By Nai Kanell
Director of Marketing
It makes sense to associate sleek workplace designs with Millennials and Gen Z employees. Younger generations grew up using smartphones; some haven’t held a hefty Blackberry or gaped at flip phones. They love clean lines, that minimalist bent with an eye toward fashion. And these generations want workplaces to match that look and feel (Also read millennials in the workplace – what do millennials love).
Take Millennial-founded startups Glossier and Sweetgreen. Their store designs match the aesthetics of their workplaces, which has prompted others to take inspiration from them when drawing up plans for new or upgraded offices.
Some business owners assume older employees are a tough sell on things like communal spaces, hot-desking, remote work, and in-office libraries. Hot-desking may be foreign to some, but the concept is not a Millennial brainchild. The Big Four—Ernst & Young, Deloitte, KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers—have employed hot-desking for decades.
They’re not the only companies to embrace innovative workplace designs. The cosmetics giant Estée Lauder opened for business in 1946 in Manhattan’s General Motors Building. It operated as most traditional businesses at that time: everyone had a desk, a desktop computer (or typewriter, early on), and a landline. There were cubicles and corner offices.
But as Estée Lauder acquired newer, younger, and a more diverse set of brands, it shaped offices to match its more-modern roster. Some staff relocated to a sleek, new workplace in Long Island—home to tech and lifestyle startups of the time. Other employees were encouraged to work remotely.
Today, Pfizer, a 169 year-old company, is moving to a new skyscraper, The Spiral, in Manhattan’s far-west Hudson Yards and is selling its two gargantuan buildings on 42nd Street. The new location is not as accessible and, like the Big Four, there won’t be a seat for every person. But the Spiral is dubbed “the world’s most connected and collaborative office environment,” featuring terraces and outdoor amenities on every floor.
It makes you wonder why people assume Gen-X and Baby Boomers won’t enjoy upgraded digs. Humans have existed for more than 60,000 years and only began living a more sedentary life 5,000 years ago. In all that time, we weren’t adapted to indoor desk-jockeying. Even now, humans thrive in natural light and fresh air; it’s why manufacturers seize on opportunities to make light bulbs and lamps that mimic sunlight.
Though one of a our strongest natural desires is to be in fresh air, we also have an aversion to change. So while some managers may perceive older generations as in the way of office updates, that’s only partly true. The real obstacle is communicating change to their entire team—across all generations.
No company is the same today as it was on its first day of business. Entrepreneurs build companies to grow and they hire employees who share that passion. Part of growth is adapting to a new circumstances. A company cannot continue to set new goals or adapt to new tools and technology if the workplace it inhabits is stagnates. It takes the evolution of all of these—mission, tools, and space—to achieve success. Framing a workplace change as an opportunity for growth and continued progress is where all generations can come together.