The Myth about Millennials

By 2025, Millennials will represent 75% of the workforce. They are the most educated generation in history. According to a study done at Pepperdine University, only 5% of adults had a bachelor’s degree or higher in 1940 compared to 58% today. And while they are seen as self-centered, the contrary is actually the truth – a recent study found that 84% of Millennials make annual charitable donations and volunteer their time regularly.

So now that we have dispelled some of the myths, what is actually true about Millennials? Well, they’re tech savvy, like to work in teams, and want to work anywhere and everywhere.


Technology is like air to Millennials

They expect it to be everywhere. It is a necessity, not an extra. Besides that, with the advent of devices being smaller and portable, technology encourages a much closer work-life integration giving Millennials the ability to work anytime and anywhere. This nomadic style of work gives the employee the ability to choose.

An IBM study revealed that more than half of Millennial workers claim to work better in groups. The community table has long been seen as a symbol of kinship, and are becoming more popular in the office landscape, promoting the family-style collaborative work that is happening around them.

According to a CBRE study done in 2016, Millennials view their office as not just a place of work, but as a community that gives them the opportunity to also relax and socialize, thereby improving productivity and job satisfaction. In fact, the same survey also indicates that Millennials consider the overall workplace experience as a determining factor when looking for a place to work. And while most generations are associated with certain stereotypes, it’s important to remember that employees are individuals.

Workplaces today can have five generations working in them at one time

From the Baby Boomers, to the Gen Zers, workplaces need to be designed around all four generations and not just focus on the majority. And even Millennials differ across cultures and within cultures. For example, the perspective of a Millennial working in the Philippines would be different from those working in the U.S. or even in the U.A.E. The culture that we live in shapes and develops our values. Ultimately, workplace behavior is tied to personality traits so differences in work ethic or attitude can exist even within the same culture or generation. Think about when you were in high school – and all the different types of students you had in your grade.

So, rather than thinking about the generation, consider the personalities and the habits of the people who inhabit the workplace. You more than likely would have taken a personality test at one point in your life that would have categorized you broadly as an extrovert or an introvert, a thinker or a doer, Type A or a Type B. The point is that the one size fits all approach no longer works; i.e. a desk for each person is no longer the solution.


Referred to as Legibility, this is a people centered approach to design. The idea of putting people’s needs first. Spaces should be easy to locate, and easy to use. Traditional offices with permanent layouts are giving way to flexible layouts where components can be mixed and matched. The type of area you occupy is determined by the type of activity you are engaged in, otherwise known as activity based working.

What are the benefits of reducing desks in the workplace?

1. Companies can save on overhead. A 1:1 policy is no longer required and the space gained back can be turned into alternative and communal working environments.

2. Staff socialize more. Working next to someone different every day leads to more interactions across departments. Socialization builds rapport and improves collaboration.

3. Independence improves. Staff choose the most apt location to work from depending on their needs for the day, increasing productivity and employee happiness.

And the downside?

1. It takes longer to get settled. The best way of combatting this is to introduce hoteling concepts that mean that spaces can be booked remotely before arriving at the workplace.

2. Loss of personalization. Without an assigned desk, employees can feel lost. Some employers dedicate lockers to staff but carrying your personal items around each day can be tedious. Consider family portrait walls instead as a way of personalizing space and connecting more to other staff.

3. Loss of ergonomics. Losing your desk could also mean losing the ergonomic chair. While this argument is valid, it is important to also remember that sitting at that chair all day long is not ergonomic. Mobility in the office is actually a good thing. Encourage several standing workplaces, or ergonomic chairs in other settings that aren’t just desks.


A change of environment actually stimulates creativity

Even in the most amazing offices, we can easily fall into a routine and routines stifle creativity. Maybe this is one of the reasons working from coffee shops has become more and more popular – the coffee shop, with its dull buzz of exciting activity, is never twice the same.

The data today indicates that 40% of an office’s desks sit unused on a given day. We are more mobile and flexible, with several companies instituting work anywhere policies. We have actually discovered that we are more productive moving from space to space as the work dictates.

You might ask: “is there a magic number for the employee to workspace ratio?” This actually all depends on the type of company and types of employees you are designing for. Salespeople are the more mobile and can operate generally within a 1:2 or a 2:3 workspace ratio, whereas HR or Facilities need the 1:1 ratio in most cases.

The savings of this approach will be across the desks, as they are replaced with long coworking tables but we would recommend our clients to buy the ergonomic chairs and continue to offer staff a variety of workspaces to work from, redirecting budgets into communal spaces.

Who gets to decide?

It is a big endeavor and change to a company culture and you will need to consider the three P’s: People, Place, Process for it to successfully work. A designer will partner with you to work on the place component, but ultimately your staff and your HR team need to work together as it is a new way of working for most office environments.

This approach is becoming more and more popular as a way of working with some of our larger multinational clients embracing it in their office designs and we are seeing this across sectors. As the lines between work and life continue to blur, people aren’t interested in walking into offices that are a sea of desks anymore and find more comfort with the introduction of some residential design principles.

Workforces are becoming more diverse and the world is getting smaller. While generational gaps can separate us in broad brushstrokes, our responses to the globalization of the workforce, or technologies that make us more mobile, are more as a result of our own personalities. This means that you can be working at home, on a plane or a train, in a hotel room or a coffee shop. The power lies in the choice.

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