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How to design a multigenerational office space

Is your workplace designed to benefit employees of all ages? HRM takes a look at the environments that various generations work best in and propose solutions to bridge the generational gap.

When your employees spend eight hours (on a good day) inhabiting the same four walls, it’s important to ensure the environment is ‘working’ for, and not against, them. While there have been conflicting opinions about the open plan office, it looks like it’s here to stay. So instead of trying to build cardboard box caves around our desks for privacy, we should look at fine tuning the open plan structure to suit as many employees as possible.

Creating a multigenerational space

Baby Boomers (1945-65), Gen Xers (1965-80) and Millennials (1980- 2000) tend to have varying preferences about how they want to work. Research conducted by design firm Knoll, shows that Boomers preference quality meeting spaces, acoustic privacy and enjoy having the option to work in both private and group settings.

Other research, summarised by in their article on workspaces, shows that Gen Xers prefer an office that’s personalised to suit their needs. They’re more inclined to find a place in the office to work alone, sometimes even opting to leave the office in pursuit of that perfect quiet spot.

Millennials, who seek satisfaction from integrating their work and personal life, favour an engaging, flexible and technologically advanced workplace. They also prefer a residential look, so they feel “at home” when at work. Boomers have the opposite opinion, reporting feeling uncomfortable about their workspace evoking the emotional connectedness of home.

Then there’s the Silent Generation (born before 1945), whose work environment expectations are perhaps the most different from the other generations. They prefer clearly defined office spaces that reflect organisational hierarchy and harbour a sense of discipline. Physical comfort was also high on their list of office expectations.

One way to close the generational gap could be to rethink traditional office items, like the desk. There are flexible desks that can be adapted to cultivate privacy (with attachable screens), with options to personalise (turning into a standing desk) and encourage social gatherings (forming a ping-pong table) – a great way to cater to the multigenerational workforce.

While it’s probably not advisable to segregate workers into age groups, perhaps we should focus on finding common ground when designing new office spaces and opt for mobile furniture that can be moved around to suit employees from all generations.

Be collaborative in your planning

In a recent Commercial Real Estate article, contributor Sue Williams likened the office seating plan to that of a wedding reception, “tricky and potentially calamitous.”

Just as you wouldn’t want your reception seat to be next to your Great Aunt, that one who always tries to kiss you on the lips, you’re also keen to avoid the ‘Office Heavy Breather’ or ‘Person Who Talks Aloud To Themselves All Day’ for fear that you might lose your sanity.

As with your company purpose, the answer could be as simple as opening up the communication lines to your staff. By being open you can find out who prefers a window seat, who’s terrified of having their back to the door, and those who need a little more privacy than others.

While this might sound like it could cause an office real estate bidding war, perhaps everyone’s idea of the perfect patch will differ? Not only will the various generations gravitate to a particular area, but introverts and extraverts will also be keen to carve out their own space. You might just find that everyone is happy!

Or not…we’re just throwing some ideas around.

Shake things up

While the idea of a rotating office seating plan might cause your blood to boil, Carnegie Mellon University Professor Sunkee Lee says there’s most definitely merit in having staff members sit with those outside of their regular team on a rotational basis.

He refers to an ‘accidental’ experiment at a South Korean e-commerce firm, which saw members of a merchandising team split up due to space constraints. Lee explains that those who were exposed to other teams in the organisation reported higher sales and an overall improvement in their quality of work. While they weren’t directly collaborating with these newly-found colleagues, they were gaining snippets of inspiration from overheard conversations – essentially boosting their creativity.

In Harvard Review article, Lee explains the reasons for this shift, “Once you’ve learned enough about the area you specialize in, exposure to new people will make you more creative. In particular, physical proximity promotes trust and the exchange of valuable and novel knowledge between newly-met peers. Given the ability to do so, you will recombine this new knowledge with your own to innovate.”

There are two sides to every coin – which Lee acknowledges.

A rotational seating plan might not be best for your organisation as they can cause productivity issues. When it comes to reconfiguring your office space, being aware of your intentions is paramount. If your end goal is to innovate by sharing knowledge and ideas, a rotational seating plan might just be the answer. If you’re team is more task focussed, consider creating spaces where employees of all generations can work to their highest potential.

Photo credit: Marc Mueller via Pexels


Learn about the duties and responsibilities of employers and employees in ensuring a safe and healthy work environment, with the AHRI short course ‘Workplace health and safety’.

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Hazel Owens
Hazel Owens

That’s a really smart idea to open up to your employees to see what their preferences are for where they work so you can better design the office space and set it up for productivity. This would help employees who want it quieter when they work to avoid those who do better with social interaction and vice versa. It would also encourage productivity since it would make each employee comfortable and then they can better focus on their work.

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