Everything you’ve been told about the millennial generation and their desires for futuristic office design isn’t true, according to a recent CBRE study.
Millennials are seen by society as tech-friendly, diverse, urban-minded and married to their smartphones. In the business setting, they’re seen as anti-authority, desiring more social links and drawn to collaborative spaces. Developers and business owners, mindful that 75 percent of the workforce will be made up of millennials by 2025, have tried to follow these trends in office construction, removing private offices and making social spaces a focal workspace plan.
However, in “Designing the office of the future? Don’t plan around it (what you think you know about) U.S. millennials,” CBRE evaluated survey answers by more than 5,500 office workers across numerous industries, and found millennials prefer privacy just as much as their older peers. Sure, most workers would enjoy a ping pong table in the break room, but when it comes to their workspace, the generation’s desires are traditional, says Georgia Collins, CBRE’s senior managing director for workplace strategy. “Millennials themselves said what they want in an office is not at all different than even what the boomers are looking for,” she says.
According to the study, while less than 17 percent of older workers ranked “spaces to socialize” as important compared to 31 percent of millennials, almost 50 percent of all ages surveyed agreed that “spaces to think and concentrate” are the most important in a workplace. Almost every worker agreed that they prefer to focus on individual work about 60 percent of the time, with collaboration split among the rest of the time. That collaboration covers the gamut of meetings, one-on-one collaboration or virtual discussions.
Collins says companies should abandon new-wave thinking and instead focus on constructing offices that include both social settings and areas for private work. “Our view has been that workers of all ages need a good balance,” she says. “Even if you tear down a couple walls, the data shows time to have private space to focus on work is necessary.”
Today’s work location assumptions are also faulty, Collins says. Developers currently are focused on building new office buildings in large cities because of the expected flood of millennials expected to descend upon CBDs. In reality, more than half of workers ages 20-34 years old still live in the suburbs. That hasn’t changed since the tech boom started in 2000. The average number of millennials living in a big city hovers around 30 percent, and that may even decline due to the predicted increase in boomers moving to urban areas.
Telecommuting has also not taken off as expected. Ten years ago, many companies experimented with emptying offices by allowing employees to work from home, with the expectation that productivity would increase—or at least stay the same—as digitally-tethered workers tend to keep longer hours. However, large tech firms such as Yahoo, the first to try such an experiment, began reining workers back to their 9-to-5 jobs.
“Many organizations began to realize they want people in the office,” Collins says. “The workers felt it too, being at home they felt disconnected from the organization. This also is a situation that requires balance, as many employees report that at least having the option to work from home one-to-two days per week brings the most satisfaction.”
Employers instead need to focus on making offices places where workers want to come in, by providing a balance of social areas and private workstations, as well as technology that enables employees to work seamlessly in and outside of the office. “The investment needs to be focused on what can be done to support a great experience at work, making it a better place to come in to than Starbucks or their own home,” Collins says.