Flexible spaces; mind the generation gap

How will the generational divide impact the design possibilities of fluid workspaces as we emerge into the ‘new normal’?

Flexible and fluid spaces are just some of the trends dominating the interior design industry as businesses look to redefine how spaces are actually used. As new forms of workstyles and varied working patterns begin to emerge, workplace design needs to capture not just the when, but the how, where and why people are returning to the office. 

This transformation of the workspace presents an exciting opportunity for interior designers and business operators alike, opening up the potential to reboot office layouts to become increasingly open and dynamic environments.

There is no doubt that the pandemic has redefined the role of the office to be more of a collaborative and social space with more of the ‘deep work’ being carried out at home.

However, one of the key insights to emerge from a recent virtual focus group with a select number of esteemed interior designers, is that new designs will also need to bridge the generational gap of its users. 

While it is predicted that around only 45% staff will be in the office on any given day, (WKSpace Workplace research May 2020), how they wish to use this space, will be affected by many factors including age

For example, many 20 and 30 year olds are comfortable embracing a less formal – or as one interior designer put it, ‘sit on the floor-type way of working’. Their entry into the workplace during the rise of the coffee shop culture, means Millennials and Gen Z generation are much more akin to work-on-the-go or on their mobile from the comfort of the office settee. 

But for many people of an older generation, this is not in keeping with the familiar, more formal environment that has shaped their careers to date. For Baby Boomers and Generation X, they may still crave a more formal office space – including a table and chair of some description.

So what does this mean for interior design of commercial spaces?

To create inspiring and productive environments for the future, designers will need to embrace multigenerational workspaces – those that echo the benefits of the traditional office environment while fostering creativity and employee wellbeing. Adaptive spaces that support different work styles and preferences, helping to strengthen internal culture and encourage bonding between colleagues. 

Flexible furniture pieces can be used to meet the needs of multiple users and multiple uses – enabling zones to be altered depending on the modes and moods at that time. Partitioning and divider panels with colours that echo the brand or culture are simple but effective ways of creating privacy, or changing the shape of a space. While modular seating and smaller more nimble pieces such as pouffe’s enable greater movement of groups, quickly and easily adapting to changing social distancing measures.  

What is clear, is that collaborative spaces are on the rise – 58% of collaborative work will happen in the office – often alongside individuals seeking more focussed tasks needing quiet zones. 

As one of the focus group attendees highlights:

“Our offices, more than ever, will need careful stewardship to make sure they can flex to create balance between open and closed, intimate and collective, keeping pace with the changing world outside.”

Read the report to learn more about the insights captured during the virtual session and discover the other emerging trends that will influence workplace and furniture design in the here, now and some kind of ‘new normal’. 

The report also draws on the findings of a survey commissioned by WK.space – a workplace strategy and employee engagement consultancy headed up by Hannah Nardini, who moderated the focus group.

Click here to access the full report now.