Office Evolution

Gen Z reveals 4 facets of office life that make or break the workplace

“I think my generation believes they do need something tangible. We can’t live in the cloud all the time.”

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If companies want their office space to attract members of Generation Z — the oldest of whom are 23 years old, according to Pew — they should prioritize flexibility, according to three Gen Zers who work in the design space and two who run their own startups.

“Gen Zers prioritize well-designed, versatile spaces that they are able to adapt and manipulate to meet a variety of work-related needs,” said Steven Gibree, 23, an assistant project manager at design firm Dyer Brown. “They also place a high level of importance on amenities — cold brew on tap is a personal favorite. Most importantly an office space design should reflect the culture and energy. Gen Zers want to see bright, vibrant spaces that are filled with natural light and views of the environment outside.”

Here’s where Gibree and the other Gen Zers who spoke with Inverse fall on other facets of office life.

Open floor plans

Since Google popularized open office layouts in the 2000s, they are now the norm across workplaces. That will not change anytime soon.

“Most Gen Zers would agree that the open office layout is here to stay,” said Whitney Malone, 25, a designer at Cooper Robertson. “The open office makes the most sense for collaborative design work. I can easily walk up to my teammate’s desk to discuss a design issue, and it is much less intimidating to ask questions to office principals when it doesn’t entail knocking on a closed door.”

Much like their peers, Gen Zers desire private spaces where they can engage in periods of focused work.

“My team loves collaborating, but we love our alone space to get our work done,” said Madison Semarjian, 23, founder of fashion app Mada, whose team of four to five has been working out of a coworking space. “I’ve been looking for offices that have a strong collaborative space and places to work on our own. Coworking spaces get too busy. We thrive having the best of both worlds.”

Her ideal office space would resemble that of her father’s company, which features a large table in the middle of the office surrounded by employees’ desks. For times of focus, Semarjian said that phone booths are a great option for an “absolute quiet space.”

Katie Diasti, 23, the founder and CEO of period care company viv for your v, agreed.

“Quiet versus non-quiet areas are essential,” she said. “Having enough phone booths or conference rooms is more of a priority for scrappy startups.”

“I think my generation believes they do need something tangible. We can’t live in the cloud all the time.”

Flexibility

All of the Gen Zers interviewed by Inverse placed a big emphasis on flexibility in their workplaces, whether that’s being able to work in different rooms or settings to switching desks or even a different coworking space.

“Flexibility is huge,” Semarjian said. “Especially if you’re going to the same space every day, the same desk can restrict you. A change of scenery is super helpful. Having a flexible workspace contributes to our creative side.”

Malone, who is now working from her apartment, said she misses the flexibility that her office afforded her.

“I rarely found myself spending the entirety of an eight-hour workday at my individual desk,” she said. “With a mix of small conference rooms, casual seating, and a communal kitchen table, my firm’s office allows for a variety of interactions that encourage collaboration and community.”

While Diasti said she loves “the idea of being able to switch up your day to day and sit or stand in a variety of areas based on your task,” she enjoys being able to customize her own space. “There is something special about having your mini home away from home when you’re in the office,” she said. “Your desk may hold your succulent, pictures of the people you love, your fave motivational quote, and your personal jar of peanut butter. Letting your individual personality shine through your space is a beautiful thing. Those little decorations can make getting through a stressful day that much easier.”

For Gen Zers, this type of flexibility is not just nice to have but a requirement, Gibree said.

“Gen Zers will respond to less successfully designed workspaces by doing things intended to break the mold of a rigid office structure, or by working from home more often, if allowed, where the environment can be tailored to suit their needs,” he said.

Aesthetics

Who was ever excited about drab gray and brown office furniture in the first place? Unsurprisingly, Gen Zers aren’t a fan, either. What they do like are natural aesthetics — think exposed brick, wood floors, lots of plants, and an occasional feature wall.

“Something that feels like a mix of trendy apartment furniture and office furniture is a perfect combo,” Diasti said. “A marble round table, bright colored couch, or big plant is always a beloved piece.”

There’s also the Starbucks effect on office design.

“Open work spaces that replicate cafés are popular, with deep counter space or tables to work on, booth seating, or modular furniture,” Gibree said. “All of these help make a space adaptable and comfortable while supporting well-being, optimal productivity, and collaboration.”

Luis Guardado, 23, a junior designer at Spacesmith, said that spaces should feel inviting enough where people can be free to be themselves.

Tangibility

Gen Zers value personal time with others. In one informal poll, 72 percent of polled Gen Zers said face-to-face interaction was their preferred communication method. This bears out in their office preferences.

“I love the work-from-home option, but there’s also something to be said about being in an office together,” Semarjian said, who added that her team enjoys working on paper. “I think my generation believes they do need something tangible. We can’t live in the cloud all the time.”

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