As a workplace strategist, I often speak with clients about the diversity of generations in their workplace, and how these cohorts influence workplace strategy. For example, the desire for flexibility and choice among Millennials was a driver behind the integration of alternative workplace strategies like hoteling and desk sharing in historically traditional industries. While generational lines are often blurred—with Perennials challenging the stereotypes—certain themes resonate.
I recently sat down with a client’s senior executives to discuss workplace strategy and was struck by their comments. They had just returned from a leadership conference where a consultant described some distinguishing factors about the next workforce, Generation Z, which encompasses those born roughly between 1995 and 2010. “[They’ll be] the complete opposite of the Millennials. In fact, they would sooner share socks than a desk!”
Naturally, the client was concerned that our strategy was not considering this new revelation, so our team set out to learn more. We invited our coworkers’ and colleagues’ children to join us in a Saturday workshop at our office, which is a 100 percent free-address workplace. We included group activities and a survey designed to uncover their habits and attitudes about workplace preferences. Fourteen children and teens attended the workshop, and an additional 31 took the survey. We also examined the growing body of research evaluating Gen Z’s common traits and preferences.
What did we learn?
As our client was quick to point out, this generation will be different. They are expected to be more loyal to their employers in their quest for stability and financial security. This is not surprising, since they grew up during the Great Recession and absorbed anxieties surrounding national tragedies. Having observed their Gen Y predecessors’ struggle to find work during the recession, this group will be hardworking, driven, and deeply passionate about the mission of their work. As digital natives and proficient gamers, they are comfortable simultaneously collaborating with people both virtually and face-to-face.
Our workshop and survey validated many of these findings. Participants showed a strong preference for collaborating with others on team projects. All respondents reported they want to go to college, and 66 percent want flexibility in where and when they work. The top three most important attributes for selecting a job were meaningful work, cultural fit/alignment with personal values, and proximity to home. Only 15 percent indicated a desire to start their own company within 10 years, a significant drop from an EY/EIG survey that reported that 62 percent of Millennial survey respondents had considered starting their own business.
How do we apply it?
The workplaces we are designing today need to continue to be flexible to accommodate the incoming generation. Spaces for both collaboration and community will continue to be important, balanced with places for quiet, focused work. The need for intuitive technology tools enabling both virtual and face-to-face collaboration will continue. Of course, in order to support all demographics currently in the workforce, we need to consider behavioral data in conjunction with generational preferences. Finally, while only 23 percent of those surveyed indicated they were willing to share a desk, only 4 percent were willing to share socks. So it would appear that Generation Z would not rather share socks than a desk!
Check out highlights from the workshop: