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Generation Z and the Office of the Future: GP Pro Series #2

Sept. 26, 2019
Generation Z (people born after 1996) s entering the workforce, and with it comes a major shift in the way offices operate. This generation prizes flexibility, amenities and a premium experience. Listen as two experts from GP Professional dive into Generation Z's impact on commercial office space.

Generation Z—people born after 1996—is entering the workforce, and with it comes a major shift in the way offices operate. This generation prizes flexibility, amenities and a premium experience. 

Darin Squires, general sales manager of the commercial real estate vertical for Georgia Pacific Professional, and Justin Silver, associate category manager for GP Pro’s tissue and wiper category, dive into Generation Z’s impact on commercial office space. Listen now >>

*Podcast was created in partnership with GP Pro.

[Start transcript]

Janelle Penny: Hi, this is Janelle Penny and I’m editor-in-chief of BUILDINGS media, and I’m here with Darin Squires, who is the general sales manager of the commercial real estate vertical for Georgia Pacific Professional, as well as Justin Silver, who is the associate category manager for GP Pro’s Tissue and Wiper category.

Today, we’re going to take a deep dive into Generation Z, and we’ll explore what they’re looking for in the modern workplace, and how that affects facility and property management.

This podcast was created in partnership with GP Pro, and we’re very happy to welcome you today. Thanks for joining me, guys.

Darin Squires: Sure. Thanks for having us.

Justin Silver: Yeah, thank you.

Janelle: Let’s start by looking at this in a more broad, general sense. 

Darin, can you tell me about some of the major trends that you’ve noticed in your work in the commercial real estate market that you think are kind of influencing that move toward the office of the future?

Darin: Sure. When we specifically look at where we’re going with some of the trends, there’s a really heightened awareness of amenities. 

Amenities currently make up about 3% of an office building. Forward-looking over the next few years, that’s expected to be 12-15% of an office building. A lot of it’s driven by Gen Zs, those are the demographic that’s really entering our office building environment, born between 1995-2015.

They’re currently the largest generation and the majority of them are in their teen years. But they’ll be the influencers and those that are occupying our office space in the coming years. When you think about the work/life balance and the changes in the Gen Z work ideal, they consider that they need amenities in office buildings. It’s something that they expect. It drives talent and retains talent in office buildings.

So, you talk about amped up fitness areas, dry cleaning areas, daycare centers, everything that kind of makes that office building a one-stop place, if you will — many mixed-use facilities where you’ve got restaurant options on the main floor as well as shopping and then your offices, which are typically open-neighborhood type environments are stacked above that in a multi-use building. 

Janelle: Interesting. So, who exactly is Gen Z and why are we talking about them now?

Darin: When you consider the office space and who’s going to occupy it here in the near future, 20% of the workspace will be occupied by Gen Zers by 2020, just a few months from now. So, a lot of these younger workers are going to be occupying our space, and they’re gonna be influential in how space is designed and constructed.

But very important to when we think about where an office building’s gonna be in 2025, 2028. Not only will they be occupying office buildings, but many of them will probably be leading up organizations or even in C-level positions in the next few years within companies that occupy office space.

Janelle: So, speaking of them moving into office space, could you elaborate a little bit about how their values translate into what they’re looking for in the workplace? What are the implications of these trends that we just talked about?

Darin: Sure. Gen Zs are really entrepreneurial. They care about the environment, they’re eco-friendly. They expect to be working in multi-purpose spaces. They really have a work/life integration. They expect flexibility and convenience. Everything that kind of we’re starting to see from millennials will just be amped up even greater as Generation Zs start to get into office space.

Janelle: Sure. I’m glad you mentioned millennials. I’m one of the early millennials or xennials, whatever you want to call the folks on the cusp. But Justin, you’re a member of Generation Z, right?

Justin: I am.

Janelle: Do you agree with what Darin spoke to? What do you find that you’re looking for in an office space when you’re thinking about what your personal values are?

Justin: I think I can agree with a lot of the points that Darin mentioned. And I’d say something else to note is people in my generation really grew up being able to walk around with a phone in their hand and grew up with a smartphone or even a laptop, just being able to carry that around their house. 

And I think that’s something that you really need to think about and realize that’s something we also expect in a work environment — being able to pick up our computer and move to a new work station or to a chair, to a desk, maybe even a booth in a breakroom. I think that’s something that we’d expect. People in my generation also, it’s just part of the norm and studied in school.

Janelle: I can see that. OK. So, what role do you find that the office space plays in attracting people to come work for you or even just keeping the employees that you have. Is the office space a selling point as much as it used to be?

Darin: I think it is. I think when you look at stats, I mean 47% of Gen Zs would be most excited to apply for a job with a fun work environment. And of course, that means the building itself. 76% are really caring about the impact on humanity, all the way driven to the building that they work in. We’re really starting to see an impact already that’s being felt in the office construction and design through a very young generation.

Justin: I think on that point too, essentially the office is where you spend the majority of your days during the week and the majority of the time that you’re awake. So, it’s really important and it shows a company really values the way employees feel throughout the day. And at this point, an office isn’t just a place to go and sit at a desk. It’s a place you can go and build relationships and network with people.

And in reality at this point, I could do the same work at home that I can do in my office, so I need a reason to go in, whether it be multiple screens at my desk or being able to walk around and have conversations with different people in different environments—I think an office space kind of needs to play into that.

Darin: It’s interesting to hear Justin talk about that. Because with technology, you can kind of work when and where you want. And to his point, hearing it from a Gen Z, that’s exactly why office buildings are being designed with amped up amenities and everything that I mentioned earlier. 

Because with unemployment at record lows, some of these companies really need to design an office space that’s appealing or attractive to Gen Zs because they do want you to still come to work. That’s where brain energy is shared, that’s where collaboration happens. 

So, even though we can all work remotely with technology, there’s still a reason to get you to work. And if you’re choosing a company to go work for, it can literally come down to the cool factor of the building, right? You want to go to that building, you’re exciting to go to that building.

You can take your dog to work with you every day. You’ve got multiple options of technology and connectivity within a building. And that really can be the influencer of young talent making a decision to go work for a company.

Justin: Absolutely. I 100% agree.

Janelle: Definitely. Let’s drill down into that a little bit, like that reason to come to work. Are there certain things that you think that younger generations, like Generation Z or maybe even later millennials are really looking for in employers that help them be the most productive?

Darin: Justin, I’ll probably let you talk on that as you are Gen Z.

Justin: Yeah. I think in regards to productivity, being able to use different workspaces, being able to set up rooms where you can have meetings with various group sizes, having numerous screens that are easy to connect to your computer, essentially things that you can’t have at your home working remote, I think that kind of drives people to come to the office and continue to collaborate in different workspaces. 

And I really think technology is a big thing that surrounds all of that, whether it be multiple computer screens or a video conferencing room. Here at GP Center, our breakroom, you can sit at a booth and project your laptop screen up so three people can sit around the booth and look at it up on a screen.

Janelle: Definitely. Darin, I want to pick your brain on this too. Do you notice that clients are asking for certain kinds of updates?

Darin: Yeah. We interact a lot with the property management world. And when we talk out systems from GP Pro, you know, there’s two very impactful areas of a building. And the first being the lobby of the entranceway. And the second most impactful is the washroom. 

I think we can all relate to that, whether we’re at a restaurant or a hotel or an office building. If you have a negative situation in a washroom, it leaves an impact on you and how you feel about that company, that organization, that building, that restaurant. 

So, in the washroom even, something as simple as connected dispensing, which is an IoT capability with washing dispensers with notifications and alerts, informing custodians if you’re out of product, running out of product, you’ve got broken dispensers or jams, just so that a tenant or somebody visiting a building doesn’t have a negative experience.

Stainless steel systems, fully automated, they all look and feel the same throughout a campus or throughout a building, you get the same experience in a washroom. 

Air care systems are a really amped up now. Malodor is the number two complaint in a building.

So, addressing everything that could give a negative experience in a washroom and trying to create a pleasant or positive experience is an impact.

And when you look at other amenities — I visit a lot of companies that are pretty forward-thinking. And I’ve been in buildings that literally have a Volkswagen Microbus that’s hung from the rafters, from the ceiling, and that’s literally the breakroom for this company. And there’s pillows up there, there’s a rope ladder to get up into the bus. 

There’s full connectivity throughout the campus. There’s baristas, even snack items, all at no charge to whoever’s occupying the facility.

[More from GP Pro: Pro Tips for Workplace Hygiene]

We’re seen interesting workout situations, rock climbing walls in buildings, biometric screening, so when you walk up to your company’s front doors, it knows who you are for security purposes, and it’ll give you clearance and open the door for you without you having to do anything.

So, a lot of technology’s taking hold and becoming a part of the amenities. Something that’s really happening in office buildings right now is the trend towards premiumization. And that can be moving buildings from Class B to Class A, or Class A to Class AA. 

And I think with the economy as strong as it is, we’re really seeing premiumization become a popular trend, and that’s even blending retail brands into the work environment. 

So, a lot of these Class A or Class AA buildings, they’re expecting those name brand commercial recognized products to be in their work environment—whether it’s softer tissue, enhanced breakrooms with Keurig coffeemakers and things like that, they’re just expecting that as they get into these higher rent leased occupied spaces.

Janelle: Definitely. So, you mentioned premiumization. What is that exactly and can you tell me a little bit about the role that it plays in the office?

Darin: Sure. When you’re leasing a premium property, you’re seeing a lot of different amenities provided. You’re seeing valet now, drop off areas where you’ll get valet service for your car. That’s important with big companies and big organizations and big parking structures. 

You’re also getting rideshare drop off zones outside where a rideshare car can drop people off as that’s becoming more and more of a trend.

Believe it or not, you’re getting scooter parking in some cities outside of office buildings. You’re also getting, like mentioned earlier, you’re getting laundry facility, dry cleaning facilities, daycare facilities. Fitness areas that are just as nice as you’d see on a monthly membership at an outside fitness facility, so you don’t have to pay a monthly membership. 

Or more importantly, you’re able to just come to an office building or your company’s building and do several things that you’d have to do out—trying to deal with traffic and weather and whatever else is going on outside the building. You can do all of that just while you’re at work. So, you become more efficient in your lifestyle.

Janelle: Great. Let’s look at some of the specific office design factors in some of these specific office amenities. Justin, what do you think are some of the pros, but also the cons of some of these offices being updated? What does it do to your productivity at work?

Justin: I think maybe some of the pros would include an increase in collaboration of being able to meet with various people and constantly seeing people, regardless of what position they’re in at the company. But you all sit in a desk next to each other and you really get that face-to-face interaction with people at all levels of the company.

But at the same time, I do think that there can be a little bit of an issue when it comes to distractions or a lack of privacy, just due to the open nature of the floor plan. But I think that’s why it’s so important to have various areas to work at, aside from just your standard workstation.

So, if you need a room that you kind of dive into maybe some Excel work and look at data, you can always go to a small huddle room and kind of close the door and zone in on it. Or maybe you need a room where you can have a conversation with 15 people, you can go to a large conference room that has video capabilities where the cameras follow you around. And so, the 10 other people that are on the call that are 300 miles away feel like they’re in the same room as you.

So, I think there are tradeoffs, but I think there are plenty of ways that you can mitigate that and turn it into added productivity.

Darin: Yeah. I would add to that also, Janelle, that it’s interesting when you interact with older generations and the younger generations. In a GP Center, we have a large tower and it’s been opened or neighborhooded or densified, whatever you want to say. And it’s interesting how those older generations that are used to their 200-350-square-foot corner office with views are now being put in a neighborhood environment. And it’s something that the Gen Zs know nothing other than that, so there is nothing to compare that to.

But when you come from a closed environment after several years working in a building and all of a sudden, you’re in an open environment, it’s a complete change of atmosphere. You’re dealing with outside noises; you’re dealing with having to have private conversations public or utilizing a phone booth within these floors to jump in to have a private conversation or to talk to a client in confidentiality.

So, there is a behavior change that I think some of the other generations are having to adapt to. And obviously, the Gen Zs don’t because when they jumped into the office space in the last few years, most of it has already been densified or opened up.

Janelle: Great. So, let’s step just outside of the workspace a little bit. How does it affect the Gen Z experience to update the other non-working spaces, like the breakrooms or restrooms, for example?

Darin: Breakrooms have become probably one of the more popular places to conduct a meeting. Not only is it an inexpensive way to enhance a floor of a building or a building itself; it really just comes down to just a farm-style table, technology, such as video/audio capabilities in a breakroom. And then it becomes a place where you no longer go and open a fridge and grab your lunch or grab your coffee. 

This is an environment that’s usually opened up and people literally set meetings to meet in the breakroom, over break or over lunch. And you’ve got snacks, you’ve got as I mentioned earlier, Keurig coffeemakers, little bit more upscale. Especially in a Class A or Class AA building.

But in my opinion, the breakroom’s become more of a communal area rather than somewhere where you just keep your snack food in the fridge or your lunch in the refrigerator.

Janelle: Sure. Almost like another workspace in a way.

Darin: It is, yeah. Absolutely. I’ve been in many meetings at GP Center where we’ve densified and created these breakrooms and you don’t expect to go to sit down to lunch and share collaboration conversation while you might be eating. 

And then you’ve also got technology right next to each one of our booths in our breakrooms where you can connect, so you can throw a PowerPoint up and walk through a meeting literally in a breakroom. 

I think it’s one of the better environments within our new facility. We’ve got these elaborate, really nice glass conference rooms, but to be able to sit in a really casual environment and conduct a meeting with a co-worker, I’d rather reserve a breakroom area than a conference room.

Janelle: Yeah. I could see that. It’s hard to beat that casual setting sometimes.

Darin: Yeah. Exactly.

Justin: Yeah. I’d agree. And also, not having to leave for lunch, there’s numerous areas for people to put their lunch. There’s numerous refrigerators. There’s plenty of room for people to sit, essentially being able to interact with people that you might not interact with working all day, but instead people that are at your office in different roles. I think it’s a really good opportunity to share knowledge and interact with various people at the office.

Janelle: Let’s talk a little bit about — we’ve been talking about Generation Z a lot today, but we’re still in a period of transition with not only younger people becoming a greater part of the workforce, but there are still a lot of millennials like me and a lot of people from Generation X and Baby Boomers. 

So, how do you balance all of our needs with the updates you’re doing that are specifically targeted with Generation Z?

Darin: I kind of touched on this earlier, but it is just a behavioral change. And you do feel like we’re getting more productivity out of an open environment when you have some of these amped amenities and you’ve got the neighborhooding. 

There’s a good and bad. Many people obviously appreciate some of the things I mentioned earlier, such as the fitness facilities or the baristas. But you really do have to adapt to that open environment. And we went so far in a part of GP Center where you have red and green lights next to you. 

So, even if you’re not on a phone, if you’ve got your red light on, that means you’re concentrating, you know, ‘please don’t come and talk to me or interrupt me.’ Not to be rude to anybody, but they understand that you’re focusing on something and you don’t want to be interrupted. Because in an open environment, that certainly can happen.

And then of course, if your green light is on, you’re available if someone wants to come up and talk to you, whether it’s about business or whatever. So, there’s just a little bit of learning going on. And as we see these younger generations really start to fill our office buildings, that conflict I guess you could say, will become less and less.

Janelle: Great. Justin, since you’re probably more used to this new office style, do you have any advice you could share on how to manage this with older generations in the office?

Justin: Yeah. I think something that we really do talk about at GP is the ability to focus on being transformational and adapt to a new vision or strategy that helps us create the greatest amount of value. Whether that’s being efficient or whatnot. 

With that being said, you need to remember that people adapt at different rates and they come from different backgrounds. But I do think it’s important to kind of mention that a face-to-face meeting still in my mind is very important and can’t be replaced.

Being in a room with someone and having the ability to shake their hand, I don’t think that’s going away.

But I do think when that’s not always an option, this sort of a layout provides plenty of room for people to meet and have conversations, regardless of location. 

Janelle: So, Justin, how does the design of the office that you go to play a role when you’re making career decisions? I think you told me once that you’ve been at GP Pro for about a year, right? So, when you’re going to look at employers and going on job interviews and stuff, what does that office that you see tell you about the employer?

Justin: I’ve been with GP since June of 2018, right after I graduated from school. And I think it’s pretty important to realize that an office space is where you’re going to spend a lot of time. And if an employer is willing to invest in that space, it shows they’re willing to invest in the employees in the way they feel every day at work.

And I think something else to note is that where I went to school at the University of Alabama, there’s constant construction, restrooms are constantly being updated, libraries are being updated, buildings are being updated, everything’s kind of being premiumized. So, I think people just kind of just come to expect that, leaving these big universities and going to these large companies. 

I think it’s almost expected that an office space should be relatively updated and clean and have numerous areas to work just like any school library.

Janelle: Sure. What about sustainability? Is that important to you at all? I know a lot of universities kind of put an extra emphasis on that.

Justin: Absolutely. I think what’s important about sustainability is the products they use every day. I think people try and use products that they think align with their values, whether that be at the office or at their house. 

I think it’s important to look at the products that you’re using at your office and it tells a story of how that company thinks about the environment. A more sustainable product offering shows the company really cares more about the environment and I think that’s important.

Janelle: What about you, Darin? Have you noticed people asking for more sustainable products or making certain requests in that arena?

Darin: Yeah. I mean this isn’t just a Gen Z thing, right? Or millennials or even generation specific. I think all of us that work in an office space expect now that maybe it’s not LEED certified Platinum, but I think we all understand that we’re gonna want to work for a company or we’re gonna want to lease office space in a building that’s eco-friendly, that has sustainability in mind. And furthermore, that’s not damaging the environment.

And I don’t really think that you see that very much anymore anyway. I think we’re seeing LEED take a bit of a step back, as it was a major trend 5, 10, 15 years ago. Buildings would pay a lot of money to get LEED certified at a certain level. 

And I think now they’re just understanding that green cleaning from their custodial companies is happening everywhere. They won’t have a contract if they’re not a green cleaning company. And through technology, we’re able to make buildings more efficient and less impact on the environment.

Again, I just think it’s hopefully commonplace that we’re all working in environments that are environmentally friendly.

Janelle: Sure. It’s kind of almost the default, right?

Darin: Yeah. It’s like table sticks. You just have to have an environmentally friendly building to fill it, to lease it or to have a company occupy it.

Janelle: So, a lot of people who are listening to this podcast are going to be facilities managers that read BUILDINGS. And thinking about these new amenities and these new ways of creating these buildings, there also has to be a change for how floors are maintained to keep tenants happy, right? So, how does the facilities managers level of responsibility change? Or how do the requests that their tenants are making change?

Darin: Yeah. I think most of that is really relative to technology. We’re seeing technology really grab hold. There’s over 2,500 connected platforms that are available for a commercial office building. So, you consider, we talk about connected dispensing from GP Pro, our KOLO platform, and that’s tissue, towel and soap systems that are connected, as well as a variety of other add-ons that are utilized in our platform. 

But what that does is it lessens waste, it creates efficiency from the custodial staff, knowing when and where to go and be proactive in replacing products that are going to run out, before they run out and you get a complaint.

But I really think that you’re starting to see, through densification, you’re starting to see a lot of glass in these environments, because they are open. The idea of being open is you generate sunlight across the floor, lessening your cost and an environmental savings by using lightbulbs everywhere. So, you’ve got natural, fresh sunlight and that’s created by glass.

And I know at GP Center, our Blue Sky project, when we densified our building, there’s just glass everywhere, glass conference rooms, glass phone booths, glass walkways, glass breakrooms. 

And so, one of the first things we heard from our custodian staff was, It’s a lot of labor and a lot of cost on window cleaning products, because that’s what we’re doing a lot of. Because you can see smudges and marks. 

A lot of companies, us included, we use those as more or less white boards. And you literally write. You scribe on those glass walls within a conference room. So, it’s just a lot of labor to clean some of these areas up, and like I said, a lot of product costs as well. And that’s something that we had to adapt to and start to integrate into our contract with our custodial companies.

Janelle: So, we’ve talked about a lot of different aspects of tenant amenities with Gen Z in mind today. What do you think is the one takeaway that folks should go away with when they’re finished listening to this podcast? And Darin, why don’t you kick us off because I’m curious to know what you think about what the nitty gritty is of this podcast for property managers.

Darin: I would leave this with if we’re talking about Generation Zs and amenities, it’s all about retaining and attracting good talent. And as I mentioned earlier, with unemployment where it is, that’s the desire of a company and a property managers job too is to provide that type of environment. 

And I’d say the most effective and desirable amenities are those designed to provide an ultimate convenience. They increase worker productivity and they really create a feeling of exclusivity. You’re working in a special place. You’re working in a place you chose to work for, maybe because of the facility and it’s just a really cool environment. 

And if I was a property manager or I was trying to keep a client happy or content or long-term leased, I’d start to think about bringing ideas to the table involving forward-looking amenities.

Janelle: How about you, Justin?

Justin: I’d echo what Darin said and say that the office space is important, and I think it’s definitely something that people look at, especially people from Generation Z when looking at where they want to start their career.

Janelle: And thank you to all of you for joining us today. This has been Janelle Penny, editorin-chief of BUILDINGS magazine, and we’ll see you next time.

[End transcript]

Listen to the other episodes in this series:

About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has been with BUILDINGS since 2010. She is a two-time FOLIO: Eddie award winner who aims to deliver practical, actionable content for building owners and facilities professionals.

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