The "Age Neutral" Workspace The 5 Pillars of Designing work environments that drive Intergenerational Collaboration

For the first time ever, offices designers are tasked with designing offices that satisfy 4 different generations: Pre-Boomers (Born 1925-1945), the Baby Boomers (Born 1946-1964), Generation X (Born 1965-1976), and Millennials (Born 1977-1994). Though each generation has their own set of workplace values, expectations and communication styles, when properly harnessed, the talents and skills that each generation bring to the table can give companies a considerable competitive edge. However, in order to do this, companies must build workspaces that meet the diverse and, at times, conflicting demands of this incredibly dynamic workforce. With this in mind, below are 5 best practices for building an “age neutral” work environment that drives engagement, productivity and innovation across all 4 generations.

But first, a few details about each generation…..

Image courtesy of Interior Architects

Return to Privacy & Personalization

Leading edge-companies are realizing a balance must be struck between thoughtful branding and workspace personalization. Not only does autonomy over one’s work area act as a symbol of trust between the employee and their employer, but allows individuals who may have special needs (i.e. physical disabilities, ADHD, etc.) to modify their workspace as necessary with minimal administrative hassle and maximum discretion organically advancing inclusiveness.

In addition, many leading-edge companies are transitioning from the open workspace model to activity-based workplace design (ABW). ABW involves a mix of open, semi-private and private spaces in one commercial office to meet employees where they are in the moment, not forcing workers to accomplish their tasks in a specific non-ideal space. In this scenario, workers still retain their own private desk but also have the option to move freely between their own personal workspace, private conference rooms and casual/collaborative spaces as needed.

Balance Technology with Humanity

Though technology has transformed the world as we know it by unleashing unprecedented levels of productivity and enabling communication across the globe, for all too many it has also weakened those interpersonal connections that can really only be created through face-to-face interaction and lead to increased levels of workplace isolation. Furthermore, though many millennials may be comfortable communicating primarily through email, text or chat, workers from older generations may not.

As important as it is for companies to invest in technology enabling design elements such as “plug and play,” video-conferencing, LED displays, etc., it’s equally important to create shared spaces such as office cafes/snack bars, lounges, rec rooms, etc. When people are given a chance to converse freely in casual settings, they’ll be significantly more likely to break down barriers related to age as well as function, hierarchal level, gender, etc.

Build Flexible Environments that Promote Collaboration

What do millennials want? Flexibility. Flexible work hours, remote work options and flexible workspaces. Considering that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, millennials will make up 50% of the U.S. workforce by 2020, companies need to take their demands seriously. In addition, considering a flexible workspace is one that can be used by a variety of different people in a variety of different, it makes sense that companies whose workforces span across multiple generations would invest in flexible workspaces that allow employees to tailor their workspace to their own individual needs.

Embrace Ergonomics

There’s no doubt about it, the physical comfort of workers has a massive impact on productivity levels and the bottom line. In fact, according to OSHA 34% of all lost workday injuries and illnesses result from work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD) due to poor workplace ergonomics. Creating safe, comfortable and healthy workspaces is especially important for older adults who tend to be more at risk for workplace injuries such as tendonitis and may not be as used to the constant noise and dim lighting associated with the modern workplace.

Focus on Culture, Not Trends

Though trends such as the open floor plan, lean offices, etc. may come and go, your company’s core culture should remain in place. With that in mind a workplace that fits a company’s culture will organically drive inclusivity by allowing employees to be more naturally engaged, innovative and collaborative. Furthermore, aligning your workspace to culture ensure its viability for years to come.

Interested In Learning More About Designing "Age Neutral" Workspaces?

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January 23 - 25, 2019 | New York City

Sources & Additional Reading

  1. THE MULTIGENERATIONAL WORKFORCE AND ITS IMPACT ON WORKPLACE DESIGN http://mp-architects.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Generational-Design-Impact.pdf
  2. How Corporate Culture Influences Workplace Design https://hga.com/aligning-corporate-culture-and-workplace-design/
  3. Innovation Spaces: The New Design of Work https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/cs_20170404_innovation_spaces_pdf.pdf
  4. How To Design The Ideal, Multi-Generation Office https://www.worldcrunch.com/culture-society/how-to-design-the-ideal-multi-generation-office
  5. What is ergonomic office design? https://penkethgroup.com/knowledge-centre/what-is-ergonomic-office-design/
  6. A Guide to Agile Workspaces: Why You Should Transform Your Office Now https://zenbooth.net/blogs/zenbooth-blog/an-ode-to-agile-workspaces-why-you-should-transform-your-office-now
Created By
Elizabeth Mixson


Created with images by Jason Wong - "Glass window room" • Mia Baker - "Coworking space Industrious Atlanta" • rawpixel - "untitled image" • Annie Spratt - "Team work, work colleagues, working together" • Alex Kotliarskyi - "Programming Competition"

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