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Panel Event: Generations in Conversations

Author HLW Staff

Tags Event, Insight

Six individuals lead a panel discussion at the Belkin El Segundo workplace. The interior space is brightly lit with warm wood accents and biophilic elements like robust plantings.

Within the last five years, the American workplace has drastically shifted away from the old status quo. In 2019, most new hires of prime age workers (25-54) were people of color. In 2020, with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of professionals quickly fled offices and pivoted relatively successfully to working from home indefinitely. And by 2025, more than half of the workplace will be comprised of Millennial and Gen Z employees, with the latter making up 27% of the workforce.

So, how do we make sense of all this change and how do we make sure that things don’t stagnate? That was the question on everyone’s minds at Generations in Conversation, a panel with members of Ark, HLW, Belkin, and JLL. The event was hosted on September 21st at Belkin’s HLW-designed HQ in El Segundo, California.

The goal of the evening was to have a multigenerational conversation about the moment of opportunity we are in. The moderator and senior design strategist Sharon Leung framed the evening in an optimistic light. The workplace is changing, and these past 3 years were a collective experience as much as they were personal. The pandemic gave us the opportunity to show how adaptable we can be to change when we quickly deconstructed the work from the office model to working from home. Policies now are becoming abrupt…what happens to what we’ve learned about emotional and mental wellbeing, prioritizing time for ourselves and family? We have the chance to change the trajectory of how we work.

The event was interactive, the host Kristina Michelsen and Sharon Leung encouraged audience participation throughout the discussion. The evening started with a live polling activity, asking the audience questions like “What are the stereotypes of your generation?” and “How can we rebrand hybrid work?”. From there, the panel covered topics around people, space, and technology.

Starting with people, Belkin’s Global RE Director Barry Knudson proposed a new metric for judging the success of a hybrid work model: employee engagement, rather than in-office attendance. To support his point, he referenced a recent survey Belkin sent out to its employees, asking them to respond to questions about workplace and company culture satisfaction. The thinking went: The degree to which people respond to this survey will demonstrate how actively engaged and excited they are to comment on their employers/facilities. In 2023, Belkin had an 82.5% (807 respondents) in comparison with a 62% response rate in 2020 and 49% in 2019.

Kerin Van Andel of JLL highlighted the need for clear boundaries in the workplace to empower employee engagement with flexible designs. Employees often hesitate to use spaces like casual seating or working in the office cafe, fearing it may appear unproductive. Clear guidelines can mitigate this, promoting a collaborative and innovative environment. “Creating those guardrails are important so that employees know what the limits are,” she explained. Additionally, HLW’s DEI Director Anjali Mathai spoke about role modeling, detailing how a company’s leadership needs to demonstrate and encourage behaviors that they want to see their employees perform so that everyone else can see it as allowed. “Nonverbal permission is just as impactful as verbal permission,” Mathai said.

Moving onto space, HLW Principal Louise Sharp explained how to design for diverse needs, including neurodivergence. “We now know that everyone collaborates differently. Some people can collaborate in an open table, some prefer an enclosed room.  We need to provide options that are equitable and sensitive to everyone,” Sharp explained. Sara Messina, a consultant and the only Gen Z panelist, identified psychological safety as one of the main priorities for her and her colleagues. Having inclusive dress codes, spaces to decompress without judgment, and gender-neutral bathrooms should be a given in the 21st century workplace. “Just because someone is assigned male at birth, they should be able to wear a skirt if they choose,” Messina said. “That should be normalized.”

All in all, it was a stimulating and engaging evening. It was especially gratifying for the HLW attendees to be able to host guests in a space that the firm designed. A big thanks to all of the panelists for bringing their valued insights to this complex question, and to those in attendance for participating in the evening’s discussion.  We hope to host more conversations like this in the near future, continuing the momentum to redefine the workplace.

Tangram & HLW

Kerin Van Andel – West Coast Workplace Strategy Lead, JLL
Anjali Mathai – DEI Director, HLW
Louise Sharp – Principal, HLW
Barry Knudson – Global RE Director, Belkin
Sara Messina – Consultant, Global Consulting Firm

Sharon Leung – Associate, Sr Design Strategist, Ark/HLW

Kristina Michelsen – Associate, Interior Designer, HLW