Designing your office for the largest generation


Workforce, make way: the oldest members of Generation Z are graduating college and university. Born between 1996 and 2010, these teens and young adults number 2 billion worldwide, making them the largest generation. By 2020, they’ll make up 20% of the American workforce.

Generation Z are our first, true digital natives; they don’t remember a time before the world wide web. On average, they use five screens a day. They spend 6-10 hours a day online and, according to Forbes, have only an eight-second attention span. Technology is integrated into their social relationships; that may sound concerning to other generations, but it’s the new normal to them.

This generation saw their parents struggle through the great recession. As a result, their career priorities are often pragmatic. While Millennials seek out purpose, Generation Z is focused on stability and financial return. They also believe they’ll have to work harder and longer than previous generations.

So how do we help this generation succeed in the workplace and be happier in their careers? Their work environment plays a key role.

Gen Z’s ideal workplace has “a mix of private, dedicated workspaces, collaboration spaces, cafe-style temporary workspaces and lots of meeting rooms,” writes Work Design Magazine.

According to Inc, 72% of Gen Zers prefer face-to-face communication. Text messages came in second for preferred communication methods at 11%, followed by emails (9%) and the now “archaic” phone call (2%) (perhaps surprisingly, social collaboration tools like Slack were cited at 1%). So those beautifully-funky communal spaces you designed for Millennials—they’re important for Gen Z too.

But this generation craves time and space to work alone too. And they don’t want to be stuck at their desks all day.

Creating quiet enclosed spaces where people can hunker down will appeal to Generation Z. Away from the open-layout desks, these pods can be acoustically enclosed with soft walls and floors, and a tight door. Comfortable seating invites the mind and body to relax and let the ideas flow.

Flexible spaces are also ideal. Check out this education room that DIRTT’s design team built in Chicago.

“When the folding LEAF wall is open, it can be a large meeting or education space that still feels homey,” says Tori Cnudde, DIRTT Interior Designer. Closing the wall creates a more intimate collaboration space. “We used DIRTT millwork to create a desk and library with cabinets that can be used for display and create practical storage. The curved DIRTT Timber nook is a great place to work alone or curl up with a book.” 

One large collaboration space, two small breakout rooms and a funky nook for some alone time all in one package. Cool, eh?

It goes without saying these digital natives expect the latest technology.

Our technology integration team “takes technology elements and bring the walls to life,” says architectural technologist Brett Allen. He adds: “DIRTT doesn’t provide the technology. We trial run technologies and recommend solutions for our clients.”

For example: at a recent DIRTT retirement party, the team was able to bring the Chicago-based retiree to the Calgary office on human-size screen where everyone toasted him. Technologies like these can potentially bring remote workers into the office—and give Generation Z the human touch and sense of community they crave.

Another thing about this tech-savvy generation? “Generation Z wants to configure and customize their space,” says Brett.

The DIRTT team created this space to adapt to different moods: concentration for working or studying; creativity; party; and relaxation for yoga or meditation. Just tell the embedded Alexa speaker what you’re up for and she’ll adjust the temperature, lighting and music accordingly.

“Soon, we’ll be able to customize space like this by tapping our phones on the wall,” says Brett, “using the same NFC chip we use for Apple Pay now.” 

What’s so exciting about both of these examples is that they’re not just about cool tech. The technology satisfies the very human needs of Generation Zers too: whether its togetherness, or alone space catered to the mood of the moment.

Brett wrote more about the Rise of Hyper Smart Work Spaces here.