If you’re sitting in the office at the moment, chances are you’ll be working alongside and collaborating with colleagues generations older than you and likewise those who were beginning school as you were graduating.  Does your workplace support such diversity?

Joe Huddleston, Senior Designer

It’s common knowledge that the demographic of the British workforce is changing, but how is the office adapting to accommodate this? People are retiring later, while new graduates have vastly different expectations of what an office should be than their workplace ‘grandparents’.

So, how do you design a workplace that caters for different generational needs? Well, we got some top property professionals into a room and asked them just that. The answers? Well, they had some of us quite surprised!

74% believe we should be designing workspaces with multigenerational workforces in mind.

The panel highlighted the benefits of flexible and agile working, for all ages, as well as the importance of office location and office environment – which proved to be perceived as particularly important for older workers, with 49% believing that flexible working is the most important element for older workers. This  does come naturally when you start to think about older generations that are comfortable in their career and seeking the ideal work/life balance.

Millennials are now the most numerous individual demographic in the workplace but additionally studies show that the workforce is growing older. People working together from such a diverse age range will naturally have different needs. A variety of environments are required to cater for different workstyles and tasks - providing somewhere to escape from the hustle and bustle of the office, but also to enable social interaction and the buzz some people desire, are equally important.

63% believe that graduates are happy to work in an agile working environment, with no fixed space.

Technology advancements have changed the way that we work in offices - mostly for the better. We’ve gone from fixed workstations where each worker either operated a piece of machinery or worked at a fixed terminal, to a more agile environment. Thanks to lighter, more portable laptops and the constant connection of WiFi, employees have largely been freed from the constraints of a desk and are able to mostly work where and when they want. This comes as no surprise that graduates are perceived to be happier to move around in an agile working environment; working from unassigned desks, to the kitchen or a breakout space.

66% believe that young people need space to concentrate just as much as older workers.

Concentration spaces are an incredibly important element of adopting an open plan or agile working model. Gone are the days of secluded closed-office privacy, so we need to design offices with spaces where people can get away to concentrate. These can be through the form of phone booths, small meeting rooms, personal work pods or simply multi-purpose breakout areas. Although graduates may be perceived to embrace agile working more than older generations, respondents were mostly in agreeance that they still appreciated moving to a quieter space in order to concentrate.

It’s clear that office designs do need to consider the multigenerational workforce, who will be spending a large part of their time there. The ideal office is a place where people are happy, comfortable and productive, where their needs are met and where they can make positive connections with colleagues. If it succeeds in doing this, the office will not alienate and stereotype groups; it will encourage people to share and learn from each other’s strengths instead.

Wellbeing was also touched on and is becoming an increasing focus for the industry. We need to concentrate on supporting positive mental and physical health in the workplace, from helping employees manage stressors – like noise or cramped workstations – in the open-plan environment, to encouraging movement, good nutrition, better or natural lighting, ergonomic furniture, and brilliant air and water quality. These are all factors that impact everyone; but at different life stages, the way we address them changes too.

Highlights - findings from the audience:

  • 74% believe we should be designing workspaces with multigenerational workforces in mind

  • 63% believe that graduates are happy to work in an agile working environment with no fixed space

  • 84% believe we need to design offices to promote interaction and knowledge share

  • 82% believe open plan provides a great atmosphere and ‘buzz’

  • 49% believe that older workers have different needs to younger workers

  • 66% believe that young people need space to concentrate just as much as older workers

  • 49% believe that flexible working is most important for older workers

About the event and our panel:

The panel featured David Hardman, CEO of Innovation Birmingham; Heather Evans, environmental manager and head of SKA consultancy at Rider Levett Bucknall; Jim Taylour, head of design and wellbeing at Orangebox; Joe Huddleston, senior project designer at Overbury; Mark Eltringham, publisher of Workspace Insight; and Simon Carter, managing director of Anticus Consulting.

More from Joe - "Designing your office for a multi-generational workforce"

Group of colleagues smiling