Is Your Workplace Ready for Tomorrow’s Employees?

Today, in a typical office, you might see four different generations of employees working alongside each other. But over the next decade, 693 million of those workers will enter retirement, causing a major worldwide shift in the modern workplace. As a result, businesses hoping to recruit and retain talent will need to go the extra mile to ensure their workspaces are adapted to the unique needs and expectations of younger workers. Flexibility will become more and more valuable as we enter the era of Generation Z.

Know Your Cohort

First, let’s figure out exactly who we’re talking about. Baby Boomers are perhaps the easiest cohort to understand—born between 1946 and the early 1960s, this generation established many of the norms and standards that defined workplace culture. Gen Xers are people born between 1960 and 1981. They missed the wartime baby boom, but were too early to grow up with the Internet. Millennials are those born between 1981 and 1995, making them the first generation to be raised around the emergence of the Internet and social media. Gen Z is the youngest cohort (sometimes referred to as Gen Alpha), and includes anyone born between 1995 and now.

According to a new study from Cushman & Wakefield, which examines the biggest changes in demographics and workplace culture that will happen over the next 10 years, some 1.3 billion Gen Z members will enter the workforce this decade.

So what does that mean for employers? Big expectations. Gen Z represents the first generation of digital natives. In other words, they don’t know a world without the Internet or the smartphone, and their habits reflect that. The way we work is changing, and it’s Gen Z members who will dictate how much. Let’s look at a few key changes employers will need to make in order to recruit, retain, and ride the Gen Z wave.

Tech & the City

Imagine people who have never used a fax machine. In fact, imagine an entire generation of people who have never even seen one. A workspace that seamlessly integrates tech tools into the everyday experience of the office—whether through an interactive onboarding app or smart sensors that indicate not only when but how a room is being used—are crucial to keeping Gen Z workers engaged.

Cushman & Wakefield compared the labor force growth and GDP growth of more than 137 cities worldwide. Cities with high growth in both categories have the strongest prospects for real estate demand, while slow growth in both categories indicates a lagging market. Cities with faster growth in GDP than the working-age population are high productivity markets with greater appeal to investors as they rise up the value proposition. Those with bigger growth in labor than GDP are considered low productivity markets that need to actively attract talent to boost output.

Austin, Texas, stood out as a leader in North America, with both population growth and GDP above the national average. But the study notes that the city is still struggling to improve productivity and introducing new initiatives like investing in infrastructure and technology. The more tech-focused Austin becomes, the more attractive it will be to the future workforce--and the same principle holds true for most mid- to large-sized cities in the U.S.

A Holistic Workplace Strategy

Despite a reputation for job-hopping, Millennial workers are just as likely to stick with their employers as Gen X workers were when they were the same age. But the same can’t be said for Gen Z, as their expectations for a high-quality workplace are generally higher than those of their elders. That means that workplace strategy has to take into account the wellbeing and happiness of employees in order to retain talent in the future.

We’ve seen different iterations over the years, but as Millennials settle in as the new elders, the confident, savvy Gen Zers will need more than an open floor plan and happy hour beers in the office to stay put. As Kevin Thorpe, Chief Economist and Head of Global Research for Cushman & Wakefield, noted, “Workplace strategy will need to account for an ever-increasing array of requirements to meet the needs of tomorrow’s professionals. Understanding these generations’ values, how and where they want to work, and their interpersonal strengths and weaknesses will lay the foundations of securing the best talent available.”

Collapsing Silos with Collaborative Space

Collaborative spaces, less siloed work departments, and an employee-centric workplace strategy guarantees the largest global cohort (nearly 2 billion people) will be more compelled to stay with their current employers. The siloed mentality is a part of the old guard; culturally, Gen Z and Millennials are already adjusted to a free-flow of information and accessibility. Professionally, it has become an expectation.

As the way we work changes, offices should be able to physically change, as well. A space that is more collaborative physically—easy to move in and out of and stocked with modular furniture—is more collaborative by nature. Offering wellness programming or a robust and dynamic design plan that puts employee needs first, without sacrificing productivity, will help companies more easily align with the younger generation of workers looking to land long-term careers.

Becoming a Do-Gooder

Meaningful efforts toward inclusivity and a commitment to sustainability aren’t just talking points: they matter to younger generations. According to Cushman & Wakefield, 29 percent of Millennials rank environmental concerns as their top priority. Gen Z has perhaps the highest level of social awareness, and that is reflected in their employment choices. Corporate social responsibility, alongside flexibility, is perhaps the leading competitive recruitment strategy moving into the next decade.

Brands and companies that are looking to highlight their positive contributions, whether through green design, innovative renovations, or simply incorporating plants and outdoor space into their offices, will be more attractive to Gen Z.

The Future of Furniture

Like the fax machine, the cubicle isn’t something younger generations are familiar with. Soft furnishings that can be changed with the needs of the office and through subscription services are more popular than ever, and with good reason. Modern work is more dynamic than it has been in past generations, and modular furniture, like Geometry, gives employees the power to make their space as dynamic as the work they’re doing. A huge benefit to these concepts is less waste and consumption, without sacrificing style or need. Flexible design is the future of work, and the future workers know it.

It’s critical for companies to stay apace--or even get ahead--of the needs and wants of the growing, global future workforce. The good news is many of these requirements can be addressed by introducing more flexibility into the workplace. Understanding these trends and how to maximize opportunities within them translates to being competitive, attracting and retaining top talent, and doing it all with style and sustainability. No Tik Tok experience required.