Will Gen Z Have the Last Word in Office Design?

Last week, we took a look at some of the layout, technology, and furniture features that Millennials expect in the workplace. They’ll be the dominant demographic for quite some time. However, Gen Z is already jockeying for position in the workforce. In another 15-20 years, their voice will have a great deal of impact on office design. If you are doing long term office space planning, you might want to look ahead and anticipate what this youngest generation of workers wants.

Gen Y Loves Ambiguity

According to Haworth strategist Dr. Michael O’Neill, the workplace is already shifting to take the tastes of Generation Y into account. These young people crave social connection, collaboration, and choice. The boundaries between work and life blur as workspaces develop that look nothing like traditional cubicles. Instead, they resemble a lounge, a café, or even a garden. People aren’t supposed to know the precise purpose of each space—it’s all open for interpretation. This takes the flexibility desired by Gen X a step beyond facilitation into complete freedom.

Gen Z Wants More Clarity

O’Neill suggests that this free-for-all is going to shift when Generation Z reaches the workforce in meaningful numbers by 2020. He has some interesting ideas about why this is so (it may have to do with being raised by Gen X parents), but the impact on the office could be significant. Instead of thriving on chaos, they may want spaces that are clearly defined. When they show up at work, seeing a layout that makes it easy to understand what type of activity takes place in each area may help them be most productive. Having choices will still be important, but ‘legibility’ of space (O’Neill’s term) could prove essential.

How Is Planning Possible?

With so much uncertainty and speculation, is it really possible to make long term plans for the office? According to workplace design expert Despina Katsikakis, there is a way to future proof your workplace. She takes the view that adaptability will need to be designed and built at the overall facility level and the office level.

In her ideal scenario, “Space could be adapted for business shifts in ‘real-time’ and be continually re-aligned with core business objectives.” She sees workspace as being event driven, with a high level of dynamism and a focus on user choice and control. Generation Z won’t be the last generation to want to work in new ways. In the end, having the agility to shift with the trends (rather than finding one perfect layout), is the key. Let The Office Planning Group help you envision the most flexible way to use your space now and for the future.

Millennials and Workplace Design

It’s not surprising that employers often struggle to keep up with changing expectations for workplace design. The goal posts keep shifting with each generation. That’s been especially true for the millennials. This generation came of age during a profound shift in how technology is used for commerce. However, the oldest workers in the millennial generation have now reached their early thirties—and they’re old enough to have their minds made up about what they want and need in a workspace. Since they are likely to represent 3 out of 4 workers in the U.S. by 2025, their opinion certainly matters.

The Office Still Plays a Central Role

First, let’s be clear that young workers don’t see the workplace as an expendable environment. According to research from CBRE Group, Inc. young professionals don’t really want to be at home all day working in their pajamas. About 4 out of 10 prefer to work mainly from a single office location. Another 50% like the option to work from the office or from home. Only 7 out of 100 want to work mainly from home (and even they would probably change their minds if that was their only option).

Workplace Design and Technology Tips for Satisfying Millennials

  • Provide a mix of work environments to choose from within the physical office space. These employees appreciate autonomy and expect to be trusted to know when, where, and how to get their work done most effectively.
  • Ensure consistent and secure remote access to business data, apps, and networks. Millennials want to be mobile and expect business technology to support them.
  • Make space for face-to-face teamwork. Self-directed and impromptu meetings are common among younger workers who typically spend less than 50% of their workday at their individual desks.
  • Select mobile office furniture that can be reconfigured by employees throughout the day as-needed. Coming in to the office each day is a lot less boring when the layout is fluid.
  • Add ergonomic furnishings to enhance workstations. Millennials don’t care about having a big desk. They do appreciate having an articulated monitor stand so they can easily adjust a shared workstation to their needs at a moment’s notice.

For a full-scale review of your office space with the needs of the emerging workforce in mind, contact TOPG today.

Are You Fascinated by the History of the Modern Office?

You’re not alone. The development of the modern office is a topic that’s fascinated a lot of researchers and writers over the years. Today, working a 9 to 5 job in a cubicle is so mundane that most people don’t stop to think about how this whole lifestyle came about.

What are the origins of the office? What did offices look like in days gone by? What’s coming up next? Here’s an overview of some great in-depth articles on these subjects:

The First Grand Office

We tend to think of globalization as a fairly recent phenomenon in business. But one of the first purpose-built offices, and certainly the largest of its era, was devoted to international commerce. The East India Company was the hub of Britain’s commercial empire in the 1700s and 1800s. Generating, managing, and filing business correspondence required all hands on deck. It was the ‘paper-full’ office. The East India House had so many employees that management felt the need to institute a tracking program. At one point, they forced clerks to sign in and out—and to sign that they were present every 15 minutes. The BBC’s Lucy Kellaway recounts the details of office life in that era in her production “Beginnings of the Modern Office”.

Offices in the United States

According to the Arts Council at Caruso St. John, modern offices made a move stateside in the late nineteenth century. New communication technologies allowed administrative work to be centralized far from the place of production or distribution. In-office tools like typewriters and calculators allowed companies to collect the first forms of business intelligence for analysis. It was the advent of the knowledge worker, “The concentration of wealth in the new corporations required an ever-greater proportion of an increasingly literate population to work in the ‘white collar factories’.”

The Office Merges Back with Life

Jill Lepore writes eloquently and at length about the modern office for The New Yorker in Away from My Desk. She draws on the writing of Mills and Saval in “White Collar” and “Cubed” to paint a picture of the pointlessness of much office work. As Mills said, “Each day men sell little pieces of themselves in order to try to buy them back each night and week end.”

Saval is more of an optimist, believing that it’s time to start viewing the office itself as something quaint and outdated. He sees a future in which office buildings will be shuttered forever as workers go out into the world. While offices are probably not in immediate danger of extinction, they are certainly not the prisons they once seemed. Certainly with the right space planning and furnishings, they can now be a place where workers choose to go to be productive–even if they have the option of working elsewhere. For ideas on how to make your office space inviting, contact The Office Planning Group for a no-obligation consultation.

Getting Started with Office Daylighting

Office daylighting is a method of introducing natural light into the workplace to supplement or replace artificial lighting. Although windows are the most common source of sunlight for the office, even interior areas of a single story structure can be daylighted using skylights (such as tubular skylights). Gregg D. Ander, FAIA has written a highly informative report for the Whole Building Design Guide that covers this topic in a great deal of detail. He points to three main features to be taken into consideration for this type of design:

  • The actual entry points for daylight (size, location, materials)
  • The glare remediation devices (blinds, shades, redirectors, and diffusers)
  • The internal lighting system that should be working in concert with light from outdoors

What Elements of Office Design Impact Daylighting?

Some of the information to gather during the planning stages of a daylighting project includes:

  • The areas of the building that will be adequately lit during a typical workday (north and south-facing walls will tend to have most daylight in the New Orleans area)
  • How seasonal changes including cloud cover, shorter days, and daylight savings time will impact lighting patterns
  • Whether interior furnishings and finishes are resistant to U/V or if the glass used will block ultraviolet radiation
  • What supplemental lighting will be used for dimmer times of the day (such as desktop task lighting)
  • What type of responsive design will be used for overhead lighting (automatic sensing of daylight vs. timed on/off or dimmer/brighter cycles)
  • How office furniture is arranged and if this will put worksurfaces and computer monitors in the path of direct sunlight (causing an issue with hot surfaces and glare)
  • How large areas of glass may affect heating and cooling costs for the building (since even double-pane windows don’t moderate temperature as well as walls do)
  • Whether walls and ceilings need to be repainted to be more reflective (boosting the brightness from sunlight refracting through the space)

As you can see, everything from construction to office space layout matters in a successful daylighting project. If you’re considering embarking on this type of renovation, let us play a role in helping you uncover the hidden potential for daylight in your office. This might involve rearranging furniture, lowering cubicle wall heights, and much more.

Improving Workspace Utilization Part 3: Desk Sharing

In the past two weeks, we’ve explored ways to collect data and how to interpret it to find ways to improve workspace utilization. But it’s all numbers and big talk until you actually start implementing changes. If your workforce is inadequately prepared or if you roll out changes (such as desk sharing) in insensitive fashion, there can be pushback. Employees may feel displaced and disengaged. This week, let’s look at some ways to minimize disruption while maximizing productivity.

Plan, Communicate, Implement, Communicate

The GSA recently published a workspace utilization report with examples of major corporations that have successfully implemented desk sharing programs. For example, IBM now provides only 1 desk for every dozen workers. Of course, they didn’t make this change all at once. There was a lot of investigation involved. It began when they realized that many of their employees spent the majority of their time embedded with client organizations, where they were provided with a workstation as needed. These workers actually wanted to spend even more time at client locations (and the clients concurred). So, the desire was already present to make a change. IBM still proceeded with care. The organization:

  • Examined the options for 8 months to determine the best way forward;
  • Communicated with employees about upcoming changes;
  • Engaged a behavioral psychologist to help the team manage the transition from an emotional standpoint;
  • Tested an initial solution;
  • Requested feedback; and,
  • Rinsed and repeated for 3 years with additional office spaces before rolling out the program on a national basis.

What Strategy Works for Smaller Businesses?

Even if you have only one office location, you can still follow many of the smart practices from IBM. HR and executive management should work together to create a communication plan that:

  • Collects opinions and perspectives from employees prior to making final decisions about workspace utilization changes;
  • Communicates the “why” of the planned changes, explaining how they benefit the company and employees;
  • Has a mechanism in place to collect feedback about the changes that have been implemented; and,
  • Is open to adjustment on an ongoing basis to ensure an optimal outcome.

It’s Not All or Nothing

An intelligent desk sharing arrangement accommodates the needs of different work groups. For example, teams that work on-the-go may be well-suited to desk sharing while those who really are tied to a desk all day may be more fully supported with a dedicated space. The goal isn’t necessarily to force desk sharing on the entire workforce if it’s not a good fit. The goal should be to create an environment that supports the greatest efficiency for all employees while eliminating space that is truly going unused.

Improving Workspace Utilization Part 2

improving workspace utilizationHave you painstakingly collected loads of data so you can start improving workspace utilization? Now, you’re ready to sift through it and put this Workplace Business Intelligence to use in making smart decisions about how you allocate office space. Analyze the utilization data to determine the following:

Usage for Shared Spaces

  • Which spaces are used at the highest capacity and which spaces go unused
  • Which employees and departments use shared spaces and for what purpose
  • Times of day and days of the week when each area is used most often

Additional information to gather: Compare the actual usage data from shared spaces such as meeting rooms or conference rooms with the scheduled usage.

  • Are people showing up and using the space they’ve set aside?
  • Are small groups booking a large conference room when a small team meeting room would do?

This helps you identify whether people are hoarding the best workspaces even when they don’t need them. It can also help you decide whether space hibernation is a good option. With hibernation, you can use rules-based booking software to enforce an energy-saving approach to workspace utilization. For example, it might only offer the option to book conference rooms on one floor until all those spaces are filled. That way, you only have to heat or cool that floor.

Usage for Individual Workstations

  • The maximum workstation occupancy percentage on an average workday
  • The percentage of employees who are typically at their desk for most of the day
  • Peak times of day and days of the week for workstation occupancy

Additional information to gather:

  • Are employees working within the office but away from their desks? If so, where?
  • Are they setting up temporary workspaces in other areas? If so, what is it about these self-chosen workspaces that makes them more appealing than the assigned desks?

This type of information can give you insight into what types of flexible workspaces could be used to replace traditional workstations and reduce the overall office footprint. For example, if people are gathering in small social groups to collaborate on a come-and-go basis using mobile devices, a workplace lounge might be a viable option.

Next week, we’ll talk about some of the ways to ease a transition into desk-sharing, one of the most far-reaching and impactful ways of improving workspaces utilization.

Improving Workspace Utilization Part 1: Know Your Data

Is your company struggling with real estate costs or trying to fit an expanding workforce into an existing space? You could benefit from more efficient workspace utilization. Businesses all over the United States are experimenting with ways to cut expenses and optimize existing assets. Here are a few of the top trends for getting the most out of every square foot of office space.

It Starts with Tracking Current Use

Since your goal with this exercise is to make the work environment more useful, you need to begin by determining what areas are getting the most use right now. There are a number of ways to go about this:

  1. Random checks and headcounts throughout the day
  2. Computerized “check in” systems with kiosks, apps, or card readers that employees can use to check in and out of work areas or workstations
  3. Occupancy detectors featuring unobtrusive sensors that identify when a room or individual workstation is in use

Which One Works Best?

Option 1 is inexpensive but largely inaccurate. Fluctuations in usage throughout the day or from one week to the next may skew the data and give a false impression of space usage. It probably won’t provide enough data to help you make an informed decision. This technique would need to be used very methodically over an extended period of time to deliver useful information.

Option 2 may mean a significant one-time expense for setup and require multiple system types to cover all desired areas. In addition, it relies on full employee cooperation—which makes it prone to inaccuracy as well. It may work best for shared areas like meeting rooms and less well for individual workspaces.

Option 3 is a passive system that offers the highest level of accuracy and may be available using leased equipment that can be returned after it has delivered the necessary data. The sensors can be redeployed as necessary, allowing a company to track trends over time and reevaluate after each reconfiguration. This is often the ideal option for companies that want to track desk usage for a large workforce.

Once you have collected the data, what can you do with it? We’ll explore some options next week in Part 2

Matching Office Furniture to Employee Work Styles

employee work stylesA healthy, well-rounded company culture features a variety of people and a range of employee work styles. Row after row of identical cubicles may fail to meet the needs of everyone in an office. It’s no surprise that businesses are beginning to create more flexible and varied work landscapes to accommodate a diverse workforce and help everyone be more productive. Here are a number of ways you can use space design and office furniture selection to give everyone what they need.

Social and Collaborative

These workers prefer to be in earshot of interesting conversations so they can feel connected to office life. They thrive in an environment that is full of energy. These employees like to “talk things out” and rely heavily on input from others to do their best at work. A desking or benching system with low dividers can be an advantageous setup since it ensures close proximity to coworkers.

In offices that primarily feature cubicles, extroverts may enjoy having the freedom to work in a lounge area using mobile technology. Being untethered from a desk and able to go “where the action is” may be seen as a significant benefit. If these workers do have permanently assigned workspace, they may like to change aspects of their workstation frequently to keep from feeling bored or trapped.

Reserved and Focused

These employees are likely to be most comfortable in low-traffic areas and with workstations that feature high panels to provide a sense of privacy. In an open office environment that doesn’t feature cubicles, providing enclosed spaces where employees can retreat occasionally for greater concentration is important. They may feel protective of their workstation and have a desire to customize it to precisely match the way they work.

Introverted workers may also benefit from breakout areas for small team or one-on-one collaboration. It’s not that they want to be alone all the time, they simply need to have a choice about their level of social interaction on a daily basis. Offering greater flexibility makes these workers feel more empowered.

How do you satisfy everyone in the office?

You don’t have to hand over a catalogue and let every employee make their own selections. Next week, we’ll look at ways you can create a workspace that gives everyone what they need—and most of what they want.

Roundup of Office Design Trends for 2014

In July, we looked at a lot of up-and-coming office design trends from NeoCon contestants. That’s the perspective from the designers and manufacturers. Now, let’s take a peek at what office furniture and space planning experts think is on trend for this year.

Rosio Office Furniture

This company sees an uptick in the use of touchdown and breakout areas to provide what open office layouts lack. When individuals need privacy for concentration or small groups want a more intimate atmosphere for collaboration, they don’t have to reserve a conference room days in advance. Instead, the modern workspace features small nooks away from high traffic areas so employees can get more done.

Design & Trend

Contributor Meredith Lepore notes that mobility is the watchword of 2014. And we’re not talking about tablets and smart phones. Office furniture is the focus. Chairs have long been mobile, but now tables and pedestal files are too. Besides being rollable for fast reconfiguration of the office layout, tables also go up and down. The sit-to-stand trend is going strong and showing no signs of backing down.

CCIM Institute

The Institute notes that space design itself is changing with the times. Business facilities are being re-planned based on the activities workers are expected to perform. Figuring out when workers spend time at their desks and when they are on-the-go or in meetings permits the implementation of more flexible arrangements. For some organizations, that might look like desk-sharing coupled with the installation of a resource center or even a coffee bar.


Above and beyond the activity-based planning trend is the idea of creating a workplace that’s designed like a city. StrongProject points to this option as the way to strike a balance between a completely open office layout and a cube farm. Using a centralized hallway helps organize different types of work areas and directs traffic organically through the office for ease of navigation.

Trends in Office Design

Bob Brooke notes that 2014 is bringing people even closer together in the office—through continued consolidation. Rental space is down and ownership is up. Corporate headquarters wants everyone on the same page and in the same building. At the same time, there’s a high value on virtualization. Companies are spending more on high-tech videoconference rooms to cut travel costs and keep dispersed teams connected.

Just for Fun

The roundup wouldn’t be complete without a juicy article from Nikil Saval at n +1 magazine. It’s a satirical sendup of some of the most popular office furniture and design trends of the last few years. Nikil pulls no punches in sending up the sit-to-stand desk, the open office, and more. Who says office design planning has to be a serious business?

Trends in the Fourth Place Workspace Part 1

With mobile technology freeing office drones from their desks and 24/7 connectivity erasing the boundaries of a 9-5 job, bringing work out of the office and into the world is now a common occurrence. However, the limitations of the local Starbucks as an alternative workspace are also becoming evident. While workers might once have chosen their home or a café over the corporate office, the distractions and lack of appropriate infrastructure pose a real problem. The ‘fourth place’ is a term coined by author Richard Florida to describe an entirely new set of spaces where people now engage in work. In this series, we’ll explore a few ways this trend is gaining traction at home and abroad.

The Rise of the Coworking Space

Having an office away from the office isn’t just for ‘creatives’ and people traveling to handle international business deals. Many small, local businesses and independent professionals also get serious business done in these ad hoc working environments. Coworking spaces are no longer restricted to trendy locales like Silicon Valley and New York or Boston. They are becoming part of a much larger industry as a feature in business centers.

For example, Regus offers coworking spaces in addition to virtual offices, day offices, meeting spaces, and other fully serviced, outsourced workspaces business professionals require. Kimberly Lilley, General Manager at a Regus location in North Texas, says the model is growing by leaps and bounds. “Regus has 2,000 sites worldwide and is still expanding.”

Who Is Using Coworking Space?

Kimberly notes that the Arlington, TX location serves a demographic that is heavily sales oriented. The coworking spaces provide desks, storage, broadband internet connectivity, and printers or fax machines to support daily work. Other sections of the business center include a staffed reception area, a lounge, break room, and meeting rooms to support the full range of business needs.

According to Lilley, “The design team tries to keep the theme and furnishings fairly consistent from one site to the next. We have people come here who’ve been to some of our other locations and immediately say, ‘Oh, you’re a Regus!’ It’s very recognizable.” That’s a tip that any business with satellite offices can use. It’s not just the color scheme that conveys your brand. It’s the quality of the office furnishings, layout, infrastructure and more.