A Blog by Jonathan Low


May 6, 2015

Creating a Millennials-Only Work Area in the Office

Is it better to integrate generational cohorts - or to protect Millennials from persistent Woodstock and Watergate allusions, balding, gray-haired male ponytails and references to obscure 60s-era sitcoms?

Lindsay Gelman reports in the Wall Street Journal:

As millennials have become the largest segment of the workforce, companies are seeking ways to make the multigenerational office run smoothly. At one New York City advertising and marketing firm, that means clustering young workers.
As millennials have become the largest segment of the workforce, companies are seeking ways to make the multigenerational office run smoothly. At one New York City advertising and marketing firm, that means clustering young workers at the office equivalent of the kids’ table.
Last September, Grey Global Group began seating assistant account executives—nearly all a year or two out of college—in an area dubbed “base camp.” The idea, according to the company, is to give entry-level workers a place to forge strong ties and show each other the ropes without irritating their older colleagues.
On a recent Wednesday morning, about a dozen base campers hunched over their laptops and sipped iced coffee among low-walled cubicles in Grey’s Manhattan headquarters. Nearby, a few others gathered around low tables strewed with materials for ad campaigns and containers of fruit salad.
“The vibe here is different” than elsewhere in the office, said assistant account executive Micole Himelfarb, 22 years old. Rather than feeling set aside by senior colleagues, “it puts you at ease to be around people your own age.”
Base camp’s unofficial counselor and mentor is Maria Gallione, senior vice president and account management development director. Ms. Gallione, 44, volunteered to sit with the younger workers, a setup that she enjoys but said “makes me feel a bit old” at times.
“Folks right out of college, starting their first job, have the same worries and fears” as she did when just starting out, she said, although she’s observed the young workers form close ties more quickly than her peers did at that age.Work habits differ, too. The base campers tend to migrate throughout the day, gathering in a glass-walled conference room dedicated for their use. Some pop over to the office photo booth to snap black-and-white selfies. Most prefer to work in the firm’s common spaces, setting up their laptops on recliners by windows overlooking Madison Square Park or on the agency’s roof deck.
Ms. Gallione tends to stay at her desk, close to her files and desktop computer. Lunch for Ms. Gallione is typically around noon, whereas “they eat lunch incredibly late—around 2 or 3 p.m.,” she said.
The idea for base camp arose when leaders noticed some young employees struggled to make the transition from college life to office life. The 40 or so assistant account executives were “really feeling like they needed a little bit of extra support” learning how things worked at Grey, and senior employees found their frequent questions distracting, Ms. Gallione said.
Base campers are encouraged to lean on one another for answers—and bother senior employees a lot less often.
Assistant account executive Sean McNamara, 23, said he now pauses to think about the “best way to communicate” with his account team—such as by phone, in person or at a group meeting. Mr. McNamara, who sat with his fellow colleagues on the 3M Co. account in pre-base camp days, said he has a higher threshold for interrupting senior colleagues.
A pilot for now, the seating program might be expanded to include young workers firmwide, according to the company, which employs 10,000 people.
Employees leave base camp when they’re promoted. The assistant account executives recently broke into a “slow clap”—a gradual building of applause that starts with one person clapping slowly—when the latest camper to be promoted to account executive cleared off her desk, Ms. Himelfarb recalled.
Despite the age differences, Ms. Gallione said her office-mates keep her in the loop socially. “I get copied on all the emails when they’re going out for beers,” she said.
Other cultural gaps have been tougher to bridge; Ms. Gallione said she’s not always familiar with reality-television shows her younger officemates like to joke about.
At one of the Tuesday morning career-advice sessions, Ms. Gallione holds weekly, she was met with blank stares when she alluded to the 1984 film “The Karate Kid” and the “wax on, wax off” mantra espoused on-screen by martial-arts instructor Mr. Miyagi.
“You have no idea who I’m talking about,” she recalled thinking. “Wow, you were not born when that movie came out.”


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