The future of the Millennial workspace has finally hit its apex: from bringing our home to the office and the new extremes of socializing in the workplace to Holacracy (a new, flat framework for management), we Millennials are defining our new work style. Each of these emerging trends is emblematic of the pure sense of freedom and chaos Millennials need in order to succeed in the workplace.
In looking at how Millennials interact with each other at work, five key trends emerge that support a potential societal shift in the way companies can be built and managed in the future. We can look at these trends to help us understand how to create a workplace that meets the needs of Millennials; they also provide a roadmap to access your own future workplace.
If you have to build a new office, you will hear the most influential designers and cultural anthropologists preaching about an open workplace. Where cubicles once dominated the landscape, a new school of thought believes that walls destroy collaboration and creativity. But ripping down the walls isn’t the main reason Millennials are sitting around a Valhalla-like shared table. The open space naturally leads to the leveling of power in a workplace. By putting Millennials at a workbench on the same footing as their co-workers, and in many cases their boss, Millennials are drawn to the flame of equality and power distribution that an open workspace brings.
As to productivity, it can be nearly impossible to work with all the noise and chatter in an open space. When you bring down the walls, you increase the pressure to talk to your neighbors—not always a good thing, because it can be a time-consuming distraction.
This is why headphones have become the new office doors. You will often see whole groups of worker bees silently plugging away. But don\’t be deceived. The chatter is hidden in the new communication tools that we Millennials use to help keep a company on track. We’re talking all the time—you just can\’t hear us. Chat, text, messaging, traditional email (rarely), snapchat, apps, hangout, iChat—trust me, we are noisy online, and not just with our friends, but with our colleagues as well.
Designing a Workplace That Looks Like Home
While working from home is no new phenomenon, workplaces that mirror the comforts of home are starting to emerge, making the Millennial employee more comfortable. Contract furniture companies like Haworth and Vitra have recently introduced workplace lines that bring home to the office— residential fabrics and textiles, makeshift IKEA-esque first apartment furniture that takes the idea of furniture hacking from home to work. As the work/life balance continues to blur for us, Millennials will want to interact with their workplace in a way that doesn’t resemble the traditional office. Offices will offer living rooms. Private nooks. Our co-workers are often our social partners. Don’t be surprised if you see a couple cannoodling on the weekend in a Scandinavian inspired living room… at work.
A New Socialization: Dating and Clubs at Work
Which leads me to another major shift. As Millennials take more and more of home with them into the office, it isn’t surprising to see more social organizations crop up in the workplace. Dating in the office is nothing new; but having your co-workers comprising your main dating pool is. If you’re going to live in your office, you’re going to date in it, and the traditional barriers between social courtesy and professional obligation weave into each other in a hurry. With dating, you need events—and this is where clubs come in. From running clubs and pizza clubs to astronomy clubs and crafts clubs, specialized interests are becoming beacons of socialization for Millennials to cluster around and find solace. Our workplaces are increasingly going to become the hub of all our most important activities.
Slack = Death of Email
A new crop of communication tools is trying to re-center one of the pesky problems facing many organizations: death by email. Slack is one such innovation that is making waves in the way companies communicate, applying a level of transparency that is reordering how information is prioritized and processed. Slack creates chat groups or channels that individual people or teams can join. Slack can plug in directly to your company’s web products’ application program interfaces (APIs), pull important key performance indicators (KPIs) happening in real time, and dump that information directly into the hands of the business teams who need it. In other words, it integrates with all your business’s software platforms and aggregates important notifications (Twitter, online search) and business information into feeds.
Ecommerce is a prime example of how Slack works. Using Slack, different retail divisions can get instant notifications centered around sales and other key moments. These notifications become the center of the online conversation, supplemented with key files and action items communicated transparently on a team level, helping deal with the chaos and unpredictability of the online retail business. It also taps into the Millennial need to know everything that is going on. Employees are encouraged to join channels that interest them, and let workers spy on other business teams comings and going, hopefully keeping everyone informed and on the same page. Private groups and direct messages let co-worker clicks replace the proverbial water cooler with interest groups they have in common. Slack is the first step to a future where, maybe, no emails are sent at all.
Holacracy– The Personification of the Ideal Millennial Workplace
Holacracy is a new management framework aimed at disrupting the ancient operational model of managerial command-and-control hierarchy. In fact, philosophically it does away with managers as a whole. Instead Holacracy focuses on self-organization, grouping people based on skill sets and then clustering these groups around core functions and projects that the company needs to get done. This is the Millennial dream: as long as you have skills and knowledge, you can argue and fight for the way you think things should be done. And if you get bored of your cluster, you can belong to more than one, and multitask among the groups.
Holacracy was created in 2007 by Brian Robertson, a 35-year-old former programmer because he was quoted that he had a sense that there had to be a better way to work together. Holacracy is a comprehensive practice for structuring, governing and running an organization. It replaces today\’s topdown, command-and-control paradigm with a new way of achieving control by distributing power. Borrowing from the tenets of agile software development, Holacracy is ingrained in avoiding the worst mistake your company can make: committing resources to the wrong thing.
By creating an arena of debate, skillful employees can group around projects as equals, proposing ideas until a consensus has been reached. It also prides itself on bringing employees that are closest to the issue, the ground troops, into a position of being able to influence policy and strategy. While this sounds like it could be a little chaotic to organize everyone’s activities and coordinate time management, a new crop of software products enables Holacracy—another integral disruption of the communication stack typical of traditional office environments.
Already practiced by retail titan Zappos and media publishing website Medium, Holacracy is the apex in emerging workplace models for Millennials. We’re a demographic group that often wants to be calling the shots, but is also ready to be ultimately accountable; Holacracy fulfills our desire to be important and impactful on both project and company levels.
To be fair, outside my Millennial optimism, Holacracy isn’t getting such a great rap – especially at Zappo’s. The amount of pressure and shift in their culture required to make this model a home run is so taxing. It\’s really no surprise that lot of people at Zappo\’s are ready for the experiment to be over. The entire Holacracy genesis is really steeped in start-up culture. The opportunity, or opportunism—depending on your vantage point—is to be able to groom a cheap, young labor force from the ground up with a different model. This is the only prayer that Holacracy could work at scale.
What Does This All Mean?
Holacracy appeals to Millennials who want frequent change in their roles within a company. This is because we know the career path to the top is a long one—because older people aren’t leaving, or if we’re entrepreneurs, our bosses are the same age we are. We want to continue to grow and be challenged. If we’re trapped in the same position for more than two years with no path forward, we’re going to leave. We want mentors, personal/professional growth and a clear path leading to career advancement.
The physical workplace environment is also in a shifting sands type of transition. Since we have to spend so much time at the office, we want to be comfortable there (so you can keep us there even longer). Our social lives and professional lives are intertwined. The taboo of dating at the office is off the table. We view our workplace as our community. So, if you want happier and even more productive Millennial employees, sit down at the table with us. Trust that we are communicating all the time (albeit it silently). Invest in advanced software communications programs to facilitate our style, and provide us with a homelike workplace. We will give much more than we take.