Designing Offices For An Aging Population

Many office designs you see online are created with Millennials and Generation Zs in mind. The use of diverse colours, open areas, and mixed office spaces are examples. Although they are great ideas (and make great photos), one must also consider designing an office space that is practical for all staff, from the young Gen Z employees to the aging population of workers. 

In a work setting, four generations occupy an office. They are Generation Z, Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers. The way you create an office with these types of people in mind would be beneficial in making a healthier and more productive environment. When thinking about your office, ask yourself if its designs are made with all your team in mind and what else you can improve to make it better. 

Why is age a factor in designing an office space?

What do you think of when you see aging workers? What value do they bring, and is the office designed to allow them to share this value?  For those who have spent decades in a company (or industry), think of the amount of experience and contributions they have made. Think of how their expertise makes them great mentors for new workers in the office, how well-connected they are to a lot of people in the firm (and outside the firm), and the amount of shared valuable perspectives they can provide from years on the job. 

Office designs made not only for the younger generations but also for our older workers who are often reliable, loyal, and committed to their job. Consider what would make them more motivated in the work and stay longer, providing significant additional benefits to the company (at a relatively nominal cost, especially when compared to finding, hiring, and training a new worker). 

For businesses to fully gain more from their employees, creating changes in the office environment to accommodate challenges they may experience is an excellent step toward reaching their productivity potential.

Office Space for an Aging Population

A healthy work environment must be a safe and appropriate space for all ages in the office. Keeping this In mind, here are things you should consider when designing an office space:

1. Proper Lighting

It is recommended to have spaces in the office that provide more natural light (light given off by the sun) than artificial lighting(electronic devices used for lighting). Not only does it provide a better ambiance of the work environment, but it also improves the health and wellness of employees. Having an office space with more natural lighting decreases the risks of eyestrain, headaches, and drowsiness. A healthy work environment must be a safe and appropriate space for all ages in the office. 

In addition, research has found that staff members aged 50 and above prefer reading print-out or hard copy documents instead of reading them on a computer. This is where task lighting comes into the picture. Task lighting helps provide increased light on specific tasks/items in a room (or on the desk) that already has ambient light. Desk lamps can benefit low light areas and help older staff see better in their workspace. Having your workers control the lighting in their areas can help them concentrate and meet their specific needs.

2. Acoustics 

Noise is an overall concern for workers as it can cause distraction on tasks they need to do. Make sure to separate areas in the office for peace and quiet, such as individual workspaces, and in noisy environments like meeting rooms, lounge areas, or corners where fax machines are located. Investing in carpeted floors, sound-absorbing panels, or modular screens can help reduce noise and echo in the office and provide concentrated areas for loud sounds not to disturb workers on their tasks.

In addition, having white noise software in your office can help alter background noise to a more relaxing sound and overall ambiance of the space.

3. Ergonomics 

Ergonomics is another crucial factor in designing office spaces for the aging population. Workplace hazards are one of the things you need to take into consideration. Possible slips and falls and other accidents may occur in the office that may be caused by human behaviour, equipment, and even furniture. This, if not taken care of, may cause numerous complaints from employees and lead to a dangerous working environment.

Common office complaints are back, neck, and shoulder aches due to prolonged sitting or having an uncomfortable chair. With ergonomic chairs and height adjustable desks in the office, these complaints can be reduced and provide comfort and productivity in the working environment. 

Another part of ergonomics is ensuring the safety of workers in the office. This includes preventing possible slips and falls that can be caused by wires that are just located on the ground. Having cable organizers to secure wires from machinery and computers in workrooms is recommended that one should have in their space.

4. Shelving

This factor is often overlooked when it comes to designing your office, but proper shelving is essential for engendering organization and safety. Some shelves reach above head height and may require you to stand on your tiptoes (we are not all 6 feet tall!) to get that file you need. If your company does have shelves that high, a sturdy step stool can allow for easier access.  

Other shelves may be situated too low (think of the lowest shelf at ground height), especially with older workers who tend to have lower back pains who have a hard time bending and lifting items off of low shelves.  These can cause potential harm in the work environment, increase the risks of trips and falls, being hit by an object reached from the shelves, and even cause musculoskeletal disorders

Use the ‘Goldilocks’ rule here; try to  install shelves at a safe height that is not too high nor too low for everyone’s reach. If you have freestanding shelving, secure it to a wall to prevent it from toppling over. It is also advised to label shelves and place the heavier items in an area that minimizes the struggles of manual handling. It could be between the knee and knuckle height.

5. Technology and Software

 As businesses transition to a more technologically based environment, it is critical that all workers have easy access to computers and technology. Think about incorporating technological tools and software for simple task management and practical functionality.

One workplace system that offices can use is hot-desking. This software allows you to create activity-based and flexible workspaces throughout the office. In current work practices, where employees may work from home and some days are required to work on-site, hot-desk or hot-booking software helps your employees reserve their work areas depending on the days they need to be in the office.

It may not be easy to keep up with technology, with innovations created almost daily. To ensure that employees can adapt without confusion, using a single application or software where you can send e-mails, create documents and presentations, and store files are recommended.

If one-on-one training showing how to use these applications may be taxing, having software that has easy-to-follow tutorials can help  employees navigate the training effectively and efficiently.

Final Words

Designing offices isn’t only about how good they look visually. One must consider the people working on-site and how to create a safe workspace for them. Knowing proper ergonomics, noise and sound, and software for work can significantly improve work quality. Just as employee diversity makes for a stronger team, designing a diverse office space that meets the needs of the young and the aging workforce makes for a more effective office.