All Together Now: Designing an Office for Different Generations
Leading experts from HOK weigh in on the importance of tailoring workplaces for a multigenerational workforce.
HOK’s design for Millward Brown’s Chicago offices seamlessly links “private” offices and “public” workspaces.
Photos courtesy HOK
Today, it isn’t unlikely to have three different generations toiling together in the same workplace. With varying work styles and mindsets, Baby Boomers along with Generations X and Y are working side by side. To overcome these differences, managers are increasingly turning to design to accommodate their needs while also harnessing the potential for cross-generational interaction. Metropolis spoke to leading experts from the design solutions firm HOK about planning for and adapting to a multi-generational work environment.
Tamy Cozier: In a multi-generational workspace, what needs are unique to Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Gen Y?
Sofia Fonseca: In the 1980s, Boomers had a need for things that were more hierarchical and formal, and these are still needs that we have to address. As we moved into the 1990s, there was a shift to more flexibility, defined technology, and non-hierarchical spaces. In the 2000s, design became transformative. There was leverage on humans and their interaction with space so office designs provide spaces that are branded, mobile, and more interactive with a sense of openness. As we look at the next generation beyond Millennials coming into the workplace, collaborative design is the key.
TC: Considering these needs, how do you design an age-neutral workspace?
Ron Bateman: By providing areas that people can personalize. Younger generations want to put their mark on the space whereas older employees are used to the more corporate and formal feel.
SF: What we find is that it often depends on the managerial style or direction that the corporation allows. If you work for a startup, the freedom and the flexibility is greater because you often have multigenerational teams. At its worst, if the brand is established and has very little flexibility for mutigenerational types of differentiation then it becomes a very homogeneous space.
HOK’s London office—the first LEED-CI Gold office in the city—encourages collaboration across the multigenerational workplace through dynamic, themed spaces.
TC: What set of new challenges will post Millennials, who are soon approaching college age, present when they enter the workforce?
SF: They are used to college environments that are collaborative, flexible, and technology-driven. If they’re coming into environments where those setups are not available, the challenge will be to attract and retain workers who are very used to spaces that shift, change, and transform. So companies who want to better position themselves are going to provide that kind of flexibility and collegial atmosphere.
TC: Cubicles and private offices are a symbol, and perhaps a holdover, of the Baby Boomer generation. As more Boomers leave the workforce, will these design features become obsolete?
RB: There will always be some type of mix because of different personality types in the workplace. Regardless of age, more introverted workers want the privacy to concentrate and complete their work tasks whereas the extroverts are comfortable working in more open environments.
TC: What design trends are you noticing as the future of workplace design evolves?
RB: I’m seeing a lot more open areas that have multiple functions. Of course, there are still the coffee bars—sort of the central hub on every floor—but by migrating these areas closer to the major exit of the floor, we can help to promote collaboration within the generations. I see us becoming much more mobile and compact so offices won’t require all of the real estate that they are utilizing today.
SF: I would add that Millennials are very interested in having a cause, so spaces where people can actually post and showcase things they are engaged in is very important. Community is really important for them. Clients are asking for larger multipurpose spaces without furniture where you can do yoga stretches or team building exercises. So the urban life of your floor plate is really important.
Sofia Fonseca is vice president and leader of HOK’s workplace strategy team in the Gulf Coast region. With more than 20 years of experience, she is passionate about aligning business strategies with visions for the built environment.
Ron Bateman, AIA, is vice president and director of interior design based in HOK’s Houston office. An architect with more than 30 years of experience, he has led the interior design for many of HOK’s many award-winning spaces.