Move Over, Millennials: How Gen Z’s Expectations Will Change The Workplace

Gen Z has officially entered the workforce and they come with their own set of expectations.
  • Gen Z has officially entered the workforce and they come with their own set of expectations.
  • As the first digitally native generation, smartphones and social media have been part of Gen Z’s daily lives since they were born.
  • Allwork.Space spoke with Katie McHugh, Design Director, and Amy Leigh Hufford, Interior Designer, from NELSON Worldwide to learn how this generation will change the workplace.

The workplace is ever evolving, something that’s only natural as new generations enter the workforce and older workers retire. For the past several years, much of workplace talk has been credited to millennials… their likes, dislikes, and how they compare to the generation that came before them.

The open office, weekly happy hours, flexible schedules, bold furniture, and casual attire are the result of millennials entering the workforce and demanding a different style of work. But millennials are no longer the younger generation of workers; Gen Z has officially entered the workforce and they come with their own set of expectations. 

Gen Z is the first digitally native generation, meaning that they have grown up with technology. Smartphones, social media, online shopping, and instant messaging have been a part of Gen Z’s daily lives since they were born. 

Naturally, this will impact their expectations of work and the workplace. Allwork.Space spoke with Katie McHugh, Design Director, and Amy Leigh Hufford, Interior Designer, from NELSON Worldwide to understand the key differences between Gen Z and Millennials and how workplace dynamics might change as Gen Z increasingly becomes a part of the workforce. 

Allwork.Space: What are some key differences between Gen Z and Millennials? 

Katie McHugh and Amy Leigh: The key differences lie in the ways the two generations communicate, given their general upbringing. While millennials are still excited to have in-person meetings and sessions to learn physically, audibly, and digitally, most Gen Z teammates prefer to learn electronically. 

Gen Z is a group that is much more comfortable with expressing their emotions, while millennials grew up in a time that is still riddled with populous desires to hide aspects of themselves. This is because Gen Z has grown up in a time of radical individualism where expressing their personalities and emotions is more important to them.

This doesn’t mean they want desks full of tchotchkes that symbolize who they are – this generation tends to wear their hearts on their sleeves and believe in the work they produce and the value that their generation can add to a company. The Millennial generation empowers Gen Z teammates and guides them in best practices for what has worked in the past and helps them understand the power in “we” vs. “me”. 

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Allwork.Space: You mention that Gen Z prefers to learn and meet digitally, how will this impact workplace design and workplace dynamics?

Although some millennials were born with technology, most were not and had to learn to adapt to it as a young child, or even as a teenager. For some millennials, smartphones became popular when they were in high school – but for others, they were a few years into college by that point. However, the broad age range within the millennial category makes it difficult to pin down what their relationship with technology is. For the most part, most do not consider the new wave of technology, namely social media and online shopping, as having been an inherent part of their childhood and upbringing. 

Gen Z, however, was born with technology in their hands – smartphones from a young age, knowing the internet can provide anything they need, and watching their direct family members fluidly rely on technology as if it had always existed in the first place. 

Creating a workplace that works for those who still like a break from technology and use more concrete, physical tools like paper, markers, and of course face-to-face meetings is easy; it’s balancing it with individuals who know no life outside of technology that creates the challenge. 

Allwork.Space: Naturally, Gen Z is tech savvy and tech driven. What are the top technologies Gen Z expects in the workplace? 

Gen Z will want better ways to connect with each other digitally – this can mean video chatting from home, working together on the same program at the same time from different locations (more efficient access to work-sharing), and the use of social media within the workplace as a means of sharing personal information. 

Gen Z will also look to more innovative ways to share with clients – the most experiential processes and methods will be desired, like VR, creating videos more than printed-out presentations, and having physical mockups become more available. Gen Z will want whomever they’re working for – be it clients, or a larger company, or their own company internally – to have their work’s recipients truly experience it before they buy into it. 

Allwork.Space: What additional preferences and interests have you identified from Gen Z in the workplace? 

While millennials feel very comfortable going back and forth between working at their desks and working in a more social, open area, we find that Gen Z is more interested in staying far away from their desks – but still in isolation. 

Gen Z relies on technology to communicate more than anything else – this doesn’t make them antisocial; in fact, they’re the most social generation to date. But they don’t want the illusion of typical office life; their preference is to feel a total fluidity between work and home. Gen Z is looking for every space to bring wellness and respite and to feel designed with aesthetic nuance.

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