Demanding,” “spoiled” and “lazy” are just a handful of words so called generational experts have used to describe millennials, a.k.a. people who were born between 1981 and 1996. Though many of the negative things people say about millennials have been proven to be nothing more than myths, there’s no doubt about it, millennials do things differently. From embracing social media to rejecting traditional organizational structures, millennials have disrupted “business” as we know it and this extends to the workplace as well.
Perhaps unlike previous generations, millennials demand that their work environments reflect their values, organizational mission, support work/life balance and are, generally speaking, comfortable. Due to their refusal to compromise on these issues, few generations have changed the workplace as much and as fast as the millennial generation. However, there’s no doubt about it, millennials have changed the workplace for the better.
To start, thanks to the influx of millennials and Gen Z into the workplace, bland, sterile cubicle-farms are increasingly becoming a thing of the past. While natural lighting, human-centered design and ergonomic office products are becoming the norm. These are changes that office workers of all ages can all rejoice in.
However, despite these changes, millennials are still the least engaged generation in the workforce. According to Gallup:
- Only 29% of millennials are engaged while 55% are not engaged and 16% are actively disengaged.
- Millennial turnover costs the U.S. economy an estimated $30.5 billion annually.
Considering that millennials currently make up 50% of the workforce and will grow to 75% by 2030, unless companies figure out how to make millennials stay, they economic impact of these trends could be grievous.
Though the art of employee engagement is certainly multi-faceted, office design does play a pivotal role in attracting and engaging millennial employees. In fact, a study by Steelcase found:
- 76% of millennials feel somewhat or very strongly that that office design and aesthetic influences their impression of a company, while only 39% of employees ages 55+ care about what their office looks like
- 70% of millennial respondents who work in an office environment say that they wished their workplace would consider a design upgrade
- 70% of millennials care about where an office is located compared to 41% of those aged 55+
But what exactly do millennials want from their work environments?
1. Use Office Design To Create Experiences
Embrace Experience Over Stuff
Even in terms of their spending habits, millennials opt to invest in experiences, such as travel or concerts, instead of consumer goods like cars or stereo systems. Consistent with that trend, they also prize overall workplace experience over trendy amenities. In response to this, office designers are increasingly shifting towards human-focused design, an approach that emphasizes social connection, creativity, and collaboration and worker happiness.
Organizations that excel at creating meaningful experiences through office design focus on 4 key areas: formal collaboration, informal social connection, employee wellness and flexibility/choice.
For many organizations, creating formal spaces, such as meeting rooms that successfully enable and support meaningful collaboration can feel a lot like capturing lighting in a bottle. In fact, according to a 2013 Knoll study, only 14% of office workers describe their collaborative spaces as “above average” while the vast majority rated the effectiveness of the spaces to support high value interactions as average or below.
Organizations that succeed in this area have moved away from the traditional one size fits all approach. Instead they’re creating “specialty spaces” that are designed and equipped to support specific, collaboration-based activities such as brainstorming, video conferencing and training. Both the furniture and the tech included are highly adaptable and leverage plug & play solutions to ensure they’re easy to set up and easy to use.
Spaces for Social Connection
Leading-edge companies also understand that oftentimes the most meaningful interactions arise in informal setting such as waiting in line for a coffee or over lunch in the break room. With this in mind, organizations are creating spaces specifically designed to spark ad-hoc interactions and conversations. For example, Salesforce has installed a Social Lounge on every floor of its San Francisco HQ. Every Social Lounge includes a feature wall designed by artist Shinji Murakami, a large kitchen island, snacks, natural light and stunning views. In addition, all Salesforce buildings include an “Ohana Floor” that’s open to the public and includes a barista bar, exhibition kitchen and event space.
One of the biggest changes millennials have brought to the workplace is a greater emphasis on work/life balance and workplace wellness. Ergonomic furniture, natural lighting & nature-inspired design are a must for attracting millennials. Features such as biophilia, meditation/relaxation rooms and outdoor spaces have also been proven to not only attract millennials, but boost productivity and engagement across the workforce.
Flexibility & Choice
Millennials want to be able to work anywhere, anytime and, given our modern technological capabilities, companies have no excuse for not accommodating. Leading-edge work environments are not only fully connected from meeting rooms, to lounges, to hallways, but also provide employee with ample choice. Activity-Based Working (ABW) is one way of accomplishing this.
ABW rejects the notion that employees should “own” their own workspace and does away with traditional assigned workstations. Instead, employees can choose between a variety of work areas designed to support specific tasks and/or working style. ABW avoids many of the pitfalls of the open office layout by balancing spaces for collaboration and social interaction with spaces designed for privacy and quiet concentration. For example, if an employee needs to conduct a sensitive or confidential phone call with a client, they can book a private room. Whereas if an employee wants to host a brainstorm meeting, they could book a space specifically designed for group discussion and project planning.
In addition to giving employees more control over how and where they work, ABW can also reduce overhead costs and even reduce a company’s carbon footprint by helping organizations more efficiently utilize office space. For example, British utilities company National Grid reduced operational costs by $11.43-14.29 million and increased productivity by 8% by implementing activity-based working. AECOM, who’s SVP, Corporate Workplace – Practice Director, Sandra Paret, will be presenting at Future Offices Spring, was able to reduce its real estate from print from 16 million sq ft to 11 million.
2. Accept Home is Everywhere
The Death of the “Office”
The days of the sterile, all-work-no-play office are over. Millennials and other emerging generations want their workspaces to feel like home. As a result, companies are increasingly incorporating “resimercial” design elements, such as living-room inspired layouts, soft-lighting, communal tables and even nap areas, into their workspaces.
Beyond physical amenities and design elements such as nap pods, offices are embracing hospitality-inspired perks. For example, companies such as Nordstrom and Goldman Sachs are also offering their employees concierge-like services to help promote better work-life balance. These concierge services can include everything from dry cleaning pick up/drop off, onsite flu shots, fitness classes, discount ticket bookings, pharmacy pick up, travel arrangements and even home maintenance coordination.
Part of what is driving this trend is that companies are starting to realize that employee burnout isn’t a personal problem, but a company one. Employee burnout has been on the rise for decades and one 2018 Gallup poll even found that 2/3s of employees reported burnout symptoms. By helping employees more effectively manage stress as well as their household duties, organizations can make a significant dent in the $323.4 billion lost each year due to burn-out related sick days, resignations and poor employee performance.
3. Embrace the Connected-Urban Lifestyle
The Rise of Mixed-Use
When it comes to attracting millennials, it’s not just about what’s going on inside the office, but what’s happening outside as well. Millennials prefer to work and live in more urban environments where shops, restaurants and recreational activities are all within walking distance. They also prefer locations easily accessible by public transportation and alternative mobility methods such as bikes. In fact, according to the 2017 National Community and Transportation Preference Survey, 62% of millennials, 45% of Gen Xers and baby boomers, and 55% of the silent generation want to live in walkable communities and prefer shorter commutes.
As a result of these attitudes, there has been a boom of mixed-use developments, pedestrian-friendly development that blend 2 or more residential, commercial, cultural, institutional, and/or industrial uses, over the past decade. In fact, of the $1.328 trillion spent on construction in 2017, 80% was spent on some version of mixed-use space.
The consequences of this preference for more urban and connected environments has been significant. A 2015 report titled “Suburban Office Obsolescence” found that between 14 -22% of suburban office inventory is now obsolete as these spaces do “not offer the experience most of today’s tenants are seeking.” However, mixed-use developments have also helped create more vibrant communities, improve walkability for everyone not just office workers, increase tax revenues, reduced infrastructure costs and increased foot traffic for retail stores.
4. Build a Tech-Enabled Workspace
How Technology Enhances Employee Experience
What millennials, like the generations before them, want above all else is to do their job and to do it well. Though the aforementioned workplace perks such as ABW and concierge services are certainly powerful tools for employee satisfaction, if employees don’t have access to the technology they need to do their work effectively, all other office experience investments will be for naught.
Cultivating a fully connected work environment is one of the most important aspects of effective office design. It goes without being said that workstations and meeting rooms should be fully equipped with appropriate hardware and applications. However, the fully connected office takes things a step further by ensuring every inch usable space is equipped with the right tools. For example, many organizations place digital signage throughout their workplace to promote company news, sales data, social media activity, or whatever it is they want to continuously communicate to employees. Others install digital whiteboards in lounge and seating areas just in case a casual conversation turns into an impromptu brain storming session.
Others take things a step further by implementing a universal office app that employees can download onto their mobile device. Using the app, employees can do everything from adjust the temperature to book meeting rooms to control AV equipment. They can also submit service requests if there’s a technical issue affecting the workspace.
Does Your Company’s Work Environment Reflect its Values?
Last but not least, millennials want workspaces that align with the company’s value, brand and mission. An organization can invest in the trendiest perks out there, however if these perks fail to reflect and enhance organizational culture, millennials will see right through them. For example, installing a fireman’s pole in lieu of a staircase might work great for Google, but would probably only be met with disdain at a law firm or insurance company.
In addition, many millennials find some of these more whimsical office perks distracting and even downright annoying. In fact, according to a 2019 survey by Hana, 57% of employees say fun workplace perks simply aren’t valuable in the workplace and 61% of employees are skeptical of companies that emphasize how fun their offices are. While amenities such as game rooms, ice cream sunday bars and free pedicures are fun, they’re not going to compensate for a toxic culture, poor management or other organizational issues that drive top talent away.
Not all workplaces have to be, or even should be, “fun.” Instead, workplace design leaders should focus on amenities that enable the core values we discussed throughout this piece:
- Improving productivity & ease of work
- Ensuring employee wellness
- Enhancing communication & collaboration in meaningful ways
- Providing privacy, calm and room for reflection