Workforce, Workplace, Work Modes: The Evolving Office Environment

Presented by: Lindsey Baker and Dr. Marlo Ransdell  

Today, with three generations – Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials – working side by side within the workforce, differences, miscommunications, and every day annoyances take place (Glass, 2007).  These three generations, each shaped by different life experiences and defining moments in history, share an office environment and bring different expectations as well as distinct approaches to work and communication (Lee Hecht Harrison, 2007). This study considers the impact of the built environment on different generations, the effectiveness of employees’ interactions, and communications.

As the oldest generation in the workplace, Baby Boomers expect to work at least part time in their retirement years. Their eventual retirement will inflict the largest brain drain ever experienced by corporate America (Lee Hecht Harrison, 2007). This brain drain, also called the human capital flight, will result in corporations losing valuable technical skills and knowledge. The next generations are smaller in size, have limited professional experience, and organizational knowledge and transferring the knowledge that will be needed for future business success must be a priority (Gordon, 2007). Researching each generation and today’s office environment provides a framework for discussing the current workforce and evolving workplace as well as pursuing practices that will leverage both collective and personal knowledge within the organization as well as the best qualities of each generation. 

This study will present a prototype office design for the multigenerational workforce that may aid in intergenerational knowledge transfer. The principal investigator conducted behavioral mapping through visual observations in a local professional services office. Behavioral mapping “seeks to identify the uses of space as a factor in ongoing behavior” by recording the activity that is taking place and the location of the activity (Ittelson et al., 1974, p. 232). These observations focused on the interactions between members of different generations. The activities observed were categorized into observational groups reflecting the demonstrated behaviors. The categories are based on Gensler’s four work modes – focus, collaborate, learn, and socialize. 

Focus group interviews of each generation followed the observations to uncover common themes within each work mode. Work mode locations and responses to the built environment were compared to assess the qualitative aspects of the workforce’s behaviors, interactions, and utilization of workspace among employees. The results of this data underscore the importance of intergenerational knowledge transfer and the integration of the multigenerational workforce’s needs and preferences when formulating criteria for designing an office space. This research study disseminates the collected qualitative data through applied design options and solutions for each of the four work modes.

This study applied information from a review of the literature, the application of observational studies, and valuable insight from focus group interviews to develop a prototype workplace design that placed the need for transferring knowledge between employees as ideal. With the emphasis of this study about the members of the multigenerational workforce and the workplace, it is essential to understand the needs of the generations and implementing a workplace design that aids in intergenerational relationships, communication, and collaboration.


  • Gensler (2013). 2013 U.S. workplace survey: Key findings. Gensler, 1-26.
  • Glass, A. (2007). Understanding generational differences for competitive success. Industrial and Commercial Training, 39(2), 98-103. Doi:10.1108/00197850710732424
  • Gordon, E. E. (2007). Retiring retirement: Mastering the workforce generation gap. Benefits & Compensation Digest, 44(7), 17-20.
  • Hecht Harrison (2007). Managing today's multigenerational workforce. Lee Hecht Harrison 1-15.
  • Ittelson, W.H., Rivlin, L.G., & Proshansky, H.M. (1970). The use of behavioral maps in environmental psychology. In Proshansky, H.M., Ittelson, W.H., & Rivlin, L.G. (Eds.), Environmental psychology: Man and his physical setting. (pp. 658-668). New York: Holt, Reinhart and Winston, Inc.
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