Why Designing Your Workplace for Millennials is Dangerous
If 2016 was the year of anything, it was the year of analyzing Millennials. Or, more specifically, over-analyzing what we think Millennials want. And while we’ve certainly published our fair share of articles exploring Gen Y trends and expectations here on the iOFFICE blog, there’s one issue with some of the workspace advice we’ve seen shared across the web: Designing your business only for Millennials is dangerous.
Of course, it’s only natural to assume we should design our workspaces around this generation’s wants and needs to work most efficiently and successfully. Millennials are the rising leaders of the business world — over the next couple of decades, Gen X-ers and baby boomers will be passing over the reins to our younger colleagues.
But there are two primary reasons we advise not to tailor your workspace design exclusively to Millennials.
Millennials are Not a Homogenous Group
We’d be remiss if we didn’t point out something that should be glaringly important: Not all Millennials are created equal. Don’t believe me? Find a millennial and list all of your assumptions about Gen Y — what they like and how they spend their time — and see what they have to say. We’re willing to bet at least half of your assumptions won’t resonate.
Like each generation before them, Millennials are a diverse group with differing life experiences and opposing views. After all, this group is composed of more than 83 million people ranging from teenagers to professionals in their early 30s — how could they want the same things?
And while they certainly have some shared experiences based on the world events marking their coming-of-age years, they don’t all prefer the same workspace or work style.
For example, some Millennials love open offices while others prefer the solitude of a private space. Some are eager to work remotely while others are most productive in a structured office setting.
There are More than Millennials in Your Workplace
Millennials currently make up about one-third of the U.S. workforce, which is a significant amount. But don’t forget two-thirds of the workforce is still occupied by Gen X-ers, baby boomers and the silent generation. And the first of the youngest generation, Gen Z, will begin entering the professional world over the next few years.
So when your organization is vocal about efforts to make changes based on what helps attract and retain Millennials, you inadvertently tell two-thirds of your workers they are somehow less valuable.
What’s the Answer?
I know what you’re thinking: If assumptions about Millennials are too narrow and efforts to please them alienate other generations, what should I do?
The answer is simple: Focus on designing your workplace for humans.
That is, ensure the workspace is dynamic and reflects the diversity of your workforce. Provide workstations that cater to both open office advocates and privacy lovers. Offer workstyles that support those who prefer the flexibility of working remotely and those who crave the structure of an office. Prepare for collaboration as well as autonomy. Most importantly, ask for feedback from your workforce and consult space utilization data to make certain the space you create is best for the people who occupy it every day.
When all else fails, remember the wise words of the late poet Maya Angelou, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”