That’s Not How Millennials Work


It seems like we’ve gotten Millennials all wrong.

For one, they were expected to be a generation of entrepreneurs — but in this economic tumult, they’ve traded in “meaningful work” for a 9-to-5 desk job and a steady (or as steady as possible) paycheck. That’s according to a joint study by Millennial Branding, a research firm focused on Generation Y behaviors, and Randstad, the country’s third-largest human resources and staffing firm. What they found in the study of 1,000 individuals across 10 countries is that Millennials are leaning toward stability in their personal and professional lives over creativity.

Where we thought Millennials would revolutionize the way people operate, it turns out that the moves they make in life have largely been far less of a radical departure from previous generations. The way they choose to work is no different — and the commercial real estate sector should take notice.

Coldwell Banker Commercial Affiliates recently surveyed the working habits and preferences of Millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers, and they found that Millennials are far more open to different working arrangements, some of which might have seemed pass.

Where Millennials Want to Work

  • Commuting: Perhaps most surprising is that Millennials are more willing to endure the longest commutes to work: They indicate a willingness to commute an average of 51 minutes, whereas Gen Xers don’t want to travel more than 36 minutes — and no more than 31 minutes for boomers, the CBCA survey shows. Interestingly, this may speak to a reversal in what was thought to be a lasting trend: Instead of staying in the city, young folks might prefer the suburbs.
  • Work from home: Another unexpected facet of Millennials’ work lives is that more of them prefer to go into an office than any other generation. Seventy-seven percent of Gen Xers and 71 percent of boomers would rather work from home, but only 67 percent of Millennials say the same, according to the survey.
  • Office layout: Millennials’ preferences for type of office space, though, diverge a bit from other generations. Fifty-five percent of Millennials prefer an open-floor-plan office — one not carved up with cubicles and private offices — compared to 41 percent of Gen Xers and boomers. Still, 72 percent of survey respondents overall say their top choice would be to work in a private office, as opposed to a cubicle, open desk, or shared office.

“Where and how people work is changing,” says CBCA President and Chief Operating Officer Fred Schmidt. “The Millennial generation and shifting economy are a big part of that. It’s important for commercial real estate professionals to understand these trends and be able to provide solutions for today’s evolving marketplace.”

How Millennials Want to Work

Schmidt says that it’s clear Millennials are far more flexible with their work environments than people might have expected. “Millennials are going to drive demand for years to come,” he adds. “Employers should make note of where and how people want to work in order to create an environment that will help recruit and maintain a productive workforce. What we need to keep top of mind is that office space should be adaptable and flexible, allowing for both open spaces and private areas.”

Something else Millennials are surprisingly flexible about: technology.

  • Meetings: Despite growing up in the digital age, more Millennials lean toward in-person business meetings than other generations. Seventy-seven percent of Millennials say face-to-face meetings are important versus 67 percent of Gen Xers and 71 percent of boomers, according to the CBCA survey.
  • Shared workspaces: Young professionals are also more adaptable to shared workspace. Fifty-nine percent of Millennials say they would be comfortable sharing their workspace with someone else, but only 46 percent of Gen Xers and 49 percent of boomers say the same.
  • Work devices: This is where there’s no shocker. Millennials by and large are comfortable working on devices other than desktop computers. Sixty-three percent say they’re just as comfortable working on mobile devices, such as phones, tablets, or laptops versus 54 percent of Gen Xers. But here is something surprising: Nearly half — 48 percent — of boomers say they would be fine working from mobile devices.

What commercial practitioners can learn from this — what we all can learn — is that Millennials don’t fit neatly into a box. While we might have expected the Millennial generation to be these digital pioneers forging ahead in a high-tech world — and some are — there are still some creature comforts they find appropriate in the workforce. For them, the value-added in office space isn’t this or that, one thing or another. It’s flexible.

Graham Wood

Graham Wood is a senior editor for REALTOR® Magazine. He can be reached at

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