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5 Workplace Design Trends For Boosting Employee Engagement

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Gouldian Finch | May 29, 2018
5 Workplace Design Trends For Boosting Employee Engagement

RIP workplace cubicles! Workplace design trends are evolving to better engage how people work. One thing’s for sure: decades of cubicle domination are coming to an end.1 This change is happening at a surprisingly fast rate. Top talent simply refuses to be constrained by congested cubicles

Employers that understand this will dominate in the competition to attract talent in a shrinking labor force. The fight for top talent has generated a rapid transformation in workplace design. Knowing how modern office design stimulates collaboration and engages employees and is key. 

Workplace Cubicles

Workplace design trends are focused on the changes needed by a younger, more technological work force. The promise of modern workplace design: improved employee engagement and retention.

The Evolution of Workplace Design

Many factors are contributing to this massive workplace makeover. Chief among the evolution of workplace design are:

  • Changing demographics
  • The increasing influence of technology
  • Ongoing talent shortage
  • Data on how design impacts employees
  • Financial factors

Workplace design firms are harnessing this data to build a better place to work. Below, a review of how these factors are shaping the rapid pace of modern workplace design trends. 

Modern Workplace Design Trends

Demographic Shifts

Several demographic shifts have occurred at virtually the same time. This is rapidly transforming the qualities of the American workforce.

  • Baby boomers are retiring by the millions.
  • In 2015 Millennials became the largest single workplace cohort.
  • In 2016 they began rising the ranks to management positions.2
  • The first "Generation Z" college grads have begun entering the work world.3

Millennials and Gen Z grew up surrounded by technology. Social media is central to their lives. This has had a major impact on how they work and what they want from their jobs. Millenials are highly motivated by peers. They crave collaboration, work best in teams and require frequent feedback.

They also have a strong desire to work with the latest tech.4 Millennials will make up 40% of the workforce by 2020. By 2025 they’ll account for three-quarters of all workers.5 This will continue to drive workplace design trends toward collaborative spaces.

Technological Advances

Tech has always transformed workplace dynamics. Laptops, smartphones and convertible tablets ushered in a new area of mobility. This in turn has transformed workplace design. New tech continues to transform businesses of all types and sizes. Think wearables, media streaming and wireless charging. Cloud-based personal communication services. Content sharing solutions and productivity apps. It’s a list with no end in sight.

Technical Advancements in the Workplace

Talent Shortage

Demand for talent is projected to outstrip supply until 2021. Smart workplace design helps companies recruit and retain top talent. Firms must find ways to make their workplace as vibrant as possible to retain top talent. A majority of today’s skilled workers value factors influenced by design. Businesses with appealing workplaces will have an edge in attracting and keeping top talent.6

Data and Research

The research is in. High quality workplace design improves overall employee health and satisfaction. Physical surroundings impact our comfort, mood, and focus. Workplace design also affects our personal effectiveness. Proper design increases happiness and reduces sick days. It also boosts productivity, increases focus and enhances employees' sense of feeling valued.7 Further, employees makes better life and health choices based on the quality of their workspace. 

Evidence-based design provides employees with improved satisfaction and heightened well-being. It reduces stress, provides easier wayfinding and increases safety. For employers, this research-based design improves occupancy and financial performance. It also increases employee efficiency and retention and reduces absenteeism.8 Industry experts predict that design based on data will be the workplace design trend of the future.

Financial Factors

The desire for fiscally efficient use of space isn't new. For most companies, the physical workspace ranks second or third among top expenses. These days, though, it’s harder to anticipate space needs. Why? Rapidly changing workforce needs and tech innovations of course. Workspace expense thus becomes an even more pressing budget concern. Corporate real estate execs are tasked with improving productivity. As a result, they are placing greater emphasis on modifying facilities to support creativity, focus, and teamwork.9

The Impact on Workplace Design Trends

This whirlwind of change is quickly impacting the structure of our workplaces. Impacts include workplace lay out, furnishings and finishing elements. The most functional spaces employ the latest workplace design trends. This include those that are:

  • Flexible, modular and future-focused
  • Activity-based, blended spaces
  • Designed to support well-being
  • Uniquely appealing to employees
  • Equipped for integrated technology

Trends for Modern Workplace Design

Competing for top talent is one thing. Retaining them using modern office design is the goal. Here's a look at the Top 5 Workplace Design Trends for boosting employee engagement.

Workplace Design Trend No. 1: Flexible, Future-focused Design

Traditional office spaces are designed for a fixed use. This model no longer works for today’s business challenges. Modular, adaptable workspaces offer a solution. Flexibility for today and tomorrow is today’s leading workplace design trend. Flexible-use spaces make it easy to adapt to changing employee, project and company needs. It’s an ideal solution for a rapidly changing world, where many essential positions didn't exist five years ago and companies are hard-pressed to predict the job functions they’ll need in future years.10  

Flexible Workplace Design Trends

Flexible space and adaptable furniture make it easy to integrate new technology. This increases the longevity of workspace investments. Modularity is also an ideal fit for the social, team-based work styles of Millennials and Gen Z workers. For example, movable furnishings that fit together in many ways enable a more dynamic, interactive setting. It’s a workplace design trend with no end in sight.

Workplace Design Trend No. 2: Blended, Activity-based Design

Up-and-coming generations thrive in social, collaborative environments. Nonetheless, there’s still a need for privacy and focus. Open floor plans with a variety of functional spaces can provide an ideal solution. This idea of mixed-use space is the basis for workplace design trend number two. Blended offices offer a mix of private, semi-private and open workspaces. This makes to most of the benefits of each type of space.11

Also called activity-based design, blended paces are also typically modular and adaptable as well. Blended offices divide and define spaces for work styles and tasks. Most modern workplaces include one or more common areas, meeting rooms, unenclosed breakout areas, and casual seating groups.

Activity-Based Workplace Design

The most common types of zoned spaces include:

Multipurpose Workspaces – Multipurpose spaces offer easy-access options for interaction.12 These spaces include conference rooms, project rooms, huddle spaces and unassigned workstation seating. Personal offices with oval desks and community tables also fit the bill. Sizes are trending small. Huddle rooms continue to overtake the traditional conference room in popularity. Data indicate that 75% of meeting rooms are now designed for four people or fewer. Recognizing the continued need for some larger spaces, the ability to join rooms or open spaces is another growing trend.13

Multipurpose Workspace Design

Lounges – These comfortable spaces stimulate relaxed, impromptu collaboration.14 Social hubs of the modern workspace, lounges are a new norm and a recognized zone for meetings-of-the mind between departments and project groups.

Employee Lounge

Client Lounges – Many companies offer separate lounge-style spaces to facilitate more casual client and visitor interactions.

Shrinking Personal Workspaces – Mobility, ever-smaller technology, and the prevalence of huddle spaces have led to a decrease in size of personal workspaces. At an average of 300 square feet per person in 2001, personal workspace size fell to 225 square feet by 2012. Continued shrinkage is expected to condense it to a tight 100 square feet per person.15

Privacy Pods

Privacy Pods – These individual spaces provide a peaceful oasis for focus within open offices. They’re often strategically placed to block background noise and interruptions from passersby.16

Quiet Zones –Amidst the buzz of collaboration-minded workplaces, companies are providing silent areas as part of activity-based office designs. These zones indicate the desire to avoid spontaneous conversation and concentrate without interruptions.17

Quiet Zone Workspace Design

Collaboration Centers –Two-thirds of today's workers say that they are more efficient when working closely with others. By providing collaboration enclaves with appropriate furnishings, acoustics and technology, companies can maximize engagement and productivity.18

Collaboration Centers in the Workplace

Neighborhoods – Hierarchy is no longer a defining factor in workplace design. Function has usurped job title for space allotment. Forward-thinking companies are taking this concept further by grouping workers into broad zones. The goal is to encourage a shift from identifying the area as "my space" to embracing it as "our space," creating a sense of belonging in a unique workplace neighborhood. Designers suggest using distinctive furnishings, lighting, and colors to brand each neighborhood with its own visual identity.19

Color Coded Zones – Harnessing the power of color to boost happiness, productivity and creativity, companies are increasingly using color to define and organize functional spaces within offices.20

Workplace Design Trend No. 3: Designing for Wellbeing

The evidence continues to mount. Without a doubt, our surroundings affect our health. Design for wellbeing is a top priority for many businesses. Among the findings: prolonged sitting be a profound hazard to health. (You know, sitting is the new smoking.) On the upside, natural light and other elements of nature can improve health and productivity.

Workplace designed for well being

One suggested fix is to design spaces to promote movement throughout the day.21 Ideal features include sit-stand desks and strategic placement of end points.  Sit-stand desks promote overall health and can reduce back, neck and shoulder pain. They’ve also been shown to cut stress and boost productivity. Placing stairs, lounges and restrooms away from work spaces encourages movement.22 It’s the same idea as the parking your car at the far side of the lot.

Workplace Design Trends for Wellbeing

Biophilic design is a subset of the wellbeing trend. It brings natural materials, light, greenery and views into building design. 23 The popular plant wall is an example. Don’t be fooled. This is more than an aesthetic trend. The use of biophilic design can improve productivity and creativity.24 It’s a workplace design trend with the potential to make a major mark on business success.

Workplace Design Trend No. 4: Employee Appeal

Recruiting and retaining top talent is a prime business concern. Millennials in particular seek workplaces that support their lifestyle. This often means jobs with inspiring, fun, comfortable facilities. Favored amenities include common areas and appealing food offerings. Workout rooms, outdoor break areas and recreational chances also make the list. Modern furnishings and advanced tech can further sway an applicant’s mind. Combined, these features send the message that employers care about the wellbeing of their employees.28 For much of the talent pool, this workplace design trend can make all the difference in their job selection.

Workplace Design for Employee Appeal

Workplace Design Trend No. 5: Integrating Technology  

Technology in the workplace is nothing new. The trend here is to design offices that integrate digital-based business processes and tech. A top concern is concealing the masses of wires that accompany tech. In a Fast Company list of top workplace design trends, hiding wires topped the list. One designer quoted said that eliminating wires and clutter from desktops and conference rooms was a top client concern.25

Integrating Technology

Companies are also seeking easier content sharing solutions. A chief concern is device-agnostic sharing, for hassle-free meeting collaboration. By integrating tech into the environment, employees can get down to business quickly.

Wasting time in meetings is a chief concern in workplace design. Especially, the time wasted setting up for a meeting. Proper integration ushers in the business benefits of videoconferencing.

Getting setup without the need to fiddle with equipment is key. Furniture, workstations, lounges and huddle rooms must be created with connectivity and set up in mind. Common tech integration elements include26,27:

  • Built-in power and data
  • Integrated wireless charging
  • Interactive displays
  • Easy-connect technology touch points
  • Table-top touchscreens
  • Articulated monitor arms
  • Wireless streaming dongles

Workplace Design Trends with Impact

Our workplaces are in a state of rapid change. The reasons are complex. New generations of professionals. Faster, smaller and more capable technologies. Greater insight into the impact of design. All this contributes to the direction of change. Companies seeking to maximize efficiency, productivity and profit will benefit from implementing flexible, activity-based workspaces designed to easily integrate technology and maximize employee well-being.

References:

1, 11, 12, 14, 20,21, 25 Dishman, Lydia. 8 Top Office Design Trends For 2016. 12.18.15. Accessed 1.17.17 at: https://www.fastcompany.com/3054804/the-future-of-work/8-top-office-design-trends-for-2016

2, 16, 17, 18, 22, 27, 9 Essential Workplace Design Developments for 2017 & Beyond. Accessed 1.17.17 at: http://www.sbfi.com/workplace-design-trends-2017#sthash.m7ndNUIr.dpbs

3 Fry, Richard. Millennials surpass Gen Xers as the largest generation in U.S. labor force. May 11, 2015. Accessed 1.17.17 at: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/11/millennials-surpass-gen-xers-as-the-largest-generation-in-u-s-labor-force/

4 Is Your Company Ready for the Millennial Shift? 9/29/2014. Accessed 12.15.15 at: http://www.adamsandreese.com/is-your-company-ready-for-the-millennial-shift-09-29-2014/

5 International Facility Management Association. Space and Project Management Benchmarks, Research Report #34. Accessed 12.15.15 at: http://www.ifma.org/publications/books-reports/space-and-project-management-benchmarks-research-report-34

6 Global Talent 2021. How the New Geography of Talent Will Transform HR Strategies. July 2012. Accessed 1.17.17 at: https://www.towerswatson.com/en-US/Insights/IC-Types/Survey-Research-Results/2012/07/Global-Talent-2021

7 Fairs, Marcus. Workplace design can help workers feel happier says new report by Haworth. 1 November 2016. Accessed 1.17.17 at: https://www.dezeen.com/2016/11/01/haworth-white-paper-report-happiness-workplace-design/

8 Eppstein Uhen Architects. Evidence-Based Design. 2017. Accessed 1.17.17 at: http://www.eua.com/expertise/healthcare-environments/evidence-based-design/

9, 10, 13, 15, 19, 28 Sullivan, C.C. and Horowitz-Bennett, Barbara. Workplace design trends: Make way for the Millennials. MAY 19, 2014. Accessed 1.17.17 at: https://www.bdcnetwork.com/workplace-design-trends-make-way-millennials

23 Bloomberg, Lindsey. What is biophilic design in architecture? 09/04/2015. Accessed 1.17.17 at: https://earthtalk.org/biophilic-design-architecture/

24 The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace. Accessed 1.17.17 at: http://humanspaces.com/global-report/

26 2017 DESIGN TRENDS FOR THE EVOLVING WORKPLACE:'TRENDS' ARE GONE – IT'S ALL ABOUT EVIDENCE BASED DESIGN. 12.21.16. Accessed 1.17.17 at: http://aspeninteriors.com.au/2017-design-trends