Preparing your return to office strategy for Gen Z.

August 2020

It has become clear that, as companies redesign and reimagine their workspaces for a return to some form of normal, corporate office culture is going to experience a permanent shift.

As Gen Z continues to enter the workforce en masse, they begin their careers in a completely different working environment than any previous generation before. This situation presents some unique challenges that companies across industries are going to need to adjust to. The current generation of managers will have less of a shared experience in beginning their career with Gen Z. As we remove or reinvent common spaces and consider heavier investment in remote working and partial staffs, we are again removing points of connection between new employees and their incumbent colleagues.

The almost entirely remote work culture will eventually give way to a return to the office. Some companies are already beginning to bring back employees in small numbers. As this continues, companies are exploring how changes to the office can be used to engage their employees, and particularly Gen Z, in this new environment. To do this companies need to understand the new normal and the challenges the organization is facing around training employees, incorporating them into a new culture so they feel engaged, and optimizing the office to support these changes, whether temporary or permanent.

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The new definition of 9 to 5.

Gen Z is breaking down the barriers of the traditional workday by being constantly connected and programmed to be available anytime and anywhere. This generation has effectively eliminated the usual 9-5 and replaced it with a work style that can succeed in any location. With this newfound freedom, however, Gen Z face increased mental strain as a result of always being ‘switched on’. As true digital natives Gen Z grew up having constant information on hand at any given time. Unlike their millennial counterparts who adapted to being constantly connected, for Gen Z it is assumed.

Gen Z live with an idea that there is nothing they cannot find online, it takes a one-word search to find a world of information and to a Gen Zer this gives them control over their knowledge, their time and their lives. According to Stillman and Stillman, Gen Z has embraced technology in such a way that it is all they need to complete their tasks at work and sometimes in life.

As a result of an environment with high digital stimuli and high stress, it will be vitally important for the workplace environment to have digital-free spaces offering a digital detox and space to switch off. These digital free zones can include libraries, tinker rooms, breakaway spaces that have not tech connection, a ‘Zen-Zone’. While Gen Z will crave moments to detox from their digital worlds it is important to establish a happy medium and balance, giving them all the tools, they need to be productive while allowing them to reprieve when and if they need to.

Use the workplace as a learning environment.

This generation, like generations before them value in-house training from employers with 70% of Gen Z respondents saying they would take an online course if offered by employers, however given the choice between online and in-person, 69% of Gen Z respondents preferred in-person programs over online programs supporting the importance of incorporating training rooms into workplace design which enhance the physical contact between teams.

When exploring a return to the office, it’s important that, despite the need to address social distancing and health factors, to create an environment that does not remove connection. No matter how digitally savvy an employee is, they still need to be able to forge bonds with their colleagues and feel like they are actually part of the culture, and the best way to establish that feeling is through in-person relationships.

This is particularly vital with Gen Z, who have the least prior experience in an office setting and are new to the entire workplace experience. Ph.D sociologist Tracy Brower encourages businesses to focus on connecting people, stating, “Overall, getting people connected is what will help them get a jump start on success, and you’ll need to be intentional in providing guidance and venues for those connections. Do not leave these to chance.”

While taking into account the human interaction element, it is still important to include interactive and innovative technology to facilitate the learning experience. If your company could incorporate new ways of learning, you could lead the race for talent. Think real-time learning experiences, interactive tinker rooms or a training room that combines a human lecturer and virtual reality experience all in one.

Beyond Sustainability: Practice what you preach.

This is possibly one of Gen Z’s most impactful characteristics. This is a generation of young activists, looking up to Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai as voices of integrity, equality and humanity. Gen Z want to work for a purpose; to make a real difference, and they are looking for this characteristic in the organizations they will work for. They want their employer go beyond ‘tokenism’ in sustainable design, and are much more aware of waste streams, the impact their purchases make for everyone involved in the life cycle of materials, healthy materials, local sourcing and the impact the built environment has on our climate.

Gen Z is at the forefront of the ‘inclusive environment’, one that does not discriminate and does not stereotype. It is non-binary, non- biased, empowering and transparent. They want everyone to feel comfortable and bring their authentic selves to work, caring for all that may be different.  This means introducing unisex bathrooms, neutral palettes that are neither male or female oriented and creating an environment where people of all cultural orientations can freely express who they are.

The level of inclusivity goes beyond aesthetics. Whether it’s race, religion, gender and disabilities, the need to create safe places for all individuals is as important as a bustling centralized café or busy, interactive tech hub where they can all congregate. Sensitivity to the needs of others is their creed and something we will be seeing more of as more Gen Zer’s enter the workforce.