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Designing for Generation Z

Generation Z, the 60-some million young people born between the late 1990s and early 2000s, are the most diverse group in our country’s history.

They grew up during times of recessions and financial crises, war and terror threats, and technology overload. Many of them knew how to operate a tablet or cellphone before they could put sentences together. They don’t remember a life without social media and spend up to nine hours a day consuming media. They have a rather short attention span and it can difficult to keep them engaged. In the next ten years, it is estimated that Gen Z will consist of 22% of the workforce and many will be working in jobs that don’t even exist yet.

Generation Z Workforce Percentage

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Gen Z workers are more competitive and pragmatic, but also more anxious and reserved, than millennials, the generation of 72 million born from 1981 to 1996, according to executives, managers, generational consultants and multidecade studies of young people.”

Learning how to design for Generation Z will be essential in the longevity of our communities, facilities, and workplaces. So what design features will help attract and retain this large cohort?

Choice and Input

It’s easy: let them be a part of the design process, ask them to give input on what they want and expect, and then simply listen to what they have to say. One of the easiest ways to connect with this generation is through making them feel like their voices are heard. Designers can bring them idea starters and guidelines to get conversation going but try to immerse yourself into their world if you want a truly successful project. You can do this through focus groups, community engagement events, social media polls, and project blogs/websites.

Of special note, long-term choice is essential. Design should allow for variation over the life of a building, allowing the space to be tailored to each user’s preferences:

  • Robust power – consider a raised floor
  • Expansive wi-fi
  • Furniture that is movable – think everything on wheels, closable pods, and sitting/standing desks
Technology-Rich Spaces

As the baby boomers are retiring and Gen Z starts to fill in the gaps, technology will follow them. The places they live, work, and play need to reflect a lifestyle they are accustomed to: attached to hand-held supercomputers which provide instant communication with others. This diverse and mobile group will crave a digital connection to the world. In terms of the workplace, an office setting should include technology that will seamlessly allow staff to work from home (or a coffee shop across the world) but also enhanced video conferencing from anywhere. With good lighting and acoustics along with the ability to easily share documents and control, the office can be anywhere.

As designers, we need to think of technology that will help the facilities operate longer yet efficiently. Because Gen Z is predicted to put in a lot of hours in the office, the building systems will need to run differently than the regular 8-5pm. Allowing small spaces to be controlled and operated as needed without requiring the entire facility to be in operation will result in lower energy costs.

Flexibility

This generation works really hard, but they want some playtime as well. If you are going to create a flexible work environment, including staff who work remotely, creating a gathering space is essential for retention and overall job satisfaction. One design idea is to create a comfortable commons area filled with homey furniture, a coffee bar, and plenty of natural light. This type of space will allow Gen Z workers to take a brain break and socialize before getting back to the grind. Filling a space with familiar furniture pieces will ease anxiety and gives everyone a space to feel connected to peers.

We don’t all work the same, and an office won’t likely be comprised solely of Gen Z’ers. Design a workplace that has multiple types of rooms with varying functionality and privacy. If you can handle working in an open concept area, great! If you also need to get away from the hustle and bustle to really concentrate, great! If you need that ability to meet with a couple team members for a quick collaboration session away from your desks, great! If you need to meet with several people from around the office and need a more formal setting with technology, that’s great too!

Genuine Feel

This is a big one to keep in mind when you are looking to put your roots down for a new project. This generation gravitates toward places, people, and things that feel real, predictable, and safe. If you are wanting to attract and retain the Generation Z population, start by looking for a location that has its own sense of culture. Your building or space should come from and build on its history and the community naturally. Furthermore, your space should promote general well-being for users. Historic areas and neighborhoods are a big hit with this generation, leaving a lot of good potential for adaptive reuse projects. Staying true to the story makes the work resonate – do not to cut out the charm of the old while designing the new. The pre-packaged, Instagram filter world has ended, and Generation Z is seeking a genuine experience.

Choosing a location that is walkable and bikeable with nearby restaurants and attractions, grocery stores, and hotels will draw in more people. This goes for any type of building in the urban mix, from office space to apartments to mixed-use developments.

Once you have a location, make sure to include biophilic design features that promote happiness and health. Generation Z is very conscious of their mental and physical health—promoting that connection back to nature within a building will relate well with those users.

Inclusivity

Generation Z is a beautiful ethnically-diverse population, which is important to keep in mind when designing communities and buildings for them. Not everyone experiences a space the same, in part due to their culture and all that comes along with their unique backgrounds. Connecting back to “choice and input”, you will get the information that you need to ensure a space is inclusive if Gen Z’ers are included in the process.

 

It is time to prepare and adapt for future generations, allowing their influences to permeate through the built environment to stay relevant and competitive in the world. We should admire and enhance their creativity, empathetic attitudes, desire to feel connection, and heads-down work mentality with the spaces we provide. With the help of Generation Z, we should create communities and spaces that harness that same energy and drive toward success. If you want to more specifics on how to design for Gen Z, give us a call!

How to Create Engaging, Productive Open Office Spaces

Open office spaces are popular, but not necessarily because they make employees feel more engaged or productive. Although, in theory, they seem to check all of the boxes, some studies show that they can be problematic for certain types of workers who may need quiet, isolated space in order to focus and feel relaxed. That doesn’t mean, however, that open office spaces can’t work.

They can.

In order to make them truly effective, they need to be designed and delivered in a way that makes everyone in the office space feel involved. New research is showing that any office space can be conducive to productivity and engagement. It turns out that it’s less about how an office space looks and much more about how the design and concept makes people feel.

According to an article published by the Harvard Business Review, this research has led to a better understanding about “place identity.” If employees connect with a space and feel like they have ownership and a sense of belonging, they automatically report “more engagement…more communication…and a stronger connection to the company.”

So, to make sure that your open office concept really gets the job done, here are a few key elements to consider:

  • Adjustable Furniture and Spaces. Adjustable furniture doesn’t just mean that heights of chairs and desks can be personalized (although that’s good). Allowing open concept office spaces to be able to adapt to daily needs, like the rearranging of desks, chairs, and tables, gives employees an opportunity to make the space their own. The more versatile and multi-purpose open office space designs can be, the more likely that workers will feel comfortable to work and collaborate regularly and effectively. If a design allows for spontaneity and imagination, then there’s a better chance that the concept will flourish. It is also a good idea to offer employees a chance to get away from all the openness. There are times where they will need to focus, without interruptions that come naturally with an open office. Providing focus rooms or small conference rooms prove to be helpful spaces to include in this design.
Ivy Tech Open Office - Focus Rooms

Ivy Tech Cental Office – Focus Rooms

  • Meaningful Details. To make open office spaces work, employees need to feel like it has been designed with meaning. Even more importantly, open concepts need to feel purposeful and personal. To keep employees from complaining about this type of design from feeling “noisy” or “distracting”, you need to make sure they identify with the space. Achieving this type of organization-wide inclusion isn’t always possible, but the more you can collaborate with employees about the design, allowing for opportunities for input and ideas, the more they will take ownership of it. This type of ownership is what will transform the “noisy” and “distracting” descriptors to the “energetic” and “collaborative” nomers you want.

 

  • Enthusiastic Design. When approaching a new project, especially if workers will make the transition from traditional to open work space with you, it’s important to stay positive and enthusiastic. Conveying the why behind the changes will help employees understand the concept – and will hopefully help garner their support. While in the design phase for Ivy Tech’s Central Office, we had a demo day for staff to try out and choose from accessory options to customize their space. Research shows that the more positive leadership can be when transitioning from one office design to another, the more the employees will match their attitude.

 

  • Be Open to Change. It is important to get users engaged early in the design process. As your open concept office space begins to take shape, it’s important to listen and acknowledge their needs. While something may have seemed like a good idea in the beginning, it could be apparent after a week or two that it isn’t functioning the way you want. Don’t resist changes. If employees offer a suggestion for how to make the space more engaging and productive, listen attentively and see if there’s a way to make the adjustment.

One of the best attributes of open office spaces is that they really do allow for better interaction between teams. This type of “cross-pollination” between groups within an organization can foster new ideas, creativity, and a sense of excitement at work.

To see more of our office work, check out our Workplace portfolio

A Word from an Owner – Anne Penny Valentine

Anne Penny Valentine
Vice President, Student Experience and Customer Service 
Ivy Tech Community College

We’ve had the privilege of working with Anne over the years on Ivy Tech projects and presentations regarding our work. We wanted to sit down with her to get her take on one of our projects, the renovation of the Ivy Tech Central Office downtown Indy.

 

What was the office space like before the renovation?

The challenge with this building was that it is 3 different buildings brought together, and we were a similar hodge-podge with multiple kitchenettes, desks, break out rooms, supplies closets, etc. The offices were all really small and only half of them had windows.

Attempts were made to group functional areas together, but as the size of groups fluctuated, departments moved. I was personally in a different area than the rest of my team. It wasn’t very functional.

What is the office space like now?

Now, we have a versatile space. Every space can be used by anyone, and people work near the people they interact with. Since the renovation, we‘ve had a lot of organizational changes, and the space has allowed us to accommodate those changes while still working within the space.

The flexibility of the meeting spaces is great. We have a large variety of sizes of conference rooms, along with focus rooms. The focus rooms’ designs range to accommodate a single individual or small groups. We also combined the kitchenettes into one space, resulting in a more informal space for interaction among colleagues that didn’t happen before the renovation.

Focus Rooms

Larger Conference Room and Desks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Describe the process of working with Schmidt Associates.

We had a cross-functional group of people – HR, finance, student affairs (me), and academics who met regularly to help come up with what we wanted this to look like. The great thing about Schmidt Associates was that they helped guide the discussions to make sure the space would meet our needs. They took us on tours of other open office spaces so we could visualize the results. This process was particularly important since it allowed us to see spaces that were so different than our offices at the time.

We didn’t take every recommendation from Schmidt Associates, and we also had big ideas that we couldn’t afford. Schmidt Associates helped us rank the priorities so we could maximize the budget. Our old maze of offices is now open with clear glass walls, making it easier to find people and interact with co-workers.

Has this affected office culture? If so, in what ways

This has completely changed the culture of how we interact. In some ways it’s been great, and in some ways, it has been challenging. Figuring out how to respect others whom need more focus can be a challenge. You need to be mindful of the people around you, which we never needed to do beforehand. We have extroverts and introverts. Some need headphones so they can focus.

I have a better sense of who all my co-workers are now that I can see them. It’s interesting seeing the personality of other departments come out under this new layout. Some areas decorate for different holidays, some celebrate birthdays or accomplishments with donuts and other snacks. Now that it is an open office environment, you can go grab a donut and have casual interaction with your co-workers, which is great.

Has the renovation improved efficiencies?

Prior to the renovation, we had multiple kitchenettes, storage rooms, desktop printers in every office (and they were all different!). Being able to consolidate into one kitchen area with fewer storage rooms has reduced redundant supply orders. We can actually press print from our computers and go to any printer, use our FOB, and our document prints. There’s no more loading a printer or walking across the office to the printer nearest your desk. It’s been great.

Dining Area

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A huge bonus has been natural light no matter where you go. This is extremely important in the middle of winter to see natural light, which we never had before. Some departments don’t even turn on the overhead lights anymore because they get enough natural light through the windows, which is great.

For those whom open space is difficult, we have plenty of focus rooms and they are regularly used. This has been important for both individuals, and small group meetings. We never needed to worry about noise before since everyone was in offices. Now, we have the flexibility to accommodate everyone’s personal work preference.

 

To view more project details, check out the project page or the Flickr album.

Improving your Business Through Office Design

Have you ever noticed that walking into some office spaces fills you with a sense of energy and excitement while others make you want to curl up and take a nap?

Good design can help engage employees and create an environment that makes them more excited to come to work every day.

Studies show that adjusting certain design elements can have a direct impact on improving your business through the effects it has on employees. Thinking through how you develop your office space can help create an environment that allows for happier and more productive employees, reduce turnover, and increase your bottom line.

Take a look at how we’ve designed for productivity, collaboration, and innovation – using Regenstrief Institute Headquarters as our project example.