Jitesh Patel of Peldon Rose London discusses how to create an office environment that is inclusive of all generations.
It’s widely recognized that different generations have different expectations and priorities when it comes to work and office life. While there is some crossover, catering for these varying needs across all aspects of a business presents a challenge. This is especially the case when it comes to creating an office that appeals to all age groups.
Tackling Gen Z: new generation, new expectations?
One of the biggest questions for senior teams when they’re thinking about attracting new talent is how to appeal to Gen Z, a generation of true digital natives. They think, learn and behave in a completely different way to previous generations and this has a direct impact on the way they view work and the expectations they have of what a workplace can, and vitally should, deliver.
While there has been an increase in entry-level jobs which offer complete remote working, it would be wrong to assume that this is something that younger workers are looking for. A report last year showed that Gen Z were in fact the most eager to return to the workplace following the pandemic. For those who are entering the job market for the first time, this will also be their first experience of work, so having a physical space to connect with is important. So, what is driving this need for connection? Much of Gen Z cited a ‘lack of development opportunities’ for this reticence towards permanent remote working in the report. They already understand that skills are often developed through shared experiences and there is a lot to be gained by working closely with more experienced colleagues. A recent survey from Microsoft also shows that a lot of Gen Z have been struggling with tackling their work in isolation, at home over the last 18 months. This lack of in-person communication, has meant their developmental journey has been temporarily put on hold. This has been particularly detrimental for those more junior members of a team who are not as embedded in any existing organizational culture.
Gen Z are not alone in feeling this impact. In a recent report, 91% of millennials and 92% of Gen X also stated that they believe it is important to learn from colleagues in person. A physical workplace is vital in connecting people with an organisation but it must also support communication across generations, as without this progression can slow company-wide.
Hybrid working – the new frontier
One area where generations align is hybrid working, and a report showed that a staggering 52% of the workforce are looking for a permanent flexible working option – one that combines the ‘best of both worlds’. Building and cultivating a strong hybrid model is key to making this work, as is ensuring you have the physical office and technology in place to support it.
By facilitating a workplace that provides this approach it means organizations can encourage employees to spend a few days a week in the office, viewing it more as a ‘destination’. This then enables the physical workspace to become more about collaboration and creativity– with teams venturing in for certain reasons, like brainstorms, project working and client meetings. This approach gives more choice to employees, and by offering this flexibility, individuals can tailor the approach to suit their needs and best support their productivity.
The power of the people
So, how do you create this office utopia? The first step is to get the buy-in of your people, as they are your greatest asset. There is a wealth of research to support the fact that nurturing talent has a positive impact on business culture, growth and success. Employees need to feel they’re being supported professionally, as well as emotionally in order to progress – and their physical environment plays a key role in this. Therefore, when making any big changes that will impact the world around them, like a relocation or a redesign, it’s vital to consult them.
Surveys, working groups and even suggestion boxes are a great way to start these conversations and they also ensure there’s a steady flow of communication between senior teams and the wider employee network. Regular check-ins and updates throughout the process are also vital, as it makes everyone feel in the loop and part of the journey.
By including employees, they not only feel part of the decision-making processes, but they also become more invested in helping to shape company culture. This sharing of ideas and information can help to build strong social relationships within a workplace. This is even more important in a multi-generational business, it means that unlikely friendships and working relationships can be forged, with each side often learning something from the other. This kind of social interaction is much rarer outside of work too and is hugely valuable, as with such diversity comes increased perspective, which can benefit creativity and productivity. These connections between people can be nurtured within an office environment by increasing the social and breakout spaces, so when it comes to the design these are a must, no matter how much space you have.
Overall, it’s clear that each generation has expectations of how their working lives should be. However, what unifies everyone is the need for career progression, social connections and the capacity to learn, which are all facilitated by a well-thought-out office environment.
It’s vital that leaders take the time to explore how to balance the needs of their entire staff and ensure that the lines of communication are open. Businesses must also be willing to offer flexible working models, with a physical office at the center, which will foster collaboration, culture and creativity.