The idea of the ‘knowledge worker’ was first described by Peter Drucker in his 1959 book ‘The Landmarks of Tomorrow’. The shift from ‘process work’ to ‘knowledge work’ has now become one of the major changes affecting our future workplace.

The repetitive processes of the early 20th century have now been mechanized and we have evolved into more flexible and knowledge led, service oriented economies. Today’s business is driven by the innovation and new ideas of Knowledge Workers who are able to analyse, understand cause and effect, and deliver solution creation. Knowledge workers have usually acquired years of experience.

They are therefore naturally often older. Their roles – drawn on judgement, experience and informed knowledge – are what give a company its competitive edge. As well as being economically important these workers are more mobile than ‘transactional’ process type workers. They network internally and externally, work alone, stop and think, present and collaborate.


The acceleration of medical advances has resulted in more people living longer than ever before. This, combined with the birth boom in the middle of the 20th century and the dropping birth rates in the past 20 years, has resulted in a shift of demographic balance – Europe has become top heavy with older people and the situation will get ‘worse’.

Consequently, retirement age is steadily creeping upward and working into your 70’s will become a norm of the future.

In today’s workplace, three generations regularly work alongside each other:

  • Baby Boomers – born in the post war, boom years 1946 – 1965.

  • Generation X – born between 1965 and the early 80’s.

  • Generation Y or The Millennials – born between the early 80’s and the end of the Millennium.

Soon we will see ‘Generation Z’ start to enter the workplace; people born in the last 15 years with little knowledge of an internet–less world or of wired devices. The psychology of how these mixed generations will interact and work collaboratively is a fascinating topic.

Management and corporate culture will no doubt shift, particularly as new technology and work practices develop. Performance will be measured more on output and benefit, not time at the desk and presenteeism. However the future is not predictable. Will adapting to the new way of work be harder for the older, world–wise Baby Boomers or will they be the first adopters, keen to find a place more suited to their needs?

Will the expectation of Generation Y (and Z) challenge and drive the changes in workplace design, or will they be the conformists, more concerned with career progression and a ‘make do’ attitude?

More importantly, will the workplaces of tomorrow adapt to meet the demands of all generations and help them fulfil their potential? Will the most successful organisations of the future be those who invest in dynamic interiors, to attract and retain the best staff whatever their age; and will those companies who fall behind fail through over–simplifying and commoditising to save costs, and by association devaluing people?

This article appears in our original ‘Welcome to Work’ book, which described the birth of the 3Cs concept and the creation of a working model in the form of our new London showroom. You can download the book in pdf format here.