The Dawn of Generation Z in the Workplace

NEW YORK CITY—In the past, workplace design relied heavily on simple math and intuition to organize workers into an office space. Over the last decade, technology breakthroughs, competitive pressures, changing demographics and cultural shifts have led to drastic shifts in how and where work is accomplished. Work is no longer an individual, solitary behavior – it’s an experience that happens anytime, anywhere, and more collaboratively than ever before. As a result, today’s workplace leaders are moving toward a more fluid, flexible and agile way of working where individuals can choose space based on task and behavior.

While appealing to Millennials has dominated the workplace conversation in recent years, a new group, Generation Z, is on its way to transform how organizations conduct day-to-day business. With members of Generation Z entering the workforce by 2020, understanding who this generation is – and what its members require in a workplace – will become essential for any organization hoping to attract and retain members of this young, technologically savvy generation. 

Born in the early 2000s, members of Generation Z have been shaped by the social environment in which they’re being raised, creating a specific set of wants and expectations different from others in the workforce. Growing up in a world filled with increased threats to national security, as well as a global recession, has led members of Generation Z to become more cautious, self-reliant and calculated than previous generations. The recession also inspired a deep sense of social justice, philanthropy and maturity within this generation, as it’s had to face economic hardships at a young age.   

Digitally native: Technology has molded Generation Z in a big way, too. Social media is at the center of their universe, with Gen Z placing the same value on digital and in-person communication – a mindset that leads them to shine in online collaborations but may hinder their face-to-face communication skills. 

Multitasking comes naturally to Generation Z, as the group can skillfully monitor several devices at once, and they have a high capacity for absorbing information.  This familiarity with online interactions prepares them to excel in digital endeavors in the workforce and handle more mentally demanding and complex tasks.  

Diverse and pluralistic: Generation Z is the most ethnically diverse generation in American history, with 47% categorized as ethnic minorities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  This diversity has fostered a pluralistic attitude among the group, who believe diverse races, religions and orientations can peacefully coexist. 

Independent: This generation has been raised by Gen X parents who were deeply affected by their Baby Boomer parents’ historically high divorce rate and mass downsizing in their companies.  

Generation Z will begin to play a major role in the workforce in just a few short years. At Vocon, we’re helping organizations look ahead to examine how their work environment and business culture will support the needs and expectations of their future employees and customers.  

Provide choice: Gen Z will demand mobile work options that allow them to choose how and where they work. Tomorrow’s workplace must be flexible, nimble and offer a variety of work settings that support employee tasks seamlessly throughout the day – from individual, focused work to collaborative interactions. 

Exemplify brand and mission: Whether a potential employee or a customer, Gen Z will seek out organizations that exhibit a clear purpose and culture. Thus, companies are branching out from the more traditional office decor and incorporating irreverent design touches that are personalized to their company history or identity. 

Build community: Work is a profoundly social activity, especially for today’s Millennials and Gen Zs entering the workplace. We’re designing work environments that foster relationship building, connect people and recognize the contributions of employees. The upshot of this investment in social capital is higher employee morale, loyalty, engagement and ultimately organizational effectiveness. 

Promote well-being: Leading organizations recognize the competitive advantage they gain in supporting their employees’ holistic well-being. A workforce with physical, cognitive and emotional well-being in balance is healthier, more productive, happy, innovative and less likely to leave for a competitor.  Their health care costs are also lower. Healthy design can range from incorporating more features that create natural light to adding greenery into a space to improve air quality. Larger scale initiatives include adding bike racks and showers for commuters and adding amenities like a gym, yoga studio and even a meditation space for employees. Having some sort of green space or outdoor space can also improve employee quality of life by offering a location to take a break and get some fresh air. 

The dawn of Generation Z is rapidly approaching. Changes ushered in by Millennials will continue to expand thanks to the diversity of Gen Z, leading to different and better ways of conducting business. To reap the best rewards from Generation Z, businesses need to create spaces this generation needs and expects, allowing both Generation Z and its organizations to flourish.

Megan Spinos is the director of strategy and business development at Vocon.