What Comes After Gen Y?
July 6, 2014
Knoll has released their latest research on the generation that will be entering the workforce by the close of this decade: Generation Z. Like every generation, Generation Z has unique values, such as structure and predictability, and strengths, like their effortless comfort with the online world and technology. They will also face specific challenges because they are more distractible and will not be as adept at interpersonal work relationships and interactions. These factors will gradually reshape the workplace as it is redefined to maximize their effectiveness and productivity.
Knoll has identified three opportunities to facilitate Generation Z’s perceived workspace needs. They recommend a sense of structure through clear layout and obviously purposed spaces, “enclave spaces” for one-on-one meetings and “refuge” spaces that minimize distractions and promote focused work. Understanding each of the characteristics that lead to these needs is vital in anticipating the workplace changes that will accompany the introduction of Generation Z.
The first characteristic of Generation Z is their appreciation for social connection, structure, order and predictability. Generation X, the parents of Generation Z, had unpredictable family lives as divorce rates climbed. As a result, Generation X has lower divorce rates and have responded to the varying stability of their childhoods with high rates of home schooling their children and having one “stay at home” parent, promoting a secure family base.
The values of connection with family, order, structure, work ethic and predictability encompass and define Generation Z. They will be inclined to prefer workspaces where it is easy to orient themselves and that are straightforward to understand and use. Legible, well-organized work environments will be more effective than complex planning layouts and vast arrays of workspace options.
Generation Z’s second set of characteristics are their strong multi-tasking skills with reliance on social media. Since birth, Generation Z has been tapped into the Information Age, facing a barrage of data from digital sources. Their familiarity with multi-tasking online will translate into other areas of their lives, though this can be weakness as much as strength. More and more research indicates that multi-tasking negatively impacts learning and cognitive development and could potentially lead to poor work performance and poor relationships with co-workers.
This same set of characteristics shows that for Generation Z, social media is the center of the social world, instead of a tool to enhance existing relationships, which is how Generation Y uses social media. Depleted face-to-face socialization could hamper social interaction and conflict resolution in the workplace. Cyber bullying is on the rise and the detachment that leads to this behavior and the ability to simply delete online contacts when there is a conflict make for weak social tools to deal with in-person working relationships.
Creating a refuge where Generation Z staff can escape from relentless distraction is vital; telecommuting is not a suitable solution since the home environment is equally full of diversions. An office “refuge” space can help Generation Z employees escape endless notifications and exploding email inboxes, resulting in increased focus and productivity. The space should provide a refuge on many levels; a small, enclosed area to take away visual distraction, sound-masking to reduce outside noise, easy access to power and seating to promote convenience and whiteboards to assist with shaping ideas and concepts. Rooms equipped with Wi-Fi that temporarily blocks social and non-work related websites may be an additional aid in enhancing focus within the space. Additionally, these refuges spaces could be used for private, one-on-one interaction. Managers could assist employees with work relationship difficulties in a comforting, secure area free from scrutiny.
The last defining characteristic of Generation Z is their extensive online gaming experience, offering leadership opportunities in virtual work collaborations. As already evidenced in the workplace, online applications for collaborative work are increasingly the way of the future. Simulated work settings with avatars to represent employees in online interaction will be perfectly comfortable to Generation Z staff and reflective of their gaming experiences. In this arena, Generation Z has outstanding potential to become workplace leaders in managing online business interactions.
Collaboration spaces where physical teams of people can interact via online applications will be crucial in the evolving workplace. Enclave areas that support blended virtual and face-to-face interaction will be important to designate. Small and secluded accommodating small groups of staff can be either open or enclosed, as long as the space is defined and functional. Comfortable seating, low surfaces, access to power and data and visual displays to assist with communicating ideas should be the hallmarks of these enclave areas.
Proximity, privacy and technology are the three critical elements for success with refuge and enclave spaces. These spaces need to be conveniently located near the employees’ usual work area for easy access and to be used often. Anticipating the needs of the next generation of workers will make the changing workplace into an evolution rather than a disruption and abrupt change.