Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Office Space for a New Generation

What is it with the media and Generation Y?

“Generation Y” is one of the most over used and over hyped buzz words of our generation. If you believe the media hyperbole, you would think that people born after 1980 are almost a new species of human, and are so different to those who can remember the 1984 Olympics, that nothing short of a Rosetta stone is needed for communication across the generations.

A switched-on generation who can’t live without their mobile phones and Internet. Even though this could describe pretty much everyone in the western world in 2012, regardless of the decade they were born, it has somehow been attributed exclusively to Generation Y. Which I assume means everyone else is still using payphones, fax machines, and travel agents?

An article in The Age yesterday is claiming that now even the way offices are designed is all changing, in order to please Generation Y. And assumingly no other reason. Nothing to do with changing tastes, technologies or economies, which have been evolving our buildings and surrounds for millennia. I guess that without the Gen Y hyperbole, an article about how interior design is changing is no more newsworthy that the changing of the seasons. “Summer now coming around annually, because Gen Y like warm weather”

THE funky workplaces seen in movies like The Social Network may seem like something that only happens in America, but they could be coming to an office near you.

Only happens in America? Or only happens in movies?  Surely they realise that the Social Network was a movie?

New research by Colliers International shows the growing influence of Gen Y workers will change the design of offices, making them more casual, high-tech, green friendly and fun.

Research? Time for the big issues at Colliers?

Gen Y are not making offices more high tech! Technology is making offices more high tech! Smart phones and Instant Messaging are used because they were invented!

And offices are not green because of Gen Y. Are Gen Y the only ones who can have an environmental social conscience? Last time I checked, Al Gore was 64, not 24.

Doug Henry from Colliers said employers were already turning to office design for an edge as the war for talent heated up.

Crap offices have ALWAYS been a turn off for prospective employees. And bad equipment and technology have been a frustration for years, I'm sure no one was happy when the equipment department provided staff with outdated typewriters in the 1960s. In fact, I'm pretty sure the banking clerks in 1880 were pretty peeved when their boss showed up with knock-off brand abacus boards.

In this so-called activity-based corporate structure, first adopted in the Netherlands 15 years ago, there are no assigned desks and, in most cases, no private offices for executives. Sections of each floor are tailored to different activities: ''hubs'' for smaller groups and individuals; ''clubhouses'' feature more collaborative areas to cater for meetings and brainstorming.

If you can ignore the fact that if these trends did start 15 years ago, when Gen Y was in high school, which nullifies the whole purpose of this article, there are finally some truths here. But attributing open plan offices and hot-desks to an attempt to impress Gen Y is like saying that you've switched to generic brand chocolate because it tastes better than the good stuff.

In many offices, permanent desks are being conquered by the scourge of hot-desks; and execs are showing up to find that their office is now a bathroom. But no one is happy about this, not Gen Y, X, Z or A. These are cost cutting measures! Hot-desks and smaller offices means less rent, less expenses, and  happier shareholders. Not happier staff. People quit because of this stuff. And calling a meeting room a "Clubhouse" is just lame and patronising.

Mr Henry said good pay would always be key to the attraction and retention of staff, but employers could also appeal to Gen Y's sensitivity to their surroundings. He said young workers wanted to work for an employer who demonstrated a commitment to social issues and who operated in a less hierarchical structure. Both these issues had a strong influence on office design.

Sensitivity to surroundings? Is Gen Y a fragile species like Panda Bears? I wonder if the young employees at oil, tobacco or coal mining companies fit into this stereotype!

"I just don't know if I can deal with the office politics anymore"

''The research shows Gen Y workers require continuous and instantaneous feedback from management, yet dislike an authoritative management style,'' Mr Henry said. ''They want the flexibility to work to their own schedules - to break when they want to break, to leave when they need to leave and arrive when they need to arrive.

Don't like authority? Well your boss does! The door is that way!

And work to your own schedule? You'll get the same dirty looks from your boss for showing up at 9.30 that you would have got in 1979 if you showed up late to work after a big night of disco dancing.

''They also seek companionship at work, rather than just colleagues, as they function on a more flexible, social basis.''

So no one who had an office job before 2003 had any work mates?

The result was more efficient use of space, which could lead to smaller offices. It also encouraged an arrangement whereby desks were grouped by skills and connections rather than hierarchy, and which included more ''fun space'' such as lunch rooms.

Just like in the 1980s, nothing gets the office politics firing like office size. The big boss still gets the corner office, middle management still get the tape measures out to see if their office is the biggest, and the unpopular guy still gets seated closest to the toilet.

Offices have had lunch rooms for decades. No one has EVER called a lunchroom a "FUN SPACE". EVER. If they did, they would be ostracised from the rest of their colleagues and eventually fired.

Mr Henry said there would also be a growing requirement from Gen Y to work remotely and to have the space to socialise with their colleagues

Working from home = less people in the office = smaller office = less rental expense = more profits = happier shareholders. Nothing to do with Gen Y's 'requirements'.

And thank you Gen Y for providing us with the invention of bars and coffee shops to socialise in. Because they didn't exist before.

So although misguided, Mr Henry's wacky ideas of how offices function seems great. According to his research, I could show up to work whenever I like wearing a hoodie and sneakers, hi five people Teen Wolf style on my way to the office Fun Space, make a choc mint Frappuccino, and leave whenever I want. But in reality I don't work for Willy Wonka or on the set of a movie, so I show up an hour early, head straight to my desk, put my head down and work, and leave an hour late. Just like everyone else does. Hmmm I wonder if Mr Henry's company is hiring...

So for all those Gen Y's looking to enter the workforce, I've done some research of my own. Using common sense: Business casual just means no tie. Hoodies are not acceptable. Facebook is blocked by the firewall. Your boss would rather be in their office with the door closed, than listening to you whining about how your parents don't treat like you an adult. Flexible hours means Saturdays. Showing up late will lose you that promotion. Riding a scooter in the office will get you fired. And asking a colleague to be your companion in the Fun Space will get you fired and harassment charges laid.

Back to work...

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