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Why Millennial and Gen Z Talent Need Quiet, Flexible Workspace

by PlaceLabNov 15th, 2019

Over the past decade, many companies have driven spatial design toward coworking space to embody a team-oriented, collective culture, and also to optimize square footage. Open workspace has become the new norm in an effort to support creativity and collaboration in the workplace - both in high demand by Millennial and Gen Z talent; however, the generation that once embraced large, shared tables in an open room where everyone works together are now angling for phone booths, sporting noise-canceling headphones, and huddling in corridors for reprieve from the constant stimulation.

Creativity in the Workplace Requires Concentration

Now, according to recent research and reports that include this one from the New York Times, observers of a full-scale open work environment say there’s a need to revert to create balance with enclosed office space. These same observers admit while open office space has done a lot of what it was intended to do, the bulk of collaboration is actually behind closed doors to support concentration. Optimal work effectiveness requires quiet, first. As this trend plays out, experts believe companies need to reestablish spaces for concentration to ensure any true collaboration can happen and spawn fresh, innovative ideas. This is flexible workspace.

Huddle space in Willis Tower, Chicago. Photo (and model) Credit: Chris Ozer.

It’s definitely is a balance, according to Georgia Collins, CBRE Executive Managing Director, and the Global Lead of Host, a product suite to enhance the employee experience through technology and mobile. “Well-balanced offices have approximately 30-40% enclosed space that is distributed throughout the floor and are accessible to a greater percentage of the population,” she explains. 

EQ CEO Lisa Picard says to be spatially flexible, companies need to embrace a new intelligence. While cubicle partitions have not made a big comeback to provide quiet space (and Collins says they really don’t provide privacy at all), Picard believes the key is giving talent the freedom to choose how they want to work for the task at hand. 

In other words, dedicated concentration space equals work effectiveness and eventually, good collaboration. How can creative collaboration happen if ideas are not hatched in quiet in the first place? Must we go backward to move forward? Has open office space taken things too far?  

Flex Office Space Recruits Millennials and Gen Z

A Harvard study author declared, “I do think the open office space ‘revolution’ has gone too far. If you’re sitting in a sea of people, for instance, you might not only work hard to avoid distraction (by, for example, putting on big headphones), but – because you have an audience at all times – also feel pressure to look really busy.” In other words, this revolution is ineffective. 

Recently, we visited a millennial-driven startup that curates toys, pet treats, and more in a subscription box. All hands were whirring on keyboards and eyeballs were on screens trying to focus. Their mission: churn out innovative, out-of-the-box, whimsical ideas for their fun and fanatical customers: pet people.

The company’s workspace featured entire floors of open space. Shared tables were the norm. The churn was happening without walls so an entire community could be together and create the best experience for their customers. However, the reality was this: nearly every employee wore headphones to close out the external noise and concentrate on what was right in front of them.  

If bright ideas and creativity are initially generated from a place of clarity, when people can “think,” there must be an escape from the flurry. Simultaneously, as diversity and inclusion become a bigger priority for Millennials and Gen Z, making sure to include all kinds of spatial choices will help a company culture support the trend. In fact, it will show that introverts are well-considered if a company provides space for escape and looking inward as a critical part of staying engaged and inspired. 

“The key to maximizing our talents is for us all to put ourselves in the zone of stimulation that is right for us,” said Susan Cain in her TED Talk, The Power of Introverts.

Balanced Spatial Design: A Blend of Old and New

Picard’s concept is the 4C’s of Spatial Alchemy, which identifies the perfect balance of four kinds of spaces in an ideal office environment: space for Concentration, Collaboration, Community, and Convenience. 

Concentration is one of the critical pieces in Picard’s concept of spatial alchemy, a blend of purposeful workspace that all companies need to create if they want to meet the needs of talent today and empower them to innovate. Picard believes being alone and pulling your thoughts together in that alone time is a condition necessary to generate creative ideas. She says these “come out of isolation and those moments of thinking.”

Quiet zones,” whether they are enclosed rooms, peaceful spots, or meditation rooms are needed in the mix of workspace to restore emotional balance and effectiveness.

One study found that 60% of workers ages 22-40 actually clamor for privacy as their preferred way to be effective. And, according to the Association of Psychological Science, the lack of privacy has tangible effects on supporting the ability of talent to thrive. 

Studies have found:

  • Exposure to constant noise can affect cardiovascular health and increase stress 

  • Open office employees have lower levels of motivation and take more sick leave 

  • Emotional exhaustion may be the result of feeling "always-on"

If open workspace is all there is, the cost may be too great. In a workspace, a balance that includes intentional quiet is the antidote to overexposure, noise, and stress reduction and the fuel for creative ideas and positive contributions. 

The Flexibility to Concentrate Equals Employee Effectiveness

Science tells us that even small doses of silence rejuvenate the brain. So even though every company benefits when talent comes together and share ideas, its workspace can support the idea that the brain needs a break to increase creativity and work effectively. 

Workspace can be quiet rooms or spaces dedicated to rejuvenation. Either way, including this in workspace alchemy is a recruiting magnet. In a Workplace Wellness Trend Report (2019), 93% of workers in the tech industry said they would stay longer at a company that offers healthier benefits, from wellness rooms to seating options.   

However, even in co-working spaces, there is demand for a balance of space that creates calm in chaos, despite the sexiness of living-room-style meeting rooms out in the open where all is social and/or on display. Workers might not need a full, regimented half-hour work break like we used to take back in the day, but they will benefit greatly from microbreaks…doses of quiet throughout the day.

Companies whose brands are synonymous with unique and dynamic cultures have taken all these concepts and created space for concentration, restoration, and microbreaks. 

Take a look at some of the creative ways companies design quiet space - space for concentration - right into the mix for workspace effectiveness.

Rest, recharge, and maintain brain wellbeing by sleeping with the fishes

  • 3,500 gallon saltwater aquarium

  • Reclining massage chairs

  • Employees rest with a view inside the aquarium

Zappos Nap Aquarium, Las Vegas.

Built-in nooks for escape and focus

  • Phone-booth like spaces for quiet 

  • Situated within a co-working community

Mindspace at Market Center, San Francisco. Photo Credit: Chris Ozer.

Using soundproof walls of their own creation 

  • Created five “quiet spaces” 

  • Incorporated the company’s VIA soundproof architectural walls    

  • Creates conditions for meditation, yoga, prayer, reflection or quiet work time 

Steelcase Architecture VIA soundproof architectural walls, headquartered in Grand Rapids, MI.

Monk-inspired mindfulness zones on every floor  

  • One meditation room per floor of the new tower 

  • Place to break from the always-on culture

  • Monks advised CEO Marc Benihoff that options for a quiet break would be better for innovation

Mindfulness zones and meditation rooms at Salesforce, San Francisco.