Customization & Identity: Millennial Desires for Tomorrow’s Workspaces

By 2020 fifty percent of the US workforce will be Millennials.  In that year the oldest of the Millennials will turn 40.  I don’t know about you – but when I imagine a Millennial the common image that comes to mind is a recent graduate fresh out of college.  That’s really not going to be the case for much longer.  Sure, those on the far young end of the generation will still be in highschool in 2020, but Millennials will also be moving up the career ladder, taking on management positions, and becoming decision-makers. The increasing numbers of Millennials combined with their increasing responsibilities will change how our offices function and how they are designed.

The increasing numbers of Millennials combined with their increasing responsibilities will change how our offices function and how they are designed. 

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I recently attended a presentation by Kimberly Lear of BridgeWorks who pointed to research describing the two big things Millennials are looking for:

      • Customization
      • Identity

My question is: how do customization and identity relate to architectural space and the workplace of the future?  Millennials’ personal identity is not only expressed in the clothes they wear or the products they buy, but also in the neighborhood where they live and the office where they work.  How are we as architects and designers going to respond?

Interestingly, both customization and identity converge on the kinds of spaces that have become popular with co-working and incubators.  Co-working and incubators have filled a need for the flexible work environments that Millennials and start-ups want.  Across the Valley we have seen a variety of spaces with a variety of offerings.  Each has its own distinct location, distinct culture and distinct identity that attracts businesses with a similar mindset through the front door.  Consider Co+Hoots vs. Mod and SeedSpot vs. CEI.

Similarly, corporate offices are also using their space to establish an identity that will attract and retain talent.  Tech has stood out as the game-changer constantly considering what their employees want as amenities and how they can deliver.

These days approximately 10% of a space is dedicated to amenities such as lounges, fitness areas, coffee bars, and cafeterias.  In addition, team collaboration spaces, private phone booths, and various nooks and crannies have popped up across a space offering a variety of kinds of work from quiet, deep concentration to more vocal, collaborative brainstorming.

Unicon's lounge, lovingly called Area 51, offers comfy couches, mountain views and a foosball table

Today’s customization is distinctive from what designers may have discussed in the past.  Although the design profession has talked a great deal about individual needs to control one’s immediate environment – a task light or individual temperature controls at our desks – today’s discussion is instead turning towards allowing employees to float within a work environment where each space serves a different purpose or a different mood.  An employee may need focused work with direct access to paper files at his desk all day Monday, the comfy couch in the lounge on Wednesday, the more social coffee counter on Thursday morning, and a more relaxed vibe on the shaded outdoor patio on Friday afternoon.  This was what was considered when we designed the Unicon Corporate HQ, an East-Valley technology company.

It’s also interesting to consider that the average desk space has shrunk to between 100 – 150 square feet while at the same time amenity spaces have grown to about 16.5 square feet per employee.  That’s not a small chunk of change when considering a new office build-out.  As a result, it’s critical to thoughtfully consider how all of your spaces tie back into your business’s brand, the talent you want to attract and retain, the culture you want to create, and the identity you want to firmly establish.

As architects and designers it’s our job to listen and understand each client’s culture and values and translate these into physical space.  This means not only addressing functional requirements that support everyday working needs, but also shaping how the office will look and feel.   The best architectural solutions will become the physical embodiment of your company’s culture.


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