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Gen-Z’s Impact on Workplace Design

HGA Architects’ Associate Vice President Melissa Jancourt shares what the next round of workers are looking for in office design and workplace culture. 

Originally posted by IvyLee Rosario |

Generational differences make a major impact on how commercial real estate caters to the growing workforce. Gone are the days of cubicles and crowded meeting spaces. Millennials brought about change with their needs for open-air environments that promote a cohesive and group working environment, as well as their approach to more minimalist spaces taking over a smaller footprint. Now members of Gen-Z are entering the workforce and their demands call for a new transition. Commercial Property Executive spoke with Melissa Jancourt, associate vice president at design firm HGA Architects, to discuss what the next round of workers are looking for when it comes to office design and workplace culture. 

Melissa Jancourt, Associate Vice President, HGA Architects

How is the workforce preparing for the Gen Z population?

Jancourt: Gen-Z, born between 1995 and 2012, makes up 20 percent of the United States population and will comprise 30 percent of the workforce by 2030. Although their influence is rapidly growing, focus on Gen-Z’s presence in the workforce is relatively new. Most organizations remain focused the Millennial generation, born between 1980 and 1994, when asked to consider a work experience that attracts and retains the next generation of talent. Many have yet to differentiate between Gen-Z and Millennials, leading to the assumption that what cultivates a meaningful work experience is based on a Millennial rather than a Gen-Z lens.  As the body of research continues to grow, we are seeing clear differences in terms of mindset, social orientation, relationship with technology and approach to learning, all of which impact the way we think about our future workforce. 

How are researchers and designers examining what Gen Z employees’ value in terms of experience, relationships and work culture?

Jancourt:  Gen-Z will account for 40 percent of consumer spending by 2020. Many of the initial insights came from consumer market research, identifying Gen-Z as technologically integrated, realists, financially focused, oriented towards social change and placing a high value on self-expression. They are also the most diverse and educated generation in history. The attributes assigned to the Gen Z consumer are also manifesting themselves as we get to know them as a workforce demographic poised have significant influence in a relatively short period of time.  Many of the decisions and investments we’re making today really need to consider this generation as they become vital to our future competitiveness and innovation capacity. 

The challenge we saw when considering the work experience was developing meaningful and actionable findings for a demographic just entering the workforce. In response, HGA joined forces with the Interdisciplinary School of Healthy Workplaces (ISHW) at UC Berkeley in the development of a study which consisted of four avenues of data collection: survey, focus group, charrettes and prototyping. During prototyping, HGA’s Digital Practice Group created a virtual reality experience with customized narrative and data collection capabilities which provided an immersive experience to validate findings.

Our findings were consistent. The Gen-Z workplace will need to balance digital, natural and human connection to support a workforce seeking unique self-curated learning experiences and recognize that while technology accelerates and assumes more physical and cognitive tasks, people remain at the core of problem solving. 

How are researchers and designers examining what Gen Z employees’ value in terms of experience, relationships and work culture?

Jancourt: For Gen-Z, it’s about how the work experience facilitates psychological safety through belonging and connection.  It begins in the reception experience where 100 percent of participants preferred a personal connection over a strictly digital one. A planning approach where social gathering spaces feel intentional rather than an ambiguous space connecting both department and enterprise. The work environment should offer opportunities for team and individual expression and control via environments that are adaptable and choice rich.

The provision of places to support privacy and connection is viewed as a singular need based on a belief that trust lies at the core of both and therefore must coexist. This is in alignment with some of the broader shifts we are seeing in office design where the lack of ability to control when and how one shares and interacts with others has been identified as a hindrance to productivity, particularly amongst Millennials. A place that facilitates connection is also articulated through how it balances natural, digital and physical experiences. For Gen-Z, nature via access to quality outdoor spaces, natural light, biomorphic form, and pattern or other means was also a top priority. Bottom line, the work experience influences Gen-Z with 86 percent of respondents indicating that office setting would influence the acceptance of a job offer.

How is the shift in demographics and workplace trends affecting current real estate design decisions?  

Jancourt: When we study an emerging generation, I believe we begin to understand our own evolution. As each new generation enters the workforce, they bring an innate understanding of how to respond to the cultural, social and technical influencers of the time because it’s been a part of their upbringing. Gen-Z promotes the co-evolution of people and technology through their desire to support learning and connection. We are seeing a shift in our clients that echoes this sentiment. We are moving toward workplaces that are becoming learning environments. Our ability to embrace a mindset of continuous learning will not only be in alignment with Gen-Z preferences but in alignment with our need to keep pace with change.

Why is it important to cater to the growing needs of incoming generations in the workplace?

Jancourt: Again, understanding Gen-Z will help us navigate the changes to come. It is also important to note that equity is viewed as foundational to safety. Gen-Z seeks a work experience that considers their expanding definition of diversity.  A workplace that works for everyone. While 71 percent of participants identified technologies role as one of connection, ultimately, advancement is predicated in the combined, unique knowledge of individuals.     

Image courtesy of HGA Architects  

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