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How to build a workplace that appeals to five generations of employees

Attract and retain employees of all ages, with flexible and adaptable workplaces that meet everyone’s needs.

Multi-Generational Workplaces
IMAGE CREDIT: LATITUDE PHOTOGRAPHY
IMAGE CREDIT: LATITUDE PHOTOGRAPHY

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Walk into many offices today and you’ll witness multigenerational collaboration in action. 

In a historic first, these days up to five generations of employees can end up working together in the same space: traditionalists (over 75), baby boomers (57 to 75), Gen X (41 to 56), millennials (26 to 40) and Gen Z (25 and younger).  

DIRTT
How do you actually get people off their headphones and having discussions?
IMAGE CREDIT: KEVIN BELANGER

In a recent survey from LiveCareer, 89% of respondents said generational diversity in the workplace is positive, with 87% calling it an opportunity to learn from other cohorts as part of their work experience.  

But as with other elements of diversity, such as gender and race, achieving genuine multigenerational inclusion is no simple task. 

How do you design and build a workplace that simultaneously meets the needs of recent graduates seeking personal and professional growth, versus busy working parents further along in their career or experienced employees who are near retirement? 

DIRTT
How do you create inclusionary environments that encourage cross-generational engagement?
IMAGE CREDIT: PARTNERS BY DESIGN / TOM HARRIS OF TOM HARRIS ARCHITECTURAL PHOTOGRAPHY

“People are still figuring that out,” says Bhushan Sethi, Joint Global Leader, People & Organization at PwC. He shares some of the key drivers and concerns influencing generational expectations of their workplace, but notes that flexibility and inclusivity — exemplified by leaders at every level — is integral to attracting and retaining specialized talent of all ages.  

These tenets must extend to the design of your workplace as well, says AnnaMarie West, Director of Design Services at DIRTT. “When you’re designing your space, having options is a better approach than to think of one or two generations.” 

Instead of trying to design a space that serves the needs of each generational cohort, embrace uncertainty and build an office that both reflects your purpose as an organization, but also shifts and adapts to accommodate different user demands. 

DIRTT's folding glass wall easily folds away to open up an office space.
A flexible and inclusive workplace strategy that supports purpose-driven work is integral.
IMAGE CREDIT: PHOTO COURTESY OF HDR © 2021 DAN SCHWALM

Younger generations demand a more inclusive workplace for everyone

Younger workers are driving radically different expectations of work environments, which in turn affect all generations, says Sethi.  

“The youngest cohort in the workplace are the most comfortable being activists,” and not just in their social lives or as consumers. They expect the companies they work for to be sustainable, inclusive, and purpose-driven.  

“We cannot manage and inspire in the way that we were managed,” he says. Gen Z and millennials have made it clear they demand more purpose and meaning from their work, but that doesn’t mean other generations don’t seek improved work experiences as well. 

Sethi says PwC’s Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2022 outlines some of the key priorities that attract and retain today’s employees.  

“We asked a question about what would make people leave. The number one issue that they said to us was job fulfillment, the number two issue was being ‘my inclusive self’ and number three was fair pay.”

If you want specialized talent to choose your organization, a flexible and inclusive (of race, gender, generational, and disability divides) workplace strategy that supports purpose-driven work is integral, he says. 

Many companies are still testing out new office strategies, but Sethi says many of the questions they’re asking in this process relate to changing behaviors in rapidly evolving hybrid-work environments.  

“Should people have assigned spaces? Should people have offices? How do people check in? How do you actually get people off their headphones and having discussions? What does this serendipitous water cooler talk mean for people that don’t really do it very well? Are we building inequity?” 

Of course, the design of your physical space plays a key role in answering these questions, and ultimately supporting more inclusionary experiences as well.

DIRTT
Enable quiet work spaces to also function as phone booths.
IMAGE CREDIT: JAMES JOHN JETEL

Only flexible, adaptable environments meet the needs of multiple generations

According to West, generational workplace design trends are constantly evolving.  

For instance, at the moment Gen Z is concerned with sustainability and eco-friendly environments, so they care about the materials used in their workplace, she says. Meanwhile, as millennials become parents and have busy home lives, they are more invested in accessing quiet spaces at work. 

Her point is that it’s tricky to make accommodations for people in different stages of their work and personal life, while also creating inclusionary environments that encourage cross-generational engagement.  

DIRTT
Create welcoming, cozy environments with specific breakout spaces.
IMAGE CREDIT: KEVIN BELANGER

“It’s super important to not design for one specific generation,” says West, noting that industrialized construction solutions, which support flexibility (quick, on-the-fly changes) and adaptability (the ability to easily shift the structure or use space) are especially useful in this context. 

For instance, a modular system allows organizations to easily reconfigure or even fully adapt the features of a space, as desired — say, upgrading the functionality of tech that’s integrated in a space over time, enabling quiet work spaces to also function as phone booths (thank you, enhanced acoustic performance), or turning office areas into collaboration zones.  

They can test out what works and what doesn’t for the different generations in their office without major construction or interruption.  

West also shares examples of current workplace design trends that meet varied, multigenerational expectations and are by extension also more inclusive.  

“Picture more of a home environment. Welcoming, cozy, and with specific breakout spaces — so some private offices mixed with some collaboration areas.” She says some companies are even sectioning their space by color or theme to give off a specific vibe or set a certain mood, as well as reflect their brand culture.  

Another key trend West has noticed is more dedicated quiet spaces that block out ambient noise for meditation, nursing moms, napping, or simply focused work, which employees of all ages require at some point. 

Meanwhile, communal kitchens and warm, friendly reception areas facilitate organic encounters and encourage conversation, “pushing people out of their comfort zone to interact with people of a different generation.” These types of spaces facilitate more spontaneous discoveries through socialization, says West.  

“Designing for everyone is the best method, because giving employees options, whatever generation they’re from, is going to make them feel more comfortable and thrive in their environment.” 

DIRTT
IMAGE CREDIT: KEVIN BELANGER

This article originally appeared on DIRTT Insights, DIRTT’s editorial platform that shares perspectives from the design and construction industries.

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Written By

DIRTT is a global leader in industrialized construction. Its system of physical products and digital tools empowers organizations, together with construction and design leaders, to build high-performing, adaptable, interior environments. Operating in the workplace, healthcare, education, and public sector markets, DIRTT’s system provides total design freedom, and greater certainty in cost, schedule, and outcomes. DIRTT trades on Nasdaq (DRTT) and on the Toronto Stock Exchange (DRT).

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