivery. Without adjustments in these areas, the flexibility of physical space has limitations. Yet, if we can frame our goals around Flexibility, Authenticity, Choice, Convenience and Integration, we can move toward creating a world that includes Gen Z, but we must begin now. As we build for the future, we are sure to have much help from Gen Z.