Office Furniture Works

Designing Workplaces for a 5G Workforce

A Baby Boomer, a Millennial, a Gen X-er, a Gen Z, and a Traditionalist walk into a workplace…and it’s not the setup for a joke. According to the Pew Research group, five generations comprise our workforce: 35% Millennials, 33% Gen X, 25% Boomers, and 7% other (Z’s and Traditionalists). A “5G workforce” is the reality employers are facing now, and will continue to face in the coming years.

Accommodating a Multigenerational Workforce

So how do employers create a space for five generations in the workplace that promotes collaboration instead of a bad Thanksgiving dinner table argument of each era blaming the other for the world’s problems?

We start by first understanding each generation’s purpose and goals. Baby Boomers tend to be more goal-oriented. Gen X-ers focus most on maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Millennials value purpose within the workplace, driven by company culture and strong workplace relationships. These varied goals are why team-building is even more crucial as we see more multigenerational workplaces. One great way to do this is by asking each team member, “does this decision align with our purpose?”

What would an ideal team, comprised of the three majority generations in the workplace, look like? Imagine this:

Baby boomers, who desire recognition for their work, provide mentorship to Millennials. Millennials, who seek enriching challenges and experiences, are empowered to manage tasks. Gen X’s, who value independence, guide the autonomy of Millennials.

Reciprocal Investment

Today’s professionals seek workplaces that foster creativity and satisfaction. Half of millennials (who will comprise 75% of the workforce by 2025) would take a pay cut to find a job that provides purpose.  This is why companies with engaged staff outperform disengaging companies by over 200%. However, disengaged employees make up one-third of the average workforce, according to a 2015 Gallup Poll. This means there is major room for improvement. One easy way to engage employees is to invest in them. Does this mean managers will then have to figure out how to accommodate an entire 5G workforce moving in an upward direction? No. Not everyone wants to climb the corporate ladder, but most employees like to learn new skills. Invest in your employees and they will invest in you. 


So, how do managers deal with this ever-changing multigenerational workspace? Millennials prefer working in groups that are both supportive and collaborative. They are very connected – both to their phones and to friends and family. This is why they prefer a work-life integration, as opposed to the work-life balance of their Gen X predecessors. They did, after all, kick off the social media revolution that has influenced every economy.

Lighter, more mobile devices require untethered workspace. Bring your own device (BYOD) policies allow flexibility for employees to utilize whatever tools and applications (provided by the company or personal) best get the job done. As a bonus, they also help employees maintain their lifestyles and identities.  As we shift from being commodity-based to being community-based, implementing modular layouts and activity-based working (ABW) models are increasingly popular solutions to the search for purpose driven jobs.

Gen Z

While most multigenerational workforce conversations focus around Millennials’ influence in society and the workplace, it’s just as important to focus on Gen Z’s. Gen Z’s are a very impactful group, especially as they generate an estimated $44 billion in annual spending for toys, apparel, food, entertainment, TVs, mobile devices, and computers. Gen Z’s grew up with the internet and smartphones, and are characterized by a shorter attention span.

Not only are Gen Z’s better multi-taskers, they also possess a stronger work ethic than Millennials. Thanks to Millennial parents affected by the 2008 recession, Gen Z’s saw the importance of hard work, ingenuity, and perseverance. As Millennials learned the hard truth that getting a college degree neither guarantees a good paying job nor a career in the field they studied, Gen Z’s observed the significance of hybridization in the “gig economy.” This ability to work part-time in many areas, instead of full-time in one area of focus, can be both a blessing and a curse for employers.

While one Gen Z employee may be knowledgeable on what previously required two or three specialists, they are also more willing to move on when they perceive diminishing opportunities. A varied set of perks (like onsite baristas, nap pods, and pets) combined with flexible hours and activity-based planning can be key to attracting this hard working and adaptable workforce.

Above all other employee benefits, Gen Z’s value workplace flexibility. One effective way of finding balance in the workplace is applying change management programs. These both train and educate a multigenerational workforce in the benefits different work environments can provide. As these environments and policies change, consider inviting experienced workplace consultants who can provide guidance on finding common ground through holistic approaches.

5G Workforce Macro-Environment

In addition to these multigenerational workforce changes in culture, design is another area being affected. As urban areas begin to grow, many of the buildings designed in the 70’s are being repositioned to adapt to a new multigenerational work culture that doesn’t want siloed spaces of work, neighborhoods, shopping districts, etc. The 21st century work culture appreciates blended indoor/outdoor, multi-use spaces that appeal to artists, entrepreneurs, and well-established firms alike. And, with the aging buildings’ need for redesign happening anyway, we now have a prime opportunity to fix the flawed designs of previous decades.

Multigenerational Micro-Environments

The key to both the design and cultural challenges of a multigenerational workplace is creating micro-environments. These micro-environments allow people to succeed at both their tasks and their own well-being. The “Renaissance office” is human-centered, encouraging productivity while also mentally, emotionally, and physically supporting busy workers.

However, as managers create these increasingly collaborative spaces, they need to be sure to create private spaces that support focused work and rejuvenation. Most of all, spaces should promote personalization. Not only should the space reflect the personality of the organization, but employees should be able to integrate their own level of self-expression.

What does that look like for a 5G workforce?

Managers can incorporate spaces that allow people to work in whatever posture feels best for them – lounging, standing, walking, or traditional sitting. They can also integrate technology that facilitates collaboration and movement to encourage progress.

Thanks for Reading!

We’re in the business of making your workspace work as hard as you do. We also happen to have a 5G workforce driving that effort – and, in our humble opinion, doing a fantastic job. Want to have a conversation about the implications of an increasingly diverse workforce in your workplace?

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