ARCHITECTS and ENGINEERS

The Gen Z World: Shifts in Urban Design, Architecture and the Workplace

Celine Larkin, Melissa Jancourt and William Hodges Hendrix recently presented The Gen Z World: Shifts in Urban Design, Architecture and Corporate Workplace at CoreNet Global North American Summit. Here, they highlight takeaways from their program.

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Gen Z is starting to enter the workforce in sizable numbers. Generally born between 1995 and 2012, Gen Z includes approximately 64.6 million people, or 20% of the United States population. By 2030, they are expected to increase steadily to 20% of the workforce.

Our research has shown four Gen Z characteristics—phigital, realistic, multi-faceted, and driven—which inform how we approach the design and development of our future cities, buildings, and workplaces. As such, we have identified five principles to guide decision-making for corporate real estate to attract, retain and uphold productivity of the Gen Z workforce.

Flexibility

Flexibility for Gen Z focuses on life-work choices. When bombarded with information that often requires immediate response, time takes on a new meaning as Gen Z balances life-work responsibilities. The result is an efficient, strategic construct of time management using the latest technology.

Real estate allocation may evolve in response to this customization. The best work locations will have options for life-work amenities in compact, mixed-use urban districts, active day and night. Buildings and workplaces will need to accommodate unconventional schedules using technologies that allow them to operate efficiently day and night, address levels of security, and assess utilization and spatial design. To create Flexibility, consider finding locations and building developments with places for all aspects of life nearby. Employ the right technologies that help facilities run efficiently without limiting access, and enable individuals to effectively juggle fluid work-life schedules.

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Authenticity

Gen Z places a high value on security, relevancy, and realism. Overall, they are most comfortable with a realistic portrayal of life and want to live and work in places that have these qualities.

In cities, we can see the resurgence of older neighborhoods and efforts to maintain the character that made them worth the investment in the first place. Preservation and adaptive reuse could become an ideal attraction for this generation. There is security in re-purposed buildings, a sense that they have survived. As buildings strive to combine permanence and flexibility, design parameters will shift from single use to broader definitions of multiuse.

In the workplace, relevancy and realism emerged as critical. Our research has shown a confluence of attributes in workplaces that promote both learning and productivity. Environments and experiences that supported hands-on learning such as mentorship, prototyping and individual work were preferred. Large group work and observation were believed to have the least amount of impact. 

To achieve Authenticity, start by finding locations that have evolved organically from the local culture and build on these qualities. Build places that are honest representations of the organization. Put an emphasis on design strategies that promote well-being, support diversity and the need for individual work, and offer real-time learning experiences.

Creating a work experience with relevancy that will attract Gen Z will mean supporting a diverse workforce, driven by technology that enables real-time learning and the critical relationship between individual idea generation and the expansion of those ideas through prototyping and small group work.

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CHoice

Customization—whether it is through the development of online personas or the ability to customize products—has always been a part of the Gen Z world and we are already seeing this manifest in the workplace. Forward-thinking employers are engaging Gen Z in an early dialog by co-creating multiple or customized career paths and even titles to leverage employees’ fullest potential in a way that accounts for choices. Understanding this is critical to attraction and retention of Gen Z employees and anticipating some of the shifts we will see in the work environment.

With their hyper-custom personas, Gen Z seeks to create places that fit their activities and endeavors. Given the wish to co-create and engage, there will be pressure for a high level of participation to determine their future work experience. And while Gen Z is embracing remote work choices, the office is still important—in fact very important, since face-to-face interaction is still their preferred mode of communication. Functionality and choice in Gen Z will reign in workplaces that are successful in bringing this diverse generation together.

There will be expectations of both ample private spaces and ample flex or collaborative space. Evolution in the workplace could result in such modifications as individual and small group self-organization around chosen needs, goals, and interests. As there are no “one-size-fits-all” situations, this means optimizing individual spaces to support a variety of workers and work types. Choice is also about providing variety of adaptable environments for a range of work styles and programmed activities. Design places that are easily modified, rearranged and reconfigured, and use technologies to help make this happen.

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Convenience

It is no secret driving is not a priority for the younger generations, who value convenience and financial savings over car ownership and prefer transportation that allows them to be social or multi-task while in transit.

Considering Gen Z basics, seek places that offer multi-model transportation options for short distances or local travel, including walking or running, biking or other full or partly human-powered modes (Wheel-O, Segway, Roller Blades, etc.), public or group transportation (buses, trains, and trolleys), ride share (Uber, Lyft, Wingz), and car share (Zipcar, Car2go). These options offer mix-and-match possibilities for various activities and lifestyles.

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Integrated/Interactive

Placemaking for Gen Z proposes a paradigm shift from creating objects to providing experience. While Gen Z has spent years texting and tweeting, electronic communication is not the only medium. What is essential is that their connected lives are interactive. 

Consider shopping. A high percentage of Gen Z purchases products online and makes choices through online reviews. To get Gen Z in the stores, shopping must offer an experience—preferably one that provides both sensory stimulation and technological back-up. Already we see Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) in retail adaptations. With a tablet or smartphone, you can see yourself in an outfit doing an activity that fits the look, view the inner workings of your next car, choose finishes for your home, or plan your next vacation.

Retail is an early adopter, and an indicator of what is to come in the workplace. Gen Z will seek a digital-physical experience in the workplace. A 2016 Randstad and Future Workplace study reports that Gen Z (as well as late-Millennials), is looking for employers that integrate emerging technologies, such as wearables, virtual reality and robotics into the workplace. At the same time, both digital and analog tools are preferred because of their ease and relative effectiveness for a task. In a recent study done for the Post-it® Brand, 85% of Gen Z students felt they learned best when they use both digital and non-digital tools. Our own workplace research backs this up as pen and paper and the laptop emerged as the most effective tools for both learning and creativity.

Leading teams through change will require both methodologies that engage and promote a deep understanding and communication strategies that are frequent, multifaceted and designed for an eight-second filter.

Conclusion

In real estate, construction takes time, often a long time relative to the pace of technological advancement and adaptation in other aspects of life. Standard construction methods are slow as they work their way through zoning and regulatory process. Without adjustments in these areas, the flexibility of physical space has limitations. Yet if we can frame our goals around Flexibility, Authenticity, Choice, Convenience and Integration, we can move toward creating a world that includes Gen Z—a generation that is 64 million strong—and we must begin now. As we build for the future, we are sure to have much help from Gen Z.

Topics: Corporate, Research

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