An Office Designed for the “Inner Millennials” of Its Multigenerational Employees

For the design of its new headquarters, a Massachusetts real estate developer wanted to tap into the “inner Millennials” of all its multigenerational employees.

Behind the reception desk, a metal staircase descends from the lobby into the “living room.” At the center of the room, a maple-topped table with height-adjustable stools is intended to be the heart of the office community.

Photos courtesy ©Jasper Sanidad/Elkus Manfredi Architects

As we round the midway point in the second decade of the new millennium, three different generations compete, collaborate, and clash in the workplace. The contrasting rhythms of Gen Y, Gen X, and Baby Boomers can trip up office designers attempting to help clients attract and retain new talent without alienating the old office guard.

“Cross-generational design is a theme in everything we do,” says Elizabeth Lowrey, principal and director of Interior Architecture at Elkus Manfredi Architects. “The people coming out of college and graduate school are thinking about places where they can collaborate. They’ve never experienced the need for a private office. That’s something a boomer may not understand.”

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Lowrey and her colleagues showcased their generation bridging at the recently completed headquarters for WS Development, a real estate developer in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. This spring, after 30 years in an office with standard cubicles, artificial lighting, and private offices, Lowrey’s long-term client moved into a new facility with high industrial ceilings, an open floor plan, abundant natural light, and multiple views onto the nearby pond and surrounding forest.

“Companies are coming to realize that space matters in the recruiting process,” says Lowrey, who began work on the new space in fall 2011. “Not because it’s pretty or interesting. But because it embodies what people need in order to be successful.”

The only private offices were made to be completely transparent.

WS Development now occupies two full floors, above a retail center the company manages. Among the signature features is a grand metal staircase incised with the company’s retail QR code. The heart of the office is the “living room,” a ground floor café and workspace. These and other elements feel natural to employees born during the Clinton administration, says Lowrey. They’re used to sharing space and ideas with colleagues. It’s a little different with the over-50 crowd, who sometimes need a little coddling until they grasp the benefits—and experience the fun—of shared space. There are still a few private offices at WS, but in a transparent, all-glass version.

“I think we’re all Millennials at heart,” says Lowrey, a boomer who regularly sits on the floor with her colleagues at team meetings. “We all want community. We all want variety. We all want to be excited about our environment. With WS, we took the time to listen to the employees’ expectations and needs. They become part of the process. So when they move in, it feels like it’s theirs.”

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