Currently there are five generations of Americans currently active in the workforce. This impacts commercial real estate in unexpected ways; specifically, office design. It is common for the onus of office design to be on employers, but in recent years, developers have seen their role evolve to include this as well.
Each generation stereotypically has certain design aspects associated with them: cubicles, private offices, open areas with standing desks, and more. The choices that developers make can influence what kinds of design choices employers are capable of making. If developers choose to have more or less open space, or to rely mostly on natural light, that will impact what options are available for the final office design. How many conference rooms can the company have, can there be a coworking area with desks, loose chairs, and/or couches, is there space to include a ping pong table or a lunch room? Employers cannot make these decisions if developers do not allow for it through their own designs.
The Developers’ Role in Office Design
Benjamin Paltiel writes on this topic for Bisnow and the NAIOP saying:
Tenants themselves are behind today’s most productive and progressive offices…more landlords and developers are taking it upon themselves to collect data to inform and deliver the office spaces their tenants want…In an ideal world, landlords, developers and tenants would share an equal passion and drive for crafting innovative workspaces.
This growing trend demonstrates that the role of developers is changing. While employers and tenants are currently taking the helm of designing office spaces, it is clear that the developers themselves are increasingly expected to play a part in this process.
Generational Impact on Office Design
The five generations currently in the workforce were brought up due to their perceived differences when it comes to preferred workspaces. If developers are going to have to consider potential office designs when building commercial workspaces, then will they have to decide on which generation’s style to build around? Is it possible to compromise and combine these styles in some way?
With a workforce that spans five different generations – traditionalists, baby boomers, Generation X, millennials, and Generation Z – companies today cannot build offices that appeal to only one age group. Instead, they need to consider the spectrum of work styles that their employees of all ages may have and design an office that can keep everyone comfortable and productive.
This is certainly easier said than done, but it is very clear: offices cannot be constructed to fit just one group. Office designs must be inclusive for each generation. The challenge comes in determining which aspects of previous and current office designs will the various generations support and be productive in. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer for this.
Compromising Between Generations
Rivka Altman, a director of portfolio management at Invesco, discusses how prior assumptions about what each generation likes cannot actually be trusted. There are older workers who do not mind open coworking spaces, just as there are millennials who do not mind cubicles or private offices. This mindset is backed up by Shannon Woodcock, a managing director of workplace strategy at Savills.
Woodcock is adamant when she states that:
A lot of the things we say that younger employees want – more light, more access to open space – I don’t believe for one second that those are specific to younger people…Older employees need them just as badly, but they may not be voicing that need as much.
When deciding on the final office designs, employers must know their employees well enough to provide a workspace that all of them would be comfortable in. If developers do not have assistance from a soon-to-be tenant in this respect, then they must do their own research. They must know their target market, and what employees and cultures those companies tend to support.
Woodcock believes that developers (and employers) shouldn’t be fooled by age. While the conversation is about generations, age does not have as much of an impact on design preferences as people may think. Rather than age, the focus should be on “work style”. Keeping up with workplace trends will inform developers on what work styles will resonate the best with the types of companies that are typically interested in their commercial properties.
Predicting the culture and workplace preferences of tenants when you are developing a new property is certainly difficult. The most developers can do is research their target market, and understand the common cultural decisions that those companies tend to make. While every business is different, there are common threads, and these threads serve as a way to inform developers. Even differences in preferences can be helpful at times. Like many other aspects of business, diversification is beneficial.
The design choices that developers make based on consumer and industry research will impact the design choices that future tenants can make. Allowing for personalization that successfully captures the culture that these tenants are looking for is a sign of a well-designed, well-developed workspace. Every style mentioned here can resonate with certain companies, so as long as the research is completed, developers should be able to connect their workspaces with the companies that will thrive in them.