Office space

How to design and equip the office for Gen Z (other generations are invited)

How physical space and technology are making the difference in attracting and retaining talent
How to design and equip the office for Gen Z (other generations are invited)
Photo: MikeDotta (Shutterstock)
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Generation Z graduates are entering the workforce at a time when many employers are still adjusting the physical office environment to better meet hybrid working requirements. And while this group of workers is the smallest generation in the workforce (making up about 13%) in 2022, they play an essential role in shaping the future workplace. Formally classified as anyone born between 1997 and 2012, they are the first generation to live entirely with access to the internet, social media, apps, and more. In addition, older Gen Zers experienced going through parts of high school and college when the pandemic first hit, which means their expectations of what the office’s role should be and how it should look are markedly different from workers who experienced pre-pandemic offices and work norms.

Employers have their work cut out for them. They’re not only looking at ways to attract this newer generation for entry-level positions amid an already tight labor market but also prioritizing where and how to cut costs with the likely economic downturn. Considering real estate is the second largest cost center to employers, how can business leaders balance delivering a workplace that is optimized for its workers and attractive to Gen Z workers?

Even though these digital-first workers might be comfortable with technology and working remotely, they still see advantages in experiencing office life that strikes the perfect balance of flexible work, health, and well-being. In addition, they value a great company culture that offers opportunities for professional growth, socialization, and collaboration. Hybrid work options are the perfect way for companies to cultivate this seemingly tall order.

Design refresh to make coming into the office worth it

Organizations must carefully consider how the physical environment is designed to impact Gen Z workers the most. Much of this comes down to creating a place that benefits employees. The younger generation is looking for an organization that allows hybrid work, has an office space that fosters creativity and socialization, and provides a safe setting to express themselves to their peers and leadership.

In practical terms, Gen Z is looking for an open floor plan that gives them complete visibility of who’s in the office. Of course, there should be options for privacy, especially regarding closed-door meetings and heads-down time. Technology must be integrated throughout this environment and inform employees in the building, where they’re sitting, and what’s happening in different collaboration spaces.

They also want a company that embraces consumer-quality tech in the workplace to enhance their workplace experience. This requires organizations to rely more on sensor data that provides the necessary insights on movement in the office, identify ‘cold spots’ that are not fully optimized, and flag any other potential efficiency bottlenecks in the physical environment.

Gen Z knows how to advocate for themselves. They expect an office environment that’ll mitigate the risks of potential burnout. More than a water cooler and coffee station will be required. They want an environment that can provide perks like breakfast and lunch, planned activities that build upon their competitive nature, and ways to collaborate with leaders to increase communication and inspire professional development. It’s as much about breaking down traditional hierarchies as it’s about empowering Gen Z with access to people in senior positions in a more democratized way.

Technology changes to keep up with life outside of work

Gen Z is fearless in research and due diligence. Using software like FMS:Employee gives them access to interactive floor plans and options to reserve a desk from their phones. Then, when deciding whether to go to the office, employees can quickly search to ensure their work ‘besties’ are in and reserve a desk next to (or away from) them.

It’s also crucial for organizations to use workplace and workforce solutions that integrate with what employees already use, for instance, Outlook, Teams, and other apps on their mobile phones. This way, modern technology can solve immediate needs without drastically changing the flow of work.

Decision-makers must take the time to understand what the requirements are from their employees. It’s not about forcing them to use or work in one way or another. Instead, it’s about giving employees what they need and enhancing efficiency. Of course, this sounds easier than it is.

With such a wide range of generations, some who resist technology and others who cannot get enough of it, business leaders need to find ways to use diversity as an opportunity rather than a challenge. For instance, they should consider giving Gen Z employees a cross-collaboration opportunity to champion new software. They can also create multi-generational committees leading to professional and personal growth. Additionally, upgrading the physical workplace to give employees visibility into what’s going on and provide them with spaces for culture building, flexibility, and communication are all vital components.

The future office isn’t something that will be put in place overnight. It’s a complex process of analyzing data, understanding employee needs, and building on existing investments. However, this change is necessary, especially if companies want to remain relevant for the new generation of workers arriving at their doorsteps.

Caine Mayhew is a solutions consultant at FM:Systems that understands and addresses business challenges and has developed unique insights into the future of the workplace.

Kari Smith has more than 20 years of corporate interior design and facility management experience and combines her expertise in Activity-Based Work with research, data, and analytics. She is a certified Prosci Change Practitioner, holds an interior design certification with NCIDQ.