Open Floor to Open Revolt?
SAN FRANCISCO—Wouldn't it be convenient if someone had clear, intelligent answers to most of your CRE-related questions? Problem solved. Nina J. Gruen, a.k.a. Ms. Real Estate, a.k.a. the principal sociologist overseeing market research and analysis at Gruen Gruen + Associates, is here to answer readers' questions.
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Dear Ms. Real Estate,
I have a small to mid-size environmental consulting firm with 18 employees. Before the Great Recession, our company employed 27 fulltime employees, but unfortunately I had to move to smaller quarters and let ten go due to a decrease in our contracts. We are planning to increase our staff by approximately 12 employees over the next two years. Luckily, our lease is over July 1st of this year, so we will have the opportunity to lease new space. We will be looking for space in a green building, but my question relates to the age and preferences of my workers. Ten of my employees have been with the firm for five years or more, and are between the ages of 34 and 49. The remaining eight are between the ages of 24 and 33, and have been employed for three years or less. I’m presuming that the majority, if not all, of the staff we anticipate hiring in 2014 and 2015 will also be in their twenties or early thirties.
So here’s my dilemma. My longer term and older employees prefer to work in their own private spaces, while the younger, new employees much prefer to work together in an open and collaborative space. How do I bridge these differences when fitting out my new space?
—Open Floor to Open Revolt?
Dear Open Floor:
You are correct, providing an acceptable work environment for your employees leads to greater productivity. But what to do when “acceptable” is defined differently by your staff?
Irrespective of what we call them, i.e. Echo Boomers, the Y Generation or Millennials, the preferences of the younger professionals differ significantly from the generations that preceded them, i.e. the Xers and Boomers.
As your letter suggests, the majority of the additional staff you plan to employ over the next two years are most likely to be in their twenties or early thirties. This younger age group has been exposed to working together in a collaborative way throughout their school years. Their preference for open work space makes it easier for them to test out theories or obtain responses to questions or dilemmas.
But what to do with your longer term employees? You obviously do not want to lose them, since you kept them on through the Great Recession. These employees are used to working in more private space. But you will want ongoing interaction between your seasoned and new employees.
While you will want to consult a professional designer with on-the-ground experience in designing 21st century office space, Ms. Real Estate would like to propose the following generalized solution.
What I recommend is that you create ten small private or semi-private (50 to 60 square feet) offices that are assigned to your existing employees, should they desire them. But the preponderance of the space should be open, with the inclusion of some smaller conferencing rooms and/or relaxing space for eating and informal communication. In order to see that older and new employees share their knowledge and experience, you might want to formalize up to a one-hour period each day in which the entire staff gets together to discuss case work and other office-related concerns. And then the longer term employees can retreat to their separate offices, should they wish to do so. If and when any of your longer term employees depart or no longer want their own private space, these offices can be made available on an ad hoc basis to those staff members seeking more privacy on a temporary basis to tackle a specific task.
But I would advise you, as head of the firm, to work in the open space along with your newer, younger employees. First, since it will permit you to know when they need assistance in their work, and perhaps of equal importance, to provide you with the opportunity to learn from the younger generation.