Intergenerational Workplace – The Agile Office

UK firms are experiencing an age diverse workforce like never before. With many either choosing or needing to work beyond the traditional retirement age, offices are regularly seeing four or five generations working together. These generations bring with them completely different skill sets, experiences and cultures. Used effectively, they will come together to drive performance and innovation, rewarding those companies who embrace the opportunities of a multigenerational workforce.

Businesses need to create an office environment that is responsive to the differing needs of this workforce. A good working environment was rated as highly as a salary in 2014 job satisfaction surveys by both the UK Cabinet Office and Career Bliss job website in the US, and is the key to recruiting and retaining the best workers. To do this successfully for a multigenerational workforce companies need to accommodate the differing needs and working styles within that team, providing the right environment for all age groups to flourish. Achieving this balance has been the focus of much research over the last decade by architects and workplace consultants, developing the concept of agile working. This research revealed valuable insights into the traits of different generations, and how they fitted into the design of the office.

Traditionalists: at 70+ they are the oldest generation still in the workplace. They often hold senior management positions, and can be found throughout organisations who value their experience and knowledge.

Baby Boomers: also valued for hard work, productivity and team leadership. They often also carry the knowledge of older organisations. Baby Boomers however, tend not to be as adaptable and collaborative as other generations. They are more motivated by personal gain. This generation values traditional rewards including their own office.

Generation X: characterised by diversity, challenge, honesty, innovation and creativity, making them effective managers and revenue generators. Their problem solving and collaborative skills allow them to adapt quickly in the workplace. They keep abreast of office technology and value flexible working patterns. They may need some traditional space but will welcome adaptability and the breaking down of traditional lines of demarcation.

Generation Y: or the Millennials: are the highly tech-savvy, social generation. They have grown up with technology and it is an equal part of their work and private lives. They can seem relaxed about their working practices, but part of this is because they will work anytime, anywhere, using technology to flit between work and personal, with divisions between the two becoming blurred. These are not the ones that want a fixed office space or desk, but want areas where they can feel relaxed, can create a buzz and be productive.

Generation Z: just starting to trickle into the workplace. Possibly apprentices or university placements, these are tomorrow’s professionals. Constant change and challenge is required to keep this generation from boredom. They have also grown up with technology, however, they are much more likely to be users rather than the creators in the two generations before them.

From these profiles it becomes clear that neither the traditional small office space, nor a completely open plan space would be appropriate to achieve the best results from all your employees. An agile office design addresses this issue by creating areas that employees can use flexibly. Private offices and rooms that can be used when privacy is required alongside lounge style areas, where impromptu, less formal meetings can be held. Collaboration areas, where team members from different departments can get together to work on projects. Agile working is activity based working that focuses on what your employees actually do rather than which department they are in, providing them with office space that is flexible and adaptable to their needs and activities. Crucially, agile office design increases viable space within your property, effectively reducing costs.

This flexible style of office interior design effectively provides for all generations. Unlike hot-desking, which is just a one function area being used by whoever gets their first, an agile office design allows staff to use the most appropriate part of the office for whatever they are doing, and have the ability to move to another space when the focus of their work changes.

Agile working has already been adopted by BT, Google, BskyB and Unilever who value the measurable impact of this design on productivity, recruitment and retention, and in property cost savings.

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