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Ten workplace trends that will shape office design in 2015

Posted on December 11, 2014 by Paul Goodchild

The year 2015 is approaching rapidly. Here at Fresh Workspace, we are looking forward to it, sure in our belief that if you want to know what’s going on in the world of work, you should first take a look at what is happening with workplace design and managment. Whatever happens to the organisation, the people who work for it and the technology they use will all be reflected in the design of the places we work. So, here are our top ten trends to keep an eye out for in 2015.

The multi-generational workplace
The headlines in recent years have all been grabbed by Generation Y on the basis that is the first that has little or no inkling of a technology-free world. Yet a much stronger idea has begun to emerge as it becomes clear that the baby boomers and Gen Xers that preceded them have no intention of picking up their pipes and slippers just yet. In fact, there is growing evidence that the average age of the workforce is increasing. As a result expect to see more talk of how to design offices inclusively to meet the needs of this generationally diverse new workplace.

A changing approach to property
The British Council for Offices may still use the idea of space standards in the latest iteration of its specification guide, but it is no longer the sole measure of the way we gauge how buildings are used. This shift in thinking is down to the way the role of offices is shifting away from being the sole place people go to work, to the place they go to work sometimes and usually when they need to be with other people. This has obvious implications for office designers, but also for landlords and developers.

Technology has long been the catalyst for nearly all the changes we see in the way we work and that will always be the case. Indeed there is a good case to suggest that it is technology that IS now the workplace and the buildings are there to support human interactions and convey identity and feelings togetherness. Far from making the office obsolete, technology has redefined our relationship with the idea of ‘space’ just as much as it has with the idea of ‘time’.

The public sector
The profit motive may be the driver of innovation in the private sector but in the public sector it is the need to cut costs as the Government’s programme of austerity continues. This has led to the divestment of large parts of the public sector estate but also groundbreaking ideas such as the One Public Sector Estate scheme which will see local authority departments share a single workplace and the cohabitation of central government departments which has seen the Department for Communities and Local Government move in with the Home Office.

The environment
There is an onus on both suppliers and clients to do more than see environmental issues as more than a box ticking exercise. Hopefully this year will see a continuation of the growing sophistication of both as they seek to dig deeper into the issues involved and the claims made by suppliers to develop a meaningful dialogue. It does nobody good to see suppliers use environmental statements in the same way a drunk uses a lamppost – for support rather than illumination.

We’re not technically in a recession but organisations – rightly – continue to keep an eye (or two) on cost. As with all purchases, however, there comes a point at which cost savings become counter-productive and the economies involved become false. One of the longstanding challenges facing specifiers and occupiers facilities managers has been establishing the point at which cost reductions starts to offer negative returns, so as we climb out of recession there is a great opportunity for us all to reengage with important issues such as life cycle costing, churn, return on investment and cost-benefits.

It’s not that long ago that the idea of inclusive design was dominated by the twin issues of mobility and access for wheelchair users. What we now understand by inclusivity is far broader and embraces access to work and services for a wide range of people, including both a much broader definition of disability as well as the able bodied including the growing army of older workers. The contemporary workplace, with its peripatetic inhabitants and ever changing needs, must serve the needs of all if it is to fulfil its potential.

Flexible working
In many ways this is the new normal, following the Government’s decision to extend the right to request flexible working to nearly all employees this summer. There remains a lingering feeling in some circles, including politicians, that it is primarily about providing flexibility and work-life balance for parents by allowing them to work from home but the next year will hopefully see that particular assumption erode as the role of the office continues to evolve and staff colonise more and more public spaces and shared offices.

Recruitment and retention
The office maintains an important role as a way of creating a physical identity for the organisation and it shows no sign of diminishing as the war for talent continues to rage. Add in the growing overlap in function between facilities management and human resources and you have the platform for an even greater focus on the ways in ways in which the office is an important recruitment and retention tool.

Wellness and productivity
The parameters of the debate about workplace productivity and wellness continue to shift with each new wave of technology. The issue of ergonomics continues to evolve as a result, with more and more focus on encouraging people to move rather than adopt the sorts of approved postures associated with the use of PCs. Awareness of the way workplace design can foster productivity is also growing, not least because there is now a well defined business case for investing in design as a way of adding to the bottom line.