Remote work is second nature for Generation Z, many of whom graduated college and started careers during the pandemic.
And yet, many are now transitioning to in-person work as they look for more workplace connections, learning opportunities and socialization with coworkers. That means figuring out what kind of workspace environment will keep Gen Z workers interested, is becoming a higher priority.
Only about a third of U.S. employees are returning to offices that were redesigned in the past three years, according to a 2023 Global Workplace Survey from Gensler. “All the generations were working basically the same, what they wanted in the office was basically the same, and then suddenly during the pandemic we started seeing some distinct differences,” said Janet Pogue McLaurin, Gensler’s global director of workplace research.
Gen Z workers place more value on learning and socializing at work than boomers to start, she said. They also value flexibility differently, likely as a result of the pandemic, and are open to working partial days or giving up a dedicated desk.
Ultimately, they truly value a mix of experiences in the workplace, and younger employees are more willing to come into the office than their older colleagues if it provides more of their ideal mix of experiences, according to the report.
Those experiences include having a range of spaces that cater to the need to both focus independently and collaborate with others, being able to use amenities, and having in-person interactions to foster better relationships with colleagues and managers.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, open-office layouts were a la mode. But now companies are allocating more room in offices for enclosed private spaces where employees can focus on a task, though they will be able to be converted for individual or small group use, said Lenny Beaudoin, executive managing director and global lead for workplace strategy at real estate firm CBRE. “They’re not building more private assigned offices,” he added.
“Most organizations are adopting some type of seat-sharing policy, and they can now offer these things without having people assigned to lots of dedicated space or enclosed space that’s not utilized all the time,” he said.
Gen Z workers are also largely looking to socialize at work and make friends, while also gaining visibility and career advancement opportunities. “Accessibility of leadership, of subject matter experts, of others that you wouldn’t have the casual opportunity to engage with while working remotely, is a huge draw for younger workers, including Gen Z workers,” Beaudoin said.
Companies “are smart to think about ways they can be purposeful and build connections and mentorship that actually help drive career growth, but also positive outcomes organizationally,” he said.
Many Gen Z workers will return to offices in hybrid setups, and tools that allow them to reserve desks and notify colleagues and others when they are present in the office will be increasingly important to them, Caroline Frith, chief strategy officer at Cove, a commercial real estate technology company. “I think that’s a huge part of the office of the future,” she said.
Amenities are also important for Gen Z workers going into offices. They’re increasingly expecting perks like gyms, dry cleaning services and “things that make commutes more worthwhile,” she said.
Some companies considering big changes to their offices are launching pilots and soliciting feedback from employees to see what works.
They’re thinking “how do we design physical workspaces to be more inclusive, to not only cater to what every generation needs, but cater to what every individual needs? That’s another big shift that we’re starting to see,” Pogue McLaurin said.