Times change and each successive generation brings a different cultural viewpoint to the table. Millennials, with birthdates landing between the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, are conspicuous as being the first cohort to emerge with the defining trait of extensive web and mobile technology use from an early age.
They are, in short, the first truly tech-connected generation, and this has driven a huge shift in expectations of work, job frequency, the education required to clinch those jobs, and the technological methods of communication and collaboration employed to succeed.
They seek to balance professional and personal obligations, find deep importance in relationship networks both at work and at play and are generally less blindly work-oriented for the sake of a company or employer.
This all has massive consequences for office design, challenging workplace thinkers to optimize their surroundings to fit an evolving concept of what works best.
Millennial Office Design: Out with the Old
The major shift in millennial thinking has been the demise of the so-called "cellular workplace." This was the organizational layout that arranged separate desk spaces, floor plates, or cubicles designated to each employee.
Partition walls were the rage and the idea that you were given your own privacy was a pretext for siloing employees to create an atmosphere of heads-down focus.
This layout worked for jobs that demanded discretion and privacy. Calls could be made, repetitive administrative tasks could be processed, and high focus could be achieved without distraction.
However, millennials are accustomed to a culture of constant communication, and the cellular layout encourages seclusion. Equally, experimenting with the open-office layout resulted in a huge leap in collaborative potential, but created challenges in terms of finding one’s own space and achieving focus.
Millennial office design has come to favor the middle ground that caters to the need for both interaction and introspection, and this is the agile office layout.
The key tenets of agile offices are freedom and flexibility, affording choice above all get the job done. This is a two-way street though, and the primary design break with previous models is that employees now expect to not have a persistently private, "owned" territory.
Instead, agile frames this as a benefit by giving you the choice, or freedom, to be flexible and decide wherever and however you wish to work on a given day.
Agile Design & Human Movement Satisfy Millennial Workspace Needs
Millennials preferred work style is a form of activity-based working (ABW). This means companies need to develop layouts that encourage opportunities for interactive communication.
Employees still choose their own choose a seat, standing space at a work bar, or may work off their laps.
And this is the key, namely the radical portability of modern technology compared to 10-20 years ago. Gone is the need to sit at the same space determined by the screen you interact with. Cloud storage has untethered information, so laptops, tablets or mobile devices enable a range of movement within the office layout that was previously impossible.
Millennial working involves classical typing, but has expanded to include touchscreen interaction and now a gesture-based technological operation that means less sitting in front of screens. Millennial office design really does require agility to keep pace with the changing range of motion being explored to fulfill differing tasks.
Typing in a seated position requires ergonomically suitable desk levels and chair support to avoid health issues, but swiping a screen or holding a phone (or being hands-free) means that you could theoretically work while performing a headstand if you so chose to.
Agile, millennial office design opens the layout to encompass more kinds of human movement and interaction, mobile and fluid versus stationary and solid.
Finding Focus in Millennial Office Styles
Millennials need the environmental design fluidity that provides seamless opportunities for team meetings, shorter collaborations with fewer people and deep focus in quiet workspaces. The rise in products such as office phone booths satisfy the latter.
They also need highly inspirational areas for ideation and energy, and of course somewhere to completely and instantly relax or momentarily escape.
Architecturally, these activities fuel the necessary design direction for the millennial office. A corner nook invites inward concentration while discouraging clusters of people. A wide, flat expanse of bar-height desk suggests huddling for short intervals around it to hash out team challenges, whereas a lower desk with multiple concealed power outlets promotes longer stretches of group work.
A notable emergent feature of millennial offices has been interspersing free-standing booths throughout the office plan. Smaller, soundproofed and ventilated spaces afford the privacy required for client calls or solo/small group work while remaining part of the overall visible office fabric.
Similarly, millennial furniture choices are likely to reflect a certain designed utility as opposed to being gimmicky or ostentatious. Think of the differing comfort levels from a soft couch, a Swiss ball, or a hammock, and the ergonomic factors match the different demands of varied tasks. Modern office furniture should be functional, yes, but also thoughtful and well-made.
Gone are the days of installing a fireman’s pole and a foosball table, then expecting to be "hip."
Seamless & Consolidated
Another important aspect of millennial office design is the expectation of technological consolidation in tandem with seamless operation. What’s the point of installing office presentation technology that fails to work with any operating system?
As we enter the Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled world, the expectation is that more of our office devices will easily interact with each other and us in a timely manner.
Being web connected basically comes down to one thing — the decentralization of information that empowers work to happen everywhere and to the preference of the worker’s rhythms. The office ensures you can access what you need where you need it; data, comfort, privacy, activity, recharge and refreshment, all to ensure that the millennial worker is in best the position to capitalize on moments of inspiration, focus and insight.
Create Your Own Millennial Office Workspace
The quest is to create office environments that mold themselves to your needs and not vice versa. Millennials have largely grown up in a connected world with constant improvements in the movement of data, and creating more liquid spaces means designers need to look beyond the traditional archetypes of the inert built environment to make spaces that are constantly open to reinvention.
Office designs are just that. Spaces that are created to encourage work. The difference for millennials is that they choose not to work for the agenda of the space, rather preferring to make the space work for them.