Millennials: Designing for Tomorrow’s Talent

I recently had a meeting with one of my social media clients. He’s considered a global leader in his field—a true forward thinker. He posed a question I always love hearing: What are the next big workplace trends?

You see, most people are concerned with what’s current, and looking at any white paper or manufacturer’s study can give you plenty of data on that. However, the most valuable thinking involves studying and predicting what we’ll see in two or five years, or even a full decade-plus from now. It’s a topic I never tire of discussing!

Right now, the biggest factor in workplace design is the generational shift that is underway. Baby boomers are exiting the workplace, and a new crop of workers called millennials is taking their place. In fact, by 2014, 36 percent of the workforce will be composed of this new generation of millennials, also known as the group of workers born between the early 1980s and the late 1990s. This wired generation is the most educated and tech-savvy to date but also, largely due to the economic environment and the timing of their graduations dovetailing with the Great Recession, possesses the least work experience.

Millennials are likely to have 11 professional jobs between college graduation and age 35, also making them one of the toughest groups of employees to retain but, due to their unique talents, also one of the most desirable to nurture. Their very presence is redefining the workplace of the future and shaping the kind of work environment companies will need to design for.

So just what kind of workplace attracts and helps keep a millennial on board? I recommend clients think about creating an office with lots of unconventional perks and amenities, including social media integration, on-site health and wellness options, and—of particular importance to millennials—an environmentally friendly mentality. From materials choices to installing green terraces for socialization, there are numerous ways to go green.

Millennials prefer flexibility in their workspace and want more control over how, where and when they work. They also tend to seek out collaborative environments, so planning for open, cooperative space is desirable, rather than the private office and cubicle model that was considered standard in years past. Stadium-style gathering areas and leadership hubs where the company’s senior staff is centrally located and accessible at long trading-style desks works nicely in creative environments or for ones that want to foster a true “open-door mentality.” Millennials also want benefits beyond health care and pay, so designing lounges and cafés and bringing food service into the equation can definitely add value.

I advise clients to think beyond today and to factor acoustics into any design plan so that a company can comfortably grow within its space. As density increases, spaces may need to accommodate many more workers per square foot. Adding carpeted areas to sleek concrete floors keeps the work environment more balanced. Focus booths and private areas also help to even out open spaces and allow for private conversations or meetings as needed.

A little forethought today, while leases are being negotiated, can help you design a space that will work as well for now as it does a decade or two from now. While social media, tech and creative tenants may be quick to adapt and change, others would be wise to make the shifts needed, even if more slowly and subtly or with some variations on the theme (financial services firms and law firms, I’m talking to you) to attract and retain the fresh, young talent of tomorrow.

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