Insights

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

Generation Z is expected to surpass Millennials by 2020 and represent nearly 22 percent of the workforce by 2030. Born between 1995 and 2012, they reflect changes in all aspects of corporate real estate and will have a growing impact on evolving cultural and social norms. Gen Z influence, from buying behaviors to issues of attraction and retention in the workplace, will be powerful and critical to real estate clients. They will inform how we approach the design and development of our future cities, buildings, and workplaces.

To address the opportunities of this growing workforce, we identified five principles to guide decision-making for corporate real estate to attract, retain, and uphold productivity of Gen Z.

Flexibility

The definition of flexibility for Gen Z is predicated on two shifting desire lines about their lives and their environments—definitions of time, and the availability of alternatives. Gen Z works hard. They also want to enjoy life. 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 in which timeframes and activities are coordinated using the latest technology. The same fluidity that characterizes their identification with multiple personas and interactions characterizes their use of time and space, which will require different standards of flexibility. To design for flexibility, look for locations where all aspects of life are close by and employ technologies that enables individuals to efficiently and effectively juggle fluid work-life schedules.

Authenticity

In any place, it helps to know that what can be relied upon is predictable—and safe. Gen Z looks for predictability in deep relationships with family and friends. For Gen Z, experience through technology is safe. By virtually tethering with those they trust, they are open to further exploration. Gen Z will expect and rely on these ever-present digital connections in public areas of cities, buildings, and workplaces alike. To achieve authenticity, start by finding locations that have evolved organically from the special qualities of the local culture and build on these qualities. Build places that are honest representations of the values in the Gen Z profile and put an emphasis on design strategies that promote well-being.

Choice

Choice in Gen Z work and life environments will reign. To quote one student from Columbia University, “We want to be able to shape and transform our world in a meaningful way, not only with the work, but also to the environment and experiences we live in day to day.” Gen Z, with their hyper-custom personas, also seek a great deal of agency to create environments 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 what their spaces and places are like. Choice is about providing a greater variety of environments for a range of work styles and programmed activities. To design for choice, work bottom-up to figure this out, engaging Gen Z to offer ideas and solutions. Even better, design places that are easily modified, rearranged and reconfigurable—and use technologies that help make this happen.

Convenience

Thinking of convenience immediately exposes the challenges of mobility for the Gen Z lifestyle. It is no secret driving is not a high 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. Furthermore, the idea of car as identity or freedom has waned; in its place is mobility with flexible, affordable options. As alternative priorities prevail over car ownership, mass-market brands are exploring different models, such as car or ride sharing. Providing a range of convenient transportation alternatives in a workplace location will be the most successful in attracting this generation.

Integration

While Gen Z has spent years texting and tweeting, electronic communication is not the only communication medium. What is essential is that their connected lives are interactive. The Gen Z office will need to become a thriving ecosystem infused with new technologies, new cultural norms, and a variety of spaces for participation in the larger community while supporting work and life. The office will become a resource responsive to a diverse and mobile workforce, driven by technology to support a combination of heads-down focused work, formal and informal collaboration, and social activities to enhance loyalty among employees, customers, and stakeholders.

Conclusion

A gap remains between the standard design and construction process and the Gen Z trajectory of rapid change. This leaves us trying to keep up with change and adapt places in a timely way. It confronts the challenge of permanence versus transformability inherent in the built environment. Standard construction methods are slow, and building in flexibility often means extra upfront cost. In addition, different zoning regulations can limit the speed of project delivery. 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. But we must begin now. As we build for the future, we are sure to have much help from Gen Z.

For more information, download the complete whitepaper, originally published in Corporate Real Estate Journal, Volume 7 Number 3, ©Henry Stewart Publications:

The Generation Z World: Shifts in Urban Design, Architecture, and the Corporate Workplace.