There are numerous articles about adapting the workplace to suit Millennials, yet a new generation is carving out a place for itself. In the next five years, “Gen Z” is set to constitute one fifth of the workforce. Once again, the workplace will need to adapt in order for companies to compete in the war for talent. With five generations working alongside one another, understanding the different needs of each is vital in attracting new talent while retaining the skills and knowledge from current staff.
Generation Z grew up during the 2008 downturn and expect to have to work hard to get themselves ahead. Unpaid internships are common and Gen Z workers will take them on if they see a potential for career development. Generation Z – on the whole – are likely to be more loyal than millennials because they have seen how tenuous job security can be.
However, this loyalty is dependent on working conditions matching their expectations. Flexible working hours and an open office environment are considered the norm. This is a generation that may struggle to work productively in poorly designed offices, and will look elsewhere if their employer can’t provide a suitable working environment.
While previous generations have adapted to an interconnected world, Gen Z have grown up with a smart phone or iPad close at hand. They are fluent in technology and social media and live in an on-demand society – everything from music, to movies, to transport is on-demand. In their minds, why should the workplace be any different?
They have a natural affinity with the workplace’s technological infrastructure, but still very much appreciate and value face-to-face communication in a culture where we are bombarded with content that can so often lack authenticity. Workplaces which enable open interaction and facilitate networking are vital.
This ability to connect in the workplace is even more important considering this generation has also been identified as the loneliest of current generations. Other studies have revealed high levels of distrust and anxiety. Community in the traditional sense is increasingly absent from cities. Workplaces need to create space where connections and communities can grow. Many organisations are utilising the coworking and flexible office model as a means of providing this.
Workspaces will need to be open and flexible but fit for purpose. As Leesman suggests, opening workspaces up to create more collective spaces often comes at the expense of focused work. Trusting employees with flexible and remote working will encourage loyalty and respect. When Gen Z staff are in the office, it is because they are a part of something and value working directly with colleagues in a workplace that facilitates their work.
This trust and flexibility in Generation Z’s approach to work resonates with their tendency to be more independent and pragmatic than millennials which, again, might be a result of growing up during the recession. Gen Z is looking to be a highly competitive workforce in which collaboration needs to be fostered. When placed in the same role as a colleague, 72% of Gen Z employees have said they are competitive. With regards to individual achievement, this has the potential to create great workers, but it is key that this new workforce doesn’t lose the creative reciprocity that managers and workplace designers have been trying to capture for so long through the development of open and flexible workplaces.
Regardless of how well a workplace is designed for any singular generation, it would be both impractical and counterproductive to silo the various generations into spaces adapted to their different ways of working. Business structures – it isn’t unusual now to see a more senior employee who is younger than members of their team – and differences in working styles can give rise to generational tensions. The tensions can arise through a lack of understanding which leads to a failure to respect others’ ways of doing things.
Creating workplaces which cater to varied approaches to working while encouraging overlap and interaction is therefore the path to a workplace in which generations work synergistically. These workplaces need to cater to multiple ways of working and provide spaces for interaction. Large, international organisations are increasingly utilising flexible and coworking as an acknowledgement of this. Spaces tailored to an organisation can offer the perfect degree of flexibility and traditional practical space to balance the many approaches to work.
Designing spaces and catering to a new generation of employees might seem daunting, especially considering some still seem baffled by millennials. However, Gen Z are the blueprints of a powerfully efficient future workforce. By providing the right settings and services, business leaders can help Generation Z flourish. Indeed, identifying the right flexible space strategy can help to future-proof the business model by attracting and retaining talent.