Building a Future: Gen Z Has Something to Say [November Breakfast Recap]

Who demands multiple mentors, likes working individually and has an attention span of eight seconds? A despondent Gen X’er? Nope. A forgetful Baby Boomer? Nah. Look no further than those born the same year Windows 95 was released. We found out about this generation and their values and expectations at this month’s NAIOPWA breakfast.

Marc Gearhart, Vice President of Real Estate Development at Ryan Companies, introduced the November panel about the newest generation to enter the workforce. We found out how designers and employers are evolving workplaces physically to attract and retain this specific generation of talent. The three local leaders on the panel were Derek Lunde, Partner at Red Propeller, Amy Donohue, Principal at BORA, and Jonah Sterling, General Manager of Design at Microsoft.

Derek kicked off the morning with an all-encompassing view of the generation born in 1995 and after. The generation resembles Generation X, who are parents to many of them. They've grown up in a society of fear, and nearly 59% of them have experienced bullying online. They trust brands much more than politicians and are staunch supporters of social justice. Diversity and technology are only noticed by Gen Z’s when they are absent. Moreover, diversity and tech are not seen as enhancements, but as expected experiences at every turn. Intense urbanization and expanded preferences toward experiences over possessions have impacted how this generation likes to live. The sharing economy is well within their framework of mind and a way of living. A success story of that can be seen with the True North Apartments. The apartment complex has seen high retention and a great reputation well beyond what’s typical for the industry. Real estate’s best in class will inspire, remind the tenants of their purpose, and more.

Derek shared statistics about the generation’s eight-second attention span, which impacts the way brands tell their story, and how Instagram has capitalized upon this with their 15-second "Stories" feature. In a stark contrast to the millennial generation, 61% of Gen Z’ers look to stay with companies for 10 years. This longevity has great impacts on the design of work environments and in the attraction and retention of employees. Derek also shared one of the most shocking stats of the morning: 40% of Gen Z’ers would rather have reliable internet than a working bathroom! Other traits of this cohort are doing meaningful work, having financial stability and preferring to do work individually versus collaboratively (in direct contrast to their millennial counterparts).

Next up, Amy spoke about the influence of Gen Z on design trends in higher education. She talked about the impact of what the students are experiencing now and how those experiences will impact workplace design. Form and function are mixing and melding. Circular classrooms with 360-degree screens and Ted Talk-like auditorium seating with teachers in the middle have proven incredibly successful. Other trends including blended curriculum (such as liberal arts with career planning) and genius bar-like approaches to advising are also proving beneficial in higher ed settings. Other examples were multiple floors of large prototype and maker spaces instead of classroom areas for engineering students. Amy gave us some great visibility into what Gen Z is becoming accustomed to in their formative years and showed us some innovative and impressive work her firm is doing in the space.

Amy also showed us what this means for the workforce – that even the most traditionally bleak spaces can be transformed. In fact, a call center looked like a modern-day tech firm in an open-office layout with multiple desking options, albeit with 72 square feet per person. Amy wrapped up her portion of the panel discussing the ways that BORA is empowering this generation on projects by giving them pieces to own in design and budget and getting out of the way of their creativity. She underscored Gen Z’s desire to be recognized and mentored as well.

Jonah rounded out the discussion with specific design solutions Microsoft has been implementing in their real estate endeavors on their campus. His discussion about the old, competence-based and new, collaborative-based Microsoft set a foundational understanding about their approach for design, and as a company. The new Microsoft balances IQ with EQ and leads employees by creating clarity, generating energy, and delivering success.

Jonah talked about how Gen Z’ers see their reward in work as providing value and wanting people to know about that and needing external recognition for that hard work. His Gen Z initiatives include: Micro-Promotions (recognition vs. awards); Social Spaces/Central Party Hubs (vs. Beaches/areas away from the core); and Insta Moments Inclusion Labs/Unique Functional Spaces. His design beliefs include:

  • Time is of the essence: the more fluidly we work, the better we become;
  • Teamwork is the core of best practices in software design; and
  • Individual workspace and meeting spaces crafted to better balance concentration and collaboration.

His six design principals are:

  • Enable agility and speed;
  • Balance a spirit of innovation and a sense of scale;
  • Optimize for team-based culture and enable individuals;
  • Connect to the customer;
  • Celebrate milestones and breakout space; and
  • Visualize the work process.

Jonah dove deep into the way teams sit with each other at Microsoft and how the functions of the roles and the typical personalities that fill those roles can impact design and vice versa. He also shared entertaining anecdotes about his experiences with the different generations in his office, especially the contrast between Millennials and the Z’s; how they react to his leadership and company leadership; and their work habits. His insight on personalities, work habits and roles, team dynamics, and how design impacts output and creativity were really interesting.

The morning ended with questions and answers about the youngsters and their influence with all hopefully leaving with a little more than eight seconds of knowledge.

Be sure to check out the slides from the morning’s presentation, as well as the final attendance list, via the NAIOPWA app. Look for the paperclip icon (materials) for the 2018 November Breakfast.

This article was written by NAIOP Washington State and Marcom Committee member Sarah D. Fischer, Burgess Design.

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