Gen Xers are known for questioning authority—and as they steadily infiltrate the C-suite, they’re living up to the reputation by rewriting the rules for corporate headquarters.
While Millennials have been getting all the attention for transforming the workplace simply by joining it, the MTV generation has been coolly and quietly transforming it from the inside out, from where headquarters are located, to how they’re being designed.
Why does it matter how old the CEO is? Unlike the Boomers (1946-1964), the generation responsible for conventional models of corporate authority, Generation X (born between 1965-1984, according to the Harvard Center) is known for its more entrepreneurial approach to work, and a passion for work/balance.
“The Baby Boomers—and I count myself among their ranks—brought us a tradition of angular, perimeter offices, usually located in suburban markets,” says Steve Stratton, International Director, Co-Chair for the Headquarters Practice Group at JLL. “After all, our generation is known for our all-work-no play attitude, and the conviction that hours worked equals professional advancement. Corner offices were generally considered one of the clearest markers of that advancement.”
But as he points out, Gen Xers see things differently.
What happens when Gen Xers take the reins
Generally more autonomous, Gen Xers are independent thinkers who grew up learning to be skeptical of old ways—and corporate real estate decisions.
“My Gen X colleagues have opened my eyes to an entirely new work ethic: the idea that one can advance their career while pushing for genuine work-life balance,” he says. “They not only approach work differently, but also look at where they want to work differently. Where my generation was lured by visions of corner offices and personal parking spots, Xers are more motivated by locations that will allow them to work in more productive ways.”
These generational differences are fueling all-new office designs, such as activity-based workplaces that will help carry organizations into the future of work, and designs that favor casual collisions over boxy offices. Plus, to aid a work-life balance, the GenX CEO knows they need to ensure their organizations are run efficiently and productively—and that means inspiring talent of all generations.
They also know that to get the business results they want they need to go where the talent is. With Millennials, who make up increasingly large proportions of the workforce, basing themselves in the cities, it makes sense to move headquarters back into urban centers.
“In Chicago, for example, we’re seeing the generational shift play out very clearly in corporate headquarter relocations,” says Stratton. “Decades ago, most of the area’s Fortune 500 CEOs moved company operations out to the suburbs. But since 2008 alone, the downtown area has attracted 32 headquarter relocations. Those organizations’ CEOs had an average age of 52.”
New players, new questions
The commercial office market is shifting seismically, too, as developers and landlords work to accommodate the multi-generational interest in working in positive, collaborative environments. Innovative work spaces, such as coffee lounges, internal co-working areas, war rooms and incubator spaces are popping up to accommodate workers’ desire to come together.
Of course all these generations won’t be won over by the same thing but creating flexible spaces where individual needs are met by a wide variety of choices is key to productive modern workplaces.
“Find out how your employees communicate—deskside chats for Boomers versus virtual chats for Millennials, for example—and try test fits,” says Stratton. “Space will create greater value than the sum of its parts if it allows for daily spontaneous encounters where people informally chat and share information and ideas.”
Although there’s no one-size fits all approach for success, thinking outside of the box and not being afraid to do things a little differently – which Gen Xers do very well – go a long way in creating spaces where workers of all ages enjoy spending time. “Generational archetypes are the foundation to help set strategy and frame your thinking, but the key is to communicate clearly with your own real-live team members about the future of your workplace and headquarters strategy,” says Stratton.
Increasingly, in this age of rampant innovation and technological advances, professionals across every generation are benefiting from GenX’s insistence on questioning authority—especially now as they assume it.