Is activity based working the solution to bridging the workplace generation gap?

The Workplace Generation Gap Mystery

By: Rebecca Connolly

How does a company create an office environment to suit three generations of employees? How does a workplace strategist find a happy-medium for the creative 25-year-old, the private 35-year-old, and the experienced 55-year-old? An option for multi-generational offices is adopting activity-based working.

Millennials vs. Gen X vs. Baby Boomers

For the Millennials, open collaboration spaces offer a non-structured environment that doesn’t require the young generation to follow the same work routine. Although the tasks won’t change in the changing workspace choices, the ability to adapt their tasks with their environment will create variability in their predictable routine.

Unlike the Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers want to follow a routine with little variability. Typically, this generation was the large majority of open-office critics. The open-office layouts lacked privacy and distraction-free environments. They also prefer private phone conversations that activity-based workspaces offer with spaces designated for quiet conversations like phone-booths.  Even though these unique shared work settings, employees can remain in one desired space to keep routine.  

Increased productivity is a major positive outcome of the shared work settings. In a survey by YouGov in 2016 called “What Workers Want”, about 71% of the 1,300 surveyors said quiet-zones would improve efficiency and productivity of tasks. Of the participants, only 30% were satisfied with the current noise-levels in their office. Reasons for increases in productivity are increased opportunities for creative thinking, focus, collaboration, and wellness. In a 2017 Gartner study, they predict that companies that have implemented “choose-your-own-workspace” (CYOW) by 2020 will boost employee retention rates by 10%.

The key to building a successful, collaborative team is discovering the commonalities between the different age groups in what they desire for their workspace. To help conflict, training and mentoring is beneficial to create a better understanding of the generational differences. Training can also discover the similarities and shared offices needs between the generations. In a study from Dales Office Solutions, the top three requirements for Millennials to improve productivity were relaxation rooms/breakout areas (21%), better technology (17%), quiet spaces for private works and phone calls (14%). For Boomers, better technology (21%), relaxation rooms/breakout areas (18.9%), and quiet spaces (16%) were the top three requirements. A report from Leesman discovered that 44% of surveyed employees in one company agreed that their office does not support them in their duties with the majority stating that the office does not encourage productivity.  

Space Utilization

Space utilization research is needed to determine the specific needs for an office. How does a specific team use their space? How many often are meeting rooms at full-capacity? An audit to discover how much space is need for quiet spaces, breakout areas, work stations, and occupancy of meeting rooms is needed to encourage activity-based working to appease the evolving workplace generation gap.  

Instead of over-spending on building an only-open office or a completely traditional office, analyzing a space audit can reduce company spending by eliminating wasted square footage. The obvious reason is the overall increase in productivity with ABW and the ability to determine how much space is over/under-used. With cities like San Francisco and New York increasing rent prices, tracking overall space consumption of work space per person can save a company by finding more cost efficient solutions when finding office space.  Surpassing New York in 2015, San Francisco’s office space costs $72.96 per square foot. According to a recent study by Gartner, 40% of all office desks are vacant during the normal business day. With the average office desk cost at $27,000 per year, space occupancy and utilization has many opportunities for cost savings for a company.   

Unfortunately, there is no “one-size-fits-all” fix to this office cold case. It’s the responsibility of the leadership to discover the best solution to bridge the generation gap.

Suggested reading:In Defense of the Open Office Layout