Preparing for Gen Z in the Workplace
Generation Z will soon be graduating from university and there is a massive new cohort about to enter the workforce.
So who is the Gen Z?
Gen Z is anyone born between 1995 and 2012 and the oldest of them are creeping into their 20’s.
Designers and corporations need to plan ahead to be ready for this diverse and technologically advanced generation, mitigating any challenges and utilizing opportunities.
Unlike the previous generation of early digital adopters, Gen Z are digital natives who likely grew up with a smartphone and have never spent a day offline.
They are the first generation to get instant access to information and are growing up in a world post the Great Recession, global warming and artificial intelligence.
So how have these events and lifestyle affected their needs, work-styles and what can you do to help them and your workplace flourish?
Most Advanced Technologically
As Digital Innates, Gen Z will expect the latest technology to be integrated into the workplace. How does this translate into design?
Building smart workspaces is critical. This means seamless connections between technologies, for example being able to connect your laptop or smartphone to any screen. (airtame is a great app for this) or fast enough computer to handle heavier software.
Smart infrastructure could include personal temperature and lighting control. Companies such as Cisco are integrating mechanical and lighting systems to provide personal comfort experiences so that your preset environments travel with you around the space when you plug and play. This also plays into wellness, which will be elaborated upon below.
"In a world that's changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks". Mark Zuckerberg.
Wall quote at Smart & Biggar, Toronto, by SDI-Design
Help them change the world
Nearly a third of gen Z would take a 10-20% pay cut to work for a company whose mission they deeply care about. Many companies are already taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint and buy products that have a smaller impact on the world. An astonishing 93% will consider a company’s impact on society when deciding whether to work there.
When designing a new space, be mindful to use materials that have a low impact on the environment. For instance, Interface flooring are actively working on not just have a zero carbon footprint, but are developing products that are actually carbon negative.
Variety of workspaces at Nulogy, SDI Design. Photo Credit: Steve Tsai
35% of Gen Z have or plan to own their own businesses. In fact 72% of Gen Z high schoolers want to start a business. They are highly entrepreneurial and in the era of Starbucks "offices", they are much more comfortable working nomadically. One of the entrepreneurial driving factors is that they value independence and it ties into their competitiveness.
Although they are naturally collaborative (%56 believe their colleagues enable them to do their best work), they will not be happy if they have to work all of the time in an open environment.
Private head-down spaces, where one can have some alone time is important in refreshing and focusing.
Having a balance of working environments allows employees to move around depending on the task at hand.
A Gen-Z employee might start working on a document in the afternoon, open it on their phone on the subway ride home and pull it up again on their laptop while watching TV. Sharp delineation between work and home are not prevalent, in fact, a new design genre has emerge coined as ‘resimmercial’. This has led many office furniture companies to move away from the stuffy traditional office, making their furniture with materials and styles you would typically find in a home or hotel. Companies that are doing this include Steelcase, Haworth, Knoll and Teknion
When designing workspaces, designers should delve deeper and think in terms of activity base working, rather than the traditional categories of workspaces. Spaces should be designed to cater for the purpose of the user. For example: Individual focus, Individual process, re-energize space, dialogue spaces, socializing spaces, creation and inspiration spaces and coordination and collaboration spaces.
Soft lighting and natural materials in the cafeteria at Postmedia, SDI Design.
Wellness in the workplace
Over the last few years, the importance of wellness in the workplace has not only gained traction in the workplace design industry but as a lifestyle choice that people are taking seriously.
With the rise of fitness trends, veganism and healthy foodporn all over social media, Gen Z are becoming the most health conscious generation. By example, this generation has a much smaller percentage taking up smoking and drink compared to previous generations.
An interior can have a tremendous impact on a person mental health. Bad design can cause stress, effect career growth and be a major factor in job satisfaction. On the flip slide, good design can calm the mind and improve health and wellness. Use the Well guidelines as a initial checklist to make sure you tick all the boxes. These includes: air quality, water quality, nourishment, natural light, fitness, comfort, mind and innovation.
Gen Z were still kids during the Great Recession and may have seen their parents take huge financial hits. A significant portion of their lives may have been defined by struggles related to that. While Millennials are often seen as more idealistic, and more motivated by purpose than a paycheck, Generation Z may lean more toward security and money. This is a pragmatic generation — they care about making a difference, but are ultimately motivated by ensuring they have a secure life outside of work.
Safety is just as applicable in the workplace as the home. Safe workplaces educate and protect workers against internal threats such as harassment and intimidation, as well as external concerns, be they virtual or real. Simon Sineks 'Circle of Safety' is most true for this generation. In short, this basically means that employees have a sense of security in the workplace that encourages open dialogue and speaking freely to suggesting ideas or give critique without the fear of being scolded. Whilst design can only go so far, good leadership (often influenced by design) is what helps bring the most out of employees.
Many of this cohort are still in high school and only time will tell how current trends will evolve. In the meantime, many design considerations noted above are commendable in their own right and are worth implementing to improve the workplace for all employees regardless of the demographic group.
The world is changing at an immense rate, so stay aware and stay tuned...
NOAM HAZAN, AA DIPL, (formerly ARB, RIBA)
Noam is the creative director of SDI Design.
Educated and trained as an Architect in London, England. Noam has also worked in London, New York and Toronto for well renowned Architecture practices such as Foster + Partners and Richard Meier.
As a designer with an entrepreneurial spirit, Noam founded a coworking space in North York which was recognised in Forbes, Blog TO and Toronto Life. in 2017 Noam was nominated by the City of Vaughan as a candidate for 40 under 40 in Canada for 2017.
Noam regularly gives talks on office design and has had articles on the subject published.