As Generation Z enters the workplace, Ellina Webb explores how their expectations will affect the way we build office space.

Generation Z was born between the mid-90s and late-00s, they haven’t lived in a world without mobile phones, the internet, cable TV and digital music. They are the generation who require on demand entertainment and immediate response. They also want to make the world a better place and, heading towards a renewable future isn’t an ideology, it’s an expectation.

By 2020 it is estimated that Gen Z will make up 24% of the global workforce (millennials – like me, will make up 35%). Therefore, not only will companies need to assess the offerings they have available to attract this generation into employment, they will have to think beyond the in-tangible offerings (like better training, career prospects and work flexibility) and also consider the tangible contributions such as the working environment, wellbeing, building facilities and smart device integrations.

In 2016 global HR leader Randstad compiled a survey across 10 global markets (including the UK) which questioned the oldest members of Gen Z who have just entered the workforce and the results show that:

  • 41% prefer to work in a corporate office
  • 21% prefer to work in co-working space
  • 21% prefer to work in a home office
  • 39% prefer to communicate with co-workers in person
  • 30% say that communication is the most important quality in a leader
  • 19% say that work flexibility is the most important employee benefit (15% say healthcare)

So how will this affect the way we build and refurbish office spaces over the next few years?

What are the expectations?

Generation Z will expect employers to integrate their online facilities with smart devices, for example emails and intranets must be accessible on smartphones and the ability to work remotely on smart devices like tablets will begin to replace the traditional laptop.

According to Randstad 41% of Gen Z will also expect social media to be incorporated into the workspace.

Inside buildings, HVAC smart phone control will be an expectation along with other forms of building automation like smart lighting and security – which is technology that Gen Z are already getting to grips with in their homes. There will also be an expectation that buildings will be energy efficient and renewables will be adopted both in properties and on a larger “greening the grid” level – after all for most of Gen Z, the changing UK landscape means that large gas chimney power stations are disappearing from the horizon, replaced with eco-friendly wind turbines.

Culturally, companies will need to shift to accommodate Gen Z expectations like achievements, incentives, performance reviews and leadership training. They will also need to look at what major companies like Google and Apple are doing to ensure their employee’s wellbeing is maintained – for example both companies have implemented mindfulness programmes into their workforces. This addresses the major Gen Z concern with wellbeing and work-life balance.

So what do I think the building services industry need to deliver?

One thing that is certain is that tomorrow’s buildings will definitely need to be Smart and connected and this will require huge amounts of data. We are already seeing significant growth in data centres to accommodate this and these ‘data banks’ require specialist cooling to keep them running.

The adoption of new types of technology and the increase in online activity means that data storage areas will continue to need to expand or be built large enough to accommodate this kind of equipment.

All types of buildings will also need to improve on the sustainability of the materials they use and the energy efficiency and renewable credibility of the HVAC solutions they install – not just to convince Generation Z but also to meet increasingly tough energy and environmental legislation, such as MEES.

These HVAC systems should also be both future proof and intelligent to ensure the indoor environment is safe and comfortable. Many air conditioning systems available on the market today are already suitable for this type of customised comfort due to the use of smart sensors, which automate comfort to suit a room’s occupants and switch off systems when the room is empty.

Finally, the operators of this equipment must also be able to answer Gen Z questions about the whole life impact of their buildings, and the equipment used in it. 

We are already seeing manufacturers adopt a more holistic approach to product lifecycle with every nut and bolt in a piece of equipment needing to be able to prove that it is recycled, or made of a recyclable material.

Final Thoughts

As a millenial I am excited to see how workplaces and the workforce will change over the next 10 years and as an employee of a HVAC manufacturer, it's interesting to see how our solutions of today are suitable for the buildings of tomorrow. 

As Gen Z make their mark on the world it seems like collectively all generations are now working together to ensure the future of our planet is suitable for those generations not even born.

From cleaning the ocean to greening the grid and improving the quality of the air we breathe, moving forward in how we live and work is a natural progression which ultimately will be a benefit for us all. 

Ellina Webb is a Senior Marketing Executive at Mitsubishi Electric