Enabling a Multigenerational Workforce

For the first time in history, four generations are working side by side in the workplace — Traditional Workers, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Millennials — each with distinct needs, habits and work styles that can impact key business practices and strategies. While often perceived as a challenge, generational differences offer corporate real estate executives one of their greatest opportunities to add value to the enterprise.Effective workplace strategy starts with four universal elements: empowering employees through workplace, work habits and technology; understanding the attitudes and habits of different generations; establishing a concrete implementation process; and developing a vision for the future. To understand the dynamic interactions of the physical workplace, employee work practices and technology needs, the information technology, human resources and corporate real estate departments must collaborate. With attitudes varying among generational groups regarding workplace and technology a multigenerational workplace strategy must align office, technology and employee policies in ways that bridge their divergent work styles.When it comes to technology, different generational cohorts have different attitudes about how they like to use it. Whereas Baby Boomers may prefer face-to-face meetings over remote work styles, younger generations tend to prefer tools that offer more flexibility and mobility, such as instant messaging and texting. Work with the information technology department to provide tools and define guidelines that identify which ones are appropriate for specific activities and environments. As you’re making these decisions, keep in mind that the corporate office is morphing from a status-oriented hierarchy into an efficiency-oriented collection of resources, which will require a variety of different technological capabilities. Fewer closed offices, more flexible furnishings and collaboration spaces are becoming the norm, with the latter including drop-in areas, huddle rooms, team rooms, conference rooms and informal meeting areas. Third places such as coffee shops and community centers may also be worth considering as part of your workplace. Preferred methods of communication and conducting work also vary by generation, and failure to identify and address them can result in misunderstandings that can impact output and productivity. The three departments should work with business leadership to develop and share policies and procedures for collaboration, decision-making, meetings, employee and manager accessibility, performance measurement and mentoring, considering the variety of technological and non-technological options. The field of workplace intergenerational studies is a new frontier, and many questions remain unanswered. However, an understanding of the needs and wants of each generation will help you identify the elements that foster cross-generational collaboration. Each age cohort has unique views, particularly in the areas of collaboration, the work environment, remote working and workplace design.To understand the generational mix at your workplace, identify employees’ work requirements, business goals and work processes through use of surveys, focus groups and interviews. A good workplace strategy consultant can integrate a company’s demographic profile with qualitative and quantitative benchmarks and space utilization measurements to develop a workplace plan that uses office space and technology to maximize the effectiveness of the company’s greatest asset: its people.Peter Shannon is a senior vice president and Damla Sener is a senior associate in Jones Lang LaSalle’s strategic consulting group.