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How to design a workplace for a new generation

Millennials value wide open office spaces


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Companies looking for a competitive edge and ways to attract and retain top young recruits in today’s job market need to have workplaces several steps ahead of the beige, boxy cubicle-lined offices of yesteryear.

Even if they’re not trying to be the next Google, it’s well worth it for companies to stay in step with what’s being offered in the most attractive work environments. There are a number of ways businesses can create an office that millennials, and others, want to be a part of. In fact, a workplace designed to attract millennials has the benefit of enhancing how everyone in the company works together – regardless of age – and brings a much-needed, fresh perspective to traditional office designs.

Cut loose from cubicles. The ability to move and customize their workstations freely is important to millennials. A flexible infrastructure and the option to work in new places, in new ways (standing desks are extremely appealing), means employees have the freedom to collaborate with the marketing team for a week or sit with accounting for a day.

Millennials are far less concerned about having their own dedicated work space and far more appreciative of an office environment that acknowledges that not everyone is in the office every day, nor do they need to sit in the same place. And executives are recognizing the increased efficiency and innovation that an open, collaborative environment fuels for everyone. 

Zoning out. As the line between home and work continues to blur, the workplace is now integrating comfortable spaces that feel more reminiscent of home and are intended to put people at ease. Assigned seating has evolved into the creation of different “vignettes” that feel like distinct zones – a designated quiet area like a library, a community/social area, and lounging areas with living room style seating are all becoming increasingly popular office environments. 

Not only does this offer employees the option of changing their surroundings when they want to, it also provides much more transparency and connectivity than an expanse of cubicles and wall of offices. A more approachable, relaxed office reflects the culture of millennials, as well as conveying a shift in overall company culture – that the “corner office” status designations of the past are no longer a priority. 

Creating wellness connections. With employees commonly spending longer hours at work, the most millennial-friendly offices are designed to create a feeling of wellness, a connection with the outdoors and offer natural opportunities for physical activity throughout the day.  Building design elements that can encourage this include eliminating offices lining the perimeter of the building that prevent most from enjoying natural light and views, bringing nature indoors with biophilia and incorporating walls of windows. Open, wide and interconnecting staircases (and less emphasis on elevators) are also a great way to facilitate physical activity and encourage the types of chance encounters and impromptu conversations that fuel collaboration and lead to new ideas.

Fresh spaces for meeting places.  Meetings don’t always require conference rooms, closed doors or technology, especially for millennials. Provide different, flexible spaces that offer varying levels of privacy and allow for spontaneous conversations. Informal seating areas with low tables and comfortable chairs create a relaxed spot for small group discussions and on-the-fly meetings. Café-height work tables without chairs encourage shorter, more focused discussions and can easily accommodate larger groups of 6-8 people. High backed booth seating accompanied by a freestanding table can make a great “huddle zone” for semi-private meetings and also have the option to be relocated to different places in the office as needed.

Breaking away from the breakroom. Large groups of employees eating lunch at the same time isn’t standard practice anymore. As a result, the typical oversized breakroom with a multitude of tables and chairs isn’t a necessity. Instead, make the breakroom a transitional space with distinct areas and varied seating arrangements that can be used throughout the day for different functions.

Alternatively, for larger offices that have traditionally had a small breakroom on each floor, consider moving to one larger, centrally located breakroom that functions not only as a kitchen/eating area, but also as a lobby space for both employees and visitors. Provide lounge seating, a coffee bar and small groupings of tables and chairs that can be host to off-the-cuff meetings, happy hours, all-staff get-togethers or solitary work.

As a business that’s trying to attract the best young talent, incorporating some of the above design elements can go a long way towards making your company an attractive place to work. It can also lead to happier employees of all ages who feel that their employer understands what they need to do their best work. 

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Susan Kohuth

Susan Kohuth is a Principal at OZ Architecture in Denver, where she focuses on design and architecture in the workplace. She is passionate about creating work environments that are driven by the client’s goals and vision. Her ability to design innovative, engaging and productive offices is supported by more than 20 years of interior design experience and leadership of numerous projects, including Cherwell Software, Trimble, Agilent Technologies, the U.S. Olympic Committee Headquarters, and Rio Tinto Minerals. Susan is a LEED Accredited Professional and past President of the Colorado Chapter of American Society of Interior Designers (ASID.) She can be reached at skohuth@ozarch.com.

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