Is the workplace ready for the iGeneration?

The iGeneration, made up of individuals born in 1995 or later, outnumbers millennials and baby boomers, represents approximately 25 percent of the U.S. population and is roughly 73 million in headcount.

Megan Walsh
Principal, Catalyst Planning Group, Denver

Just when the workplace trends developed for millennials in the workforce have been perfected, here comes the iGeneration – and with it, a recalibration of the way we design and operate corporate environments. While the multigenerational workforce is enabling and requiring a hybrid design strategy, the iGeneration (or Gen Z) is challenging us to think differently about workplace standards.

These iGen members were born in 1995 or later, don’t know life without smartphones and only understand constant connectedness. These individuals are here, graduating from college and entering the workplace in spaces not necessarily designed for them and their habits. According to industry data, the iGeneration outnumbers millennials and baby boomers and is approximately 25 percent of the U.S. population and roughly 73 million in headcount. That means changes for the workplace ahead.

This generation is digital native. Those in it are recognized to be realistic, diverse, competitive, multitaskers, hyperaware and entrepreneurial. They’re private and don’t want to be followed – SnapChat and Instagram resonate with them, Facebook does not. They understand a tough economy and, unfortunately, terrorism and resultant security protocols. Technology is their way of life, making them technology-reliant in mindset. It’s rumored the iGen population puts technology in the same categories as air and water.

How will these traits impact the work environment as we know it?

A continued nimble and flexible work environment will be needed, as will multifunctional workspaces. Here’s what’s different: The iGeneration, while multitasking more than ever, also wants private/dedicated spaces for head’s down, merit-based work. This group wants touch-down space, as well as access to team spaces for face-to-face meetings with their peers and mentors. While millennials are characteristically teamwork oriented, Gen Z is trending more toward a singular work approach. This means that many of them prefer to have their own office or workspace versus communal, collaborative workspace.

In addition, the line between home and the office has blurred even more – an employee’s work task may start at the office, continue on her light-rail ride home and end on her laptop in her living room. Short bursts and snapshots of varying types of work occur – changing the landscape of the office. The needed, dedicated footprint per person is becoming altered and the current dissemination in a space plan of “collaborative” spaces is expected to decrease for this generation’s workstyle.

The cockpit, or dedicated employee workspace, likely will encompass a day of work that consists of multiple roles and responsibilities. These varying roles will be happening concurrently, requiring a new way of thinking about benching and workstation design with a more impactful personalization than previously seen, which is all in an attempt to satisfy this generation – and retain them.

Other nuances in the workplace will follow suit as a result of this shift in mindset and workstyle. All-hands spaces will not be just for company meetings, but also for company-provided lattes and lunch – or even a concert appealing to the Gen Z workforce. The design of a Gen Zers’ own workspace will be multiscreened for multitasking and support mostly online work with a social media dependency. It will require stimulation and visual interface. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 44 percent of managers feel that Gen Zers’ reliance on technology is an advantage to their forthcoming role in the workforce. Where there is a workplace deficit is in the ability to provide those leading-edge technological tools, and integrate them into the employee-dedicated workspace. From a technology perspective, ever heard of “4-D thinkers”? They’re reflective, critical, creative and process-based thinkers … and will depend on a technologically sound and progressive workspace to support these initiatives.

What trends will push forward into 2018 and which new trends will emerge? While hard to predict with 100 percent accuracy, we’re seeing some trend-forward strategies employed. Office design and the world of commercial real estate, architects and engineers, project managers and all other strategic partners on a project will be impacted with the new ideas forthcoming. Virtual reality rooms, or VRRs, likely will start to populate a program with specialized workspaces needed as a new and emerging part of programming – real-time predictability in various forms. Sociometric ID badges as workplace data collectors will likely come into play and provide the ability to collect information on encounters, postures and work patterns. Lighting sensors might advance to a trackable solution for movement and occupancy studies to enable workplace utilization data points for companies evaluating their current real estate portfolios. Adaptable technology solutions within the built furniture environment likely will become increasingly more important with the ability to outsmart obsolete technology at the forefront. Enhanced design for health and well-being will go beyond sustainability certifications and become an integrated, employee based focus. Li-Fi may outsmart Wi-Fi with wireless data transferred through light, which may make it an impactful trend for larger, programmatic spaces.

That said and in light of all of the above – real estate will be required to compensate. Competition for space is fierce, as is recruiting and retaining talent. It’s time to be proactive, as opposed to reactive, and be one step ahead of the trending. The iGeneration is expecting advancements, enhancements and sophistication in the built environments in which its members work. In creating a workspace for the iGeneration, the recipe for success will be not to categorize, stereotype and create a right/ wrong/indifferent scenario. Rather, it will be about transparently blending all cross-sections of the workforce and enabling success in the work environment for all.

Featured in the December issue of Office Properties Quarterly.

Edited by the Colorado Real Estate Journal staff.