With a substantial portion of Gen Zers beginning to enter the workforce alongside ongoing reports of critical skills shortages impacting the UK, business leaders are seeking to better understand the unique attributes and drivers of Gen Z in order to effectively engage and cater to their needs. In response, employers have adapted job role specifications, engaged more actively in social media, created employer value propositions and shifted recruitment strategies to better attract, engage and retain the brightest young talent. However, one factor that is often overlooked by employers is the impact that the physical office space can have.

Hybrid is here to stay

At face value, it is natural to assume that working from home would suit Gen Z as they are technologically dependent and savvy, but this is not always the case. While Gen Z can easily adapt to the digital working world, our research, Generation Z and the lure of the office, strongly indicates that they rely heavily on the professional and social structure of the office, with 78% finding it easier to bond with colleagues in the workplace and 81% feeling disconnected from their peers when working from home.

Before the pandemic, 69% of the 18-34-year-olds we surveyed were entirely office-based, with 29% taking a hybrid approach to work. Today, these habits have almost completely reversed with 22% now based in the office full-time and 66% working between the home and office. As we have seen, Gen Z workers clearly rate the benefits of 'live' face-to-face interactions, however, relatively few want to be in the office more than three days a week, which suggests that some form of hybrid working is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Therefore, it's a good idea for business leaders to consider how their workplace will best flex to accommodate this.

Google London HQ
Google offices have been hailed as modern examples of work spaces that attract the younger generation. Google

Switching up the office

In our view, the traditional office set up – exclusively filled with rows of sitting desks or partitioned booths – is a thing of the past. If your workspace hopes to support the needs and desires of the Gen Z workforce alongside hybrid working models, then your offices need to be flexible.

As we've seen, the impact that a physical office space has on those who spend time in it should not be underestimated. People still care about their workplace, however, there is certainly room for improvement, particularly when considering Gen Z. After being asked how they felt about their current office space just 11% of those aged 18-34 said they were happy with the office the way it is, representing the lowest levels of satisfaction when compared to other age groups. In actuality, among those aged over 45, satisfaction levels were double that of their younger counterparts, with 22% reporting they were happy with their workplace.

When asked what should be improved, one in five younger workers said the office should have more open, collaborative spaces, 19% said the office could have more room for social gatherings and 22% said their workplace could have more outside spaces. There is an unquestionably huge opportunity here for employers to rethink how their offices are designed if they are to boost not only levels of satisfaction, morale, and efficiency among their teams, but also enable talent attraction in an already difficult hiring landscape.

Other factors which are likely to encourage younger staff back into the office more regularly include access to training and development opportunities, which were cited as critical by 80% of this group of respondents. This is further evidenced by data from Roffey Park which found that a lack of job security is a top concern for Gen Z at the moment. The same percentage of our respondents said they would be happier to return to the workplace if they knew their team was going to be in the office, underlining the importance of face time for those in the earlier stages of their careers.

The destination workplace

The concept of an office as a 'destination' rather than simply somewhere that work gets done certainly predates Covid, with ping-pong tables and subsidised canteens featuring in offices long before the pandemic. However, at a time when the world of work has been disrupted so significantly, ensuring that office space is attractive, functional, and fun has never been more important. A destination workplace not only has the potential to make workforces more contented and productive: it can also act as a powerful recruitment tool. Our work with Deliveroo is a great example of this, taking cues from Deliveroo's branding and company values, we created an office space with a fun but considered environment, featuring a central 'rooball pitch' (a Deliveroo-branded basketball pitch with a range of seating areas) where their workforce can not only have fun, but also hold team events and dynamic meetings.

Our research further reinforces the growing importance of 'destination' workplaces, revealing that younger workers are already more likely to choose employers which offer office spaces with enhanced amenities. In fact, 40% of those we surveyed reported that their workplace offered access to a fitness studio, 39% said their office has a games area, 48% have a wellbeing space and 42% said they had access to hospitality such as a free bar.

It can be easy to assume that Gen Z talent is content, or even excited, to live and work in an entirely virtual world. However, while younger workers generally have access to technology and the digital skills to work remotely long-term, our research strongly indicates that this group values the structure, socialisation, and support that a physical office provides more than their older counterparts. By 2025, Gen Z will comprise one-third of the population and 27% of the workforce. Those businesses that are able to make improvements to the workplace in response to their needs, will be the ones able to not only engage and retain their best people, but also attract new staff in our current talent-short economy.

(Lawrence Mohiuddine is the CEO, EMEA, of global workplace creation expert Unispace.)