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Published: 9th of Sep 2009 by: Debbie Engelbrecht

The changing face of office buildings

If you, like me, have been around for a while, you have seen the emergence of a new workplace over the last twenty years. Well ladies and gentleman, fasten your seat belts, the ride is only just be

During the1960's and 70's it was common to have fully functional office buildings and workplaces where plastic bucket chairs or wooden benches sufficed for visitors and office staff alike. The walls were painted a shade of white or beige and the pictures on the wall, if there were any, would be newspaper photographs or maps. The smell and texture of the office would be the same, dusty. Occasionally a window would be forced open and the pigeon droppings washed off. Buildings were drab, artificially lit and took their role of being concrete structures very seriously. Somber and dreary also spring to mind.

These buildings were mostly occupied by traditionalists and the very first of the working baby boomers. In South Africa, this is pretty much those of us born pre 1970. These are two generations of people who put their emphasis on security, stability, paying their dues and hard work. More accurately the traditionalists (pre 1950) did and towards the late 1970's the flashier, more stylish and competitive baby boomers started having their say. Buildings took on auras of wealth, offices were carpeted and an occasional bit of colour creeped into the interior of the buildings. Exteriors were being designed with imposing sculptures leading to large open spaced foyers with or without a water fountain to impress.

The corner office and the impression of affluence started playing a role, hence the exterior of buildings included some steel and glass, they got higher and the cubicle of the worker got sleeker. For some of those, lucky enough to escape the cubicles at lunch time, canteen type facilities were provided, but mostly a baby boomer (1950-1970) would run downstairs to the sandwich café at lunch time and return to eat at their desks. The buildings themselves took their role of being a place of work, reflecting and flaunting the successes of the investors and tenants quite seriously. Definitely tall and proud with imposing entrances, but one cannot help feeling still slightly artificial and drab behind the glitzy mirror lined entrance.

Toward the late 80's and the 90's a 3rd generation entered our workplace. Generation X. They came in with an attitude, they are risk takers and individualistic, they saw their parents swallowed up and spat out by the system and the corner office at the end of a dreary passage just does not hold the same appeal to them. They like comfort and reward, they like it pretty quickly and they quite frankly work mostly to finance their leisure time. Buildings were being remodeled to include canteen and leisure facilities on site, we saw the first foosball tables enter the workplace, large internal common rooms house televisions and couches, microwaves and popcorn machines.

Landlords were coerced into doing these alterations, alternatively lease agreements were changed to allow the tenant to make some serious changes. Newer, low rise buildings were built with the emphasis on leisure type infrastructure and provision of communication cables and built in workstations. All in an effort to retain the talent of the active notebook carrying, Generation X whiz kid.

Buildings stopped taking themselves too seriously and are definitely more welcoming. This is reflected in the rounded corners, curved lines and playful rays of natural light. Also in the fact that they cluster around each other, with an occasional external garden and bench to bring in the environment.

But as technology improves our generational changes are happening a bit quicker and today in 2009, the first of the Generation Y workers have entered the formal workforce. Landlords and investors sit up and take note, the demands are once again changing. Our youngest working generation have different priorities once again and they will come into the workplace with certain demands.

They will demand balance, honesty and transparency. They will expect to be paid not according to age or title, but according to output and that payment will not necessarily be in the form of rands and cents. They will be happy to be paid in kind, in time or in infrastructure. These are the motivational factors that will keep them working for an organization. The office building will have to adapt once again.

Frankly Generation Y workers will expect crèches and after care facilities, they will expect to be able to sleep over at the office quite safely, they will also expect to have a hammock outside to soak up the sun and a gym and clinic on site as they are more health conscious. Time will be of the essence to them and they would want to pick up a healthy pre-ordered meal on their way out the door. The fusion of workplace and home will be demanded in an effort to improve quality of life. Their mission is to make the world a better place for all, they are a tolerant and caring bunch with honesty, balance, family values and taking care of our environment being uppermost in their minds.

Thus for those who are investing and developing now, a heads-up. Think green, think renewable energy, think balance and family structures. If your buildings reflect this thinking, your tenants are guaranteed…until the next generation of course.

© Debbie Engelbrecht September 2009

Debbie is the founding member of Staff Training a soft skills training company that specializes in communication and management training workshops. For more information

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