This Sunday, I’m moderating a panel at the Healthcare Design conference about some of the generational issues facing healthcare organizations from both a patient and workplace perspective. Here’s a few pre-panel thoughts on some of the issues healthcare providers face when it comes to creating a workplace designed for a multi-generational workforce.
For the first time in U.S. history, there are four generations coexisting in the workplace—the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y (Generation Z, those born in the mid-’90s to early ‘00s, is right around the corner). Each of these generations bring different expectations when it comes to employee engagement, motivation and general work practices. This diversity calls into question the manner in which care is delivered and the way health professionals work together, while a shortage of healthcare workers underscores the importance of recruiting and retaining the best healthcare talent.
Much has been written about the “generational gap” and the differences between generations when it comes to values and beliefs, but there aren’t vast bodies of research focused on designing spaces that satisfy cross-generational needs. Why? Because much like there is no one managerial style for a multigenerational workforce, there is no one way to design a multigenerational workplace. Research shows that there are evidence-based design strategies that span generations when it comes to employee wellbeing (e.g. access to nature, natural light, areas for respite and relaxation, etc.), but when you’re talking about designing spaces to encourage multiple generations to work seamlessly and collaboratively together in one space, the strategies aren’t always as cut and dry.
Based on my experience, the key to designing for a diverse workforce is to design spaces that respect the inherent value each generation brings to the workplace. To do that, it’s important to provide choice by offering a variety of workspaces that can flex and adapt based on workstyles. Although there are four main types of work—concentration, collaboration, socialization and education—each generation carries out that work somewhat differently. Providing agile environments made of unique groupings of workstations, informal meeting areas, conference rooms, social hubs and private enclaves enable all employees to do their work in a space that is best suited to their individual preference.
As an example, CannonDesign designed the back-of-house workspaces at the University of Minnesota’s new ambulatory care center to be completely agile and reconfigurable. There are actually no private provider offices in the building—research shows that these offices remain unoccupied 90% of the time and take up 30 to 40% of a facility’s real estate. Instead, we designed a communal collaboration space filled with a variety of flexible, modular furniture options, and workspaces that can be reconfigured based on the work that needs to get done. Beyond being able to cater to multiple generations, this space harnesses the power of an interprofessional approach to care—fully leveraging the collective knowledge of the entire multidisciplinary care team.
To ensure this collaborative space actually encouraged collaboration across professions and generations, we created a fully finished mock-up of the space so that users could simulate typical activities and explore possible furniture configurations. User feedback revealed preferences for privacy screens, adjustable-height desks, task lighting, and virtual collaboration tools. The simulation exercise also revealed that to fully realize the potential gains of the collaboration spaces, ongoing transition planning will assist users to work in new ways.
Designing agile work environments is just one of the many ways healthcare facilities can be designed to address generational issues in today’s workforce. Join me and a panel of experts this Sunday to learn more.