Popular Belief #5: Millennials are challenging the traditional workplace.

Millennials refuse to bow to the daily routine of commute-work-sleep. Thanks to new technologies, they are freed from physical constraints; any place can be a space for work or play.

Young people aged 16 to 30 spend an average 3.2 hours per day on their smartphones, compared to 2.4 hours for people of Generation X (ages 31 to 45). The first generation to grow up with the Web within arm’s reach, Millennials cannot imagine their lives without the Internet or a smartphone. Is this generation, freshly arrived on the job market, responsible for the changes transforming work and living spaces, and the cities that contain them?

For several years, the media have been heralding the pending disappearance of the traditional office, destined to give way to co-working spaces where young entrepreneurs and salaried employees exchange ideas, liberated from the yoke of office wear, open space, or the eyes of their employer. Popular belief has Millennials unanimously adhering to this paradigm, preferring to work alone at home than in an office. However, a study conducted among young students of a large business school in France qualifies this statement: while only 13% prefer the traditional office to more innovative options, these students show little enthusiasm for what the study calls third spaces — co-working spaces, coffee shops, even… train stations. While 70% of respondents expect to work in these spaces, 64% consider them to be “less efficient than a classical office.

Beyond the question of the characteristics of the Millennial’s ideal workspace is, of much greater importance to cities, the issue of the gradual disappearance of the spatial, tangible limits of the workplace. Increasingly, city dwellers are working in virtual spaces, writing on their computers, communicating by email and Skype, and storing their documents in the cloud. The workplace in its most reduced form is now the laptop computer, or even the smartphone. With the acceleration of innovative technologies and their democratization, the very idea of attributing the exclusive function of workplace to a space is called into question.

New habits, such as telecommuting, are taking shape thanks to the possibilities offered by new technologies. Often interpreted as a response to demands coming from employees, especially younger ones, this expansion is favorably received by the business world insofar as the tools it requires (Internet connection, computer, mobile phone) and the underlying principles — that a person can work, in theory, from anywhere — come to support a much more debatable idea: that a person can work, in theory, at any time.

The impact of technological developments on the world of work ultimately raises new problems: how to manage the boundaries between private life and professional life as well as the imperatives of being adaptable, having flexible work hours, yet maintaining a life balance? Such challenges are common to all those whose work lends itself to these new types of usages, but they are especially relevant for young people who have never known the business world before this evolution. It remains to be seen how the solutions found to these challenges will shape or reshape the cities of tomorrow.

This article is part of our installment “Factcheck: Millennials, an Urban Legend?”, in which La Fabrique de la Cité deconstructs the Millennial stereotype and analyzes this generation’s rapport to the city. Read the integral version of this Factcheck on our website.