We look at how changing demographics are in-turn leading to changes in the way we design offices.

I know it’s a totally non-PC thing to say, but it does seem to happen that way. And it seems those beige men and cauliflower heads, as my younger brother used to innocently call them, will become a more common sight in the workplace over the next 30 years.

The work demographic is changing as the workforce ages. It’s calculated that by 2050 approximately just under a third of the workforce in the UK will be over the age of 60. Now, apart from the potential dissatisfaction with their lot that this situation could cause, it will have a massive impact on the design of the workplace.

It will be possible to find a difference of sixty years in the ages of employees working in the same space, and this will force designers and employers to review their preconceptions of what constitutes an appropriate work environment.

The first point to understand is why this situation has arisen. The ‘baby boomers’ i.e. those born between the mid 1940s to the early sixties will not be able to retire in the manner they would have hoped for and will need to continue to work.

And it’s important to consider the way this more mature workforce will wish to continue working. Not all individuals will want to commute and work full-time. So it’s anticipated that work methods will become even more flexible and mobile, with workers dividing their time between the office and home. It’s also thought that larger corporations will generate a pool of known and trusted experts who they will call upon when needed.

Turn it up, turn it down, turn it off

But what of the workplace and the new demands placed upon it by the older worker? It’s well documented that the more mature amongst us are more acutely affected by extremes in temperature, are more sensitive to lighting levels, and are more affected by noise levels.

This in itself is going to have to be a focus for attention for workspace design teams. Older workers are also far more concerned about health, wellbeing and their work life balance. The ability to work in a flexible way will be a major element in making a workplace choice. And the comfort and quality of their surroundings and the equipment they use will be of far greater concern to them than it will be to their younger colleagues.

The benefits of continued mental stimulation are well known although the physical demands of full-time employment within the modern workspace for older workers are far less considered. But we can safely say that the provision of a one solution fits all scenario will no longer be enough.

The general work populous has benefited from the workspace opening up. However, this could potentially adversely affect the wellbeing and ultimately the output of the greying workforce. Flexibility and control will be the key. Workers will require access to a multitude of various work environments, some of which give them individual control of temperature and lighting.

It’s not that this experienced group of older employees will be any more demanding or temperamental but they will have a slightly different set of requirements. The beige men and cauliflower heads will become an ever-important resource and one on which UK businesses will become ever more reliant.

Their experience and knowledge mean that they cannot, should not, and most definitely will not be ignored and so their needs and desires will have to be catered for.

This will mean taking a whole new look at what constitutes an acceptable workplace and even reconsidering whether some of the current trends and accepted beneficial interior design practices are, in fact, going to cause problems for a third of the workforce in the future.