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Four of the world’s most important office design trends

Posted on October 14, 2015 by Charles Marks

What has become increasingly apparent over recent years is that the forces that drive the latest trends in workplace thinking are truly global. But what is also pretty clear is that they are reshaped by local cultures and legislation as well, which mean their outcomes can be somewhat different on a practical level. One reason for this is that they are increasingly closely linked with wider business objectives and so must be addressed as part of an organisation’s overall strategy and objectives. The office isn’t just a place to work, but also a driver of competitive advantage. Here are four of the most important current trends in workplace design and management.

Empowerment and responsiveness

As firms increasingly reject the command and control structures that manifest themselves most obviously in the predominance of open plan offices, so too must they hand over control of work settings to the individuals who work for them. This is one reason why many open plan offices now feature private work booths and breakout spaces that empower people to work in ways that suit them.

Similarly, there is a move to integrate more technology into furniture to signal to workers that the tables and chairs they use are tools in exactly the same way as their devices. This is most apparent in the way tech is being used within the much talked about new generation of sit-stand workstations to encourage people to move more, exemplified in Humanscale’s OfficeIQ system and the new Stir desk.

Empowerment is also evident in the overall way that offices are now designed with workers offered the choice about where they go depending on their own personal preferences, what they are doing and with whom they are working. This idea underpins many of the world’s most important new workplace ideas including the development of room booking technology that works alongside office furniture elements, the use of private work booths and the new aesthetic of the dispersed workplace.

 

Wellbeing and productivity

This appears to be an evolution of the debate about the links between office design and productivity. If so, it is a far more nuanced and sophisticated proposition. For example, firms like Buzzispace (main image) have transformed the debate about acoustics and privacy with their innovative solutions and are now at the frontier of change in a number of other areas too, not least in making design about productivity.

In the US, of course, the debate about wellness has a legislative edge because employers are keen to address the wellbeing of staff to keep their health insurance premiums down as well as for more altruistic reasons.

It is the sit-stand desk that is the poster child of this approach, of course, but the theme was manifest in other ways throughout the show especially in the way firms now talk about how the democratisation of space and empowerment of individuals is good for their psychological and mental wellbeing as well as their physical health.

 

The urbanisation and domestication of space

As work has unshackled from the corporate environment, a strange reverse process has developed which means the office is absorbing the forms and functions of the spaces we have colonised with our work devices. This blurring of the boundaries does not only mean that we now work routinely at home and in coffee shops, parks and hotels but also that corporate headquarters now increasingly resemble those spaces.

It is no longer possible to pigeonhole products in the way we once did because most firms and people don’t care about the old delineations and are happy to work wherever is best for them. If that includes an armchair or a picnic bench, then that’s fine. It would perhaps have once been unthinkable that such products could make the crossover into the corporate office furniture domain, but as we have seen with Ikea in Europe, the blurring of the boundaries has now made that a very real possibility.

This principle is even influencing the colours we use in the office. A much broader colour palette is now deemed appropriate in work settings, with monotones and neutral blues and greys replaced by something more vibrant.

 

Sustainability

This is now something of a difficult area, because so few firms now talk about it as a subject at exhibitions. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t important to suppliers, specifiers and end users but that it is no longer the factor it once was in making a firm stand out from a less progressive herd. This may be because it is seen as a given that firms meet a very high standard of excellence in their sustainability credentials these days.

There is obviously a challenge therefore to move the debate on and there are already signs that this is happening, not least with the way the Green Building Council is creating a new narrative that links sustainable design to what is arguably the most important workplace theme in the developed world; wellbeing. This is typical of the interrelatedness of all of the great ideas currently shaping the new workplace around the world.