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  • Writer's pictureCourtnay Waitley

Adaptive Design For Every Generation

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

Five generations of employees working together in an office.

It’s hard to wrap one’s mind around the fact that there are currently five generations in today’s workforce. Five! If you think about how much has changed in the modern workplace over the past 55 years, you can see how it presents a unique challenge for employers to manage their people effectively, and to offer a physical workspace that supports the needs of their team members, at any age.

Utilizing adaptive design to create a modern work environment that supports a multigenerational workforce is easier than you might think. But first, it’s essential to understand a little about the general work style of each generation:

Traditionalists – Born before 1946 Two percent of the workforce This generation has witnessed and been part of some wild technology advances. Raised mainly on radio, with television gaining mainstream popularity as they grew up, they now live in a world where nearly everyone has a computer in their pocket. Their communication style is very personal — think of the handwritten notes with personal touches.

Baby Boomers – Born 1946-1964 25 percent of the workforce Boomers are known for company loyalty, working long hours, and being part of a workplace hierarchy where age and length of employment meant advancement, workplace seniority and that “corner office.” Their preferred communication style is direct, such as face-to-face meetings and phone calls.

Generation X – Born between 1965-1980 33 percent of the workforce Gen Xer’s are a self-sufficient generation that started a trend of prioritizing work-life balance, diversity and moving on from jobs if they aren’t getting what they need from their employer. They are no stranger to the personal communication style, but also embrace the efficiency of email.

Generation Y (Millennials) – Born in 1981-2000 35 percent of the workforce Millennials put high importance on unique, fun work life and flexibility. They are quick to communicate via mainly digital channels such as instant messaging, text and email.

Generation Z – Born 2001-2020 Five percent of the workforce As a whole, this generation is highly progressive and has been raised on technology and the internet. Their communication style is much more immediate and open than previous generations, with many taking to social media to share their views. They value work-life balance, innovation and new technologies.

It’s easy to see the differences in how each generation has used physical workspace. Traditionalists, Boomers, and some Gen Xer’s are accustomed to the older 8 am-5 pm, “need to be in the office” (or Dilbert cube) model, while Millennials and Gen Y are used to a more fluid environment with spaces for downtime and flexible schedules.

As an employer, how do you provide a satisfying physical workspace experience for any age? It comes down to one fundamental concept: flexibility for all.

Flexible Office Space

Different generations have different focus styles solely based on their life and work experience. Millennials and Gen Y have grown up bombarded with information overload, both digital and physical distractions, and they are used to it. However, for Traditionalists, Boomers and some Gen Xer’s, those kinds of distractions can be mind-melting. They are used to being able to get up and close the office door for privacy and distraction-free work time. The key is to offer a variety of spaces where anyone can sit and focus on their work. Examples of this are offices, quiet rooms and a section of workstations designated as focus zones. The goal is to have a place where deep work can quickly occur. On the flip side, there is still the need across all generations for collaboration and face-to-face time. Think touchdown areas, meeting rooms and inviting breakrooms. You still need space for more formal meetings, but the comfortable casual spaces with a “coffee house” feel will continue to grow in popularity.

Flexible Technology Technology advances have allowed many the position of being able to get work done from almost anywhere. For the younger generations, this is a no-brainer, but for some of the older generations, it’s such a different way of working that there can be a learning curve.

Embrace the flexibility of both the software and hardware that allow your team members to work remotely, but be sure to offer training on how to best utilize and deal with that technology to mitigate friction when your employees go to use it. Remember: friction = disengagement!

Flexible Location With the incorporation of flexible technology, the move to a remote working option is becoming more and more prevalent. Many times this is the most challenging concept in terms of bridging the generational gap.

It’s important to establish best practices that will allow individual remote work but still allow for personal interaction between team members and leaders. If you have staff that can work from home when desired but has access to the physical office, then schedule regular in-office meetings so that everyone can collaborate as a group and benefit from the physical interaction with their colleagues.

If you have some remote-only employees that don’t have access to your physical building, then schedule regular video conference meetings so you can simulate an in-person meeting. As humans, we are a social bunch, and we thrive on personal interaction.

When in doubt, I always say, ask your people. They will tell you what they need.

As written for Thinking Bigger Business.

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