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Tom Sutherland: What’s Your Comfort Zone?

Tom Sutherland

Are 15 break-out rooms enough space for our Millennial, Gen X, and Gen Y employees? Should the Baby Boomer senior execs be allowed to have a fridge in their offices for long nights? Will free Wi-Fi in the lounge be enough to satisfy our Gen Ys who want to watch the news while typing a report? Are the veterans going to think we are crazy for budgeting for these items?

Having just gone through the space-planning process a year ago with our Dallas office at Signature Place, I know what a headache it can be dealing with five generations of workers all under one roof. I know what my “comfort zone” is with my needs in the office, but what will help recruit the next generation of workers and keep current employees happy? I recently sat down with Kenneth Reese, our real estate workplace advisor, to help shed some light on this topic for others.

Kenneth Reese

According to Kenneth, research shows that every generation has slightly different requests that do not typically change with maturity. The Baby Boomer generation continues to have the same characteristics it had when they entered the workforce—for example, the belief that you live to work, not work to live, and the need for enclosed offices and conference space. Younger generations couldn’t care less about formal meeting rooms and offices, and they never will. They grew up in schools that encouraged interaction and team projects. It is their comfort zone.

Over the past few years, Kenneth has taught me that larger corporations seem to be more interested in preserving the legacy of their business for future generations than privately-held companies. They are willing to invest their time and resources to attract younger generations while also accommodating older employees. On the contrary, he has identified that privately-held companies tend to have the mentality of, “This is my company and it will be done the way I want it to be done.” Having said that, what is the deciding factor in a candidate’s mind? Companies know that they have to be competitive in the workplace with salaries and benefits, but they should not overlook what the office space says to a potential employee.

“Many times I hear that a space is tired and needs a facelift,” Kenneth tells me. “For most people, they think it means new paint colors and carpet, when in fact; it might need an update due to the actual layout of the space. I’m currently working with a client that has a very young employee base. They embrace the need for open collaborative space, but the senior executives still want their offices and formal meeting space. The final product will be a combination of generational needs and wants.”

Kenneth admits that not all clients are willing to jump in, even if they understand the generational issues at hand. For these companies, he recommends introducing some new test areas as a start to see what the feedback is from the employees. Small adjustments, like knocking out a wall to create a larger kitchen and community space, don’t have to cost a lot of money.

So my advice, if you are interested in making some changes or recommending some changes with your company: Take a look at what the larger companies are doing to accommodate the generational differences, and replicate some of the looks and feels that they have created. The investment will pay off when you see new employees walking down the halls, the culture of the company evolving with the space, and everyone becoming more productive, as they are all in their natural comfort zone.

As principal, Tom Sutherland oversees all operations of CASE Commercial Real Estate Partners. Contact him at tsutherland@casecre.com.

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