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  • Writer's picture Dr. Mike O'Neill

Emerging generations and the long-term need to reduce work stress through workplace design

When we consider the future of workplace design, we need to take longer view. And by this, we mean beyond three to five years. Here is why.

Today’s children from 8 to 17 years old have been extremely hard hit in by the pandemic in multiple ways, stress from social isolation, family dynamics, lack of routine from home schooling, anxiety. The hit is even bigger for children who have learning disabilities or other cognitive challenges or are from families who face economic hardship.

Stress is the underlying, pernicious enemy of a sustainable workforce, undermining physical and mental health, performance, and engagement. The big question is what will be the long-term effects of this stressful experience on this generation – Generation Z and Alpha? And what will it mean for workplace design and their work experience five to ten years from now?

Ten years seems so far away that it is not worth considering. But we feel it is important to think about. We want to share some initial ideas.

The good news is that the world of workplace design is shifting to a people-centered approach in which well-being is at the center of the equation. Many organizations are already exploring and implementing workplace experience strategies and technologies designed to promote resilience in the returning workforce population.

We need to treat these new people-centered workplaces as learning experiences so that in the years ahead we can fine-tune the workplace, including hybrid office models, to provide settings that enhance resilience to stress. Some strategies to consider, that we believe will also be important in the long term include:

  • Figuring ways of promoting social cohesion through design of group spaces. At the office, spaces that encourage social cohesion over time, can make people more resilient to work events that can trigger stress. Everyone needs their “posse.” And how do we implement technology in group spaces that promotes social cohesion and an equal experience and treatment for remote or virtual team members? Reinforcing this, a 2021 Microsoft study found that 2/3 of employees want more in-person work or collaboration when they return to work.

  • Can we develop a workplace layout that promotes (along with job design, organizational culture, and management practices) a sense of purpose? Having a sense of purpose is an emerging strategy for helping stressed children today. We believe it is important today and will increase in importance for the future workforce. Perhaps this space and technology help employees display their ongoing work products for feedback and alignment with broader organizational goals?

  • Designing workplace for foster inclusion is another opportunity for the near term and long-term workplace. As we have said before, a legible space design is one that “speaks” a common language to all occupants, helping make everyone comfortable at the office, and making it easy to find and leverage work resources (people, technology, etc.). Indirectly, legible space can also help combat the very real dangers of social isolation by better including everyone at work, and improving retention and engagement.

  • Developing workplace strategies that protect cognitive performance by improving indoor air quality (IAQ). IAQ is strongly linked to better health and performance at work. This goes beyond reducing risk of airborne virus transmission – polluted indoor air negatively impacts cognition, task performance and health in all workers – especially those with pre-existing respiratory conditions.

As we continue our mission of using IoT, analytics and insights to promote equity of well-being, we invite you to come along on our journey. We do not have all the answers, but it seems as if we all work together and share what we learn, we can make work life better for many people in the future.


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