Today, the modern workplace continues to blend spaces and experiences that encourage new behaviors, support one’s health and wellness, and foster meaningful connections between people. Because most individuals now spend over a third of their lifetimes in professional spaces, they have higher expectations for what it means to go to work. Driven by the discovery of purpose, organizational agility has become paramount to workplace strategy and design.
So, what can we expect from workplace design in 2019? By focusing on the heart of individual happiness and productivity, organizations are no longer subscribing to trends of the past in the same way (think: the open office floor plans, ping pong tables, etc.) Rather, office interiors are now being measured at the human-scale.
As a result, our “trends to look out for in 2019” are not mere fads—they are key elements of the human experience that are essential to the long-term success of any organization and its employees.
In recent years, there has been an increased focus on those workspaces that are not only good for the environment, but also good for the people that work there. An onslaught of new certifications, including LEED and WELL, have encouraged organizations to consider corporate wellness from the inside out. However, despite these certifications, many architecture and design firms choose to design for wellness simply for wellness’ sake.
“It gives [employees] a change in place and creates a sense of community and culture,” says Melissa Strickland, senior associate and senior interior designer at HLW’s New Jersey practice, on designing for human-centered well-being. As a result, an increasing number of contract manufacturers have responded with products that consider wellness at conception, weaving the importance of the human experience in the workplace into initial fabrication.
Luum’s Phenomenology collection explores a new layer of wellness in the office, addressing the need for access to natural light and the way that skillfully made fabrics can enhance light play in the workplace and make an impact on the surrounding spaces.
In practice, warmer materials can have a profound impact on the workplaces they support—even when those offices are nontraditional.
Gensler’s Hyatt Regency Houston Galleria features an open, multifunctional lobby that utilizes a series of partition walls manufactured from Solanum Steel, and a combination of Banker Wire’s stainless steel and copper wire mesh to maintain transparency and allow natural daylight to permeate the lobby.
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Approaching workplace design in a manner that connects the outside to the indoors can greatly improve the daily human experience. Moreover, by considering wellness not just at the project level, but also at the product level, organizations can offer their employees “the idea of comfort and feeling psychologically safe,” says Ricardo Nabholz, senior associate at TPG Architecture, explaining that those elements of residential crossover into the workplace are what humans are drawn to the most.
Nearly every corporate interior completed in the last three years features elements that exemplify the continued industry cross-pollination of the hospitality and residential sectors. From soft-seating like lounges to natural materials, many organizations have gravitated toward the idea of comfort in the workplace, allowing teams a multitude of breakout spaces in which to collaborate.
“Creating warmth in interiors is not only about the addition of wood, which so many people associate warmth with,” Strickland explains. Moreover, these changes to the traditional office floorplate and interior design consider design at the macro scale, as they are intended to increase productivity amongst team members. At the human-scale, however, these changes do very little to contribute to the overall feel of the workplace.
As organizations continue to look inward to discover ways to evoke company culture through the human experience, they have found that a sense of warmth is essential to placemaking. Much like comfort, warmth can be achieved through materiality, but goes one step further in creating a visual language for a space that is informed by every element of its design explains Steve Delfino, vice president of corporate marketing and product management at Teknion, in the book The Measure of a Space is How It Makes Us Feel. Made up of multiple layers, warmth can be defined through components such as light, contrasts of colors, textures and scales.
“[We are seeing] much softer furniture with more plush textiles with crafted pieces to bring in a warmth that wasn’t nearly as important a few years ago,” says Dan Winer, senior product marketing manager at Studio TK, of the company’s latest product designed with Khodi Feiz, Cesto.
Read: Rethinking Open Offices
Parterre Flooring Systems’ Avara Luxury Vinyl Floor & Wall collection provides a durable, versatile solution for office interiors without sacrificing the emotional response evoked by hardwood. Avara’s designs offer warm texture and depth, and can scale from floor to ceiling.
Flooring: A Practical Solution for Any Space
Considering all these pieces together, the workplace of the future is warm, not just comfortable— creating a distinction that makes all the difference to the human experience at the office.
As real estate prices continue to climb, many workplaces have opted to consolidate as many people and desks into as little square footage as possible. Adopting the open office plan was easily the most cost-effective solution for many organizations, but it came with a myriad of other privacy and acoustical issues. As these organizations re-evaluate their interiors to better support the creativity and wellbeing of their staff, it has become clear that the open office is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
Gone are the days of stark white, empty offices. Instead, a warm workplace, “feels like home, or at least like you are tied to nature rather than in a box,” John Stein, president of Kirei, explains.
Kirei’s range of colorful acoustic solutions save workers from “white wall syndrome” and deliver a bright, insulated alternative.
♦ Kirei won Readers' Choice in Architectural Products
This realization has come alongside a burgeoning conversation about technology’s place in the office. It is no longer enough for organizations to simply provide wireless internet and G Suite. Workflows have changed drastically in the last five years, and organizations must adapt to the advancements available through IoT to remain agile and competitive, Delfino explains. Rather than addressing the integration of technology from a whole-project perspective, connectivity approaches work at the human level by allowing individuals to determine what workstyle motivates them most, and ultimately, what produces the highest quality output.
According to Mary Baker, knowledge coordinator at Perkins+Will, the findings of a recent survey conducted by the firm’s Corporate Interiors Knowledge Management team supported the fact that, “choice—the ability to control where, when and how one works—was the most important element of well-being across the board.” Providing the infrastructure for connectivity allows employees the ability to choose where to work, be it from a coffee shop or simply by dialing into a video call from their desks in lieu of reserving a conference room. This flexibility offers an immense amount of freedom for employees, instilling an organization’s workforce with a sense of agency that inherently increases overall well-being and the human experience at the office (or not).
“Inevitably, we are going to become more mobile because we are more connected,” says Brigitte Preston, principal and design director at Perkins+Will, explaining how many organizations have begun to encourage mobility programs—i.e., unassigned seating.
“It can be trying to make each space have good acoustic and visual profiles, but by using a combination of “acoustic art” and more blended design elements it’s possible to make all of these spaces work well for all of the occupants — from the salesperson on the phone to the coder trying to focus on a problem,” says John Stein, president of Kirei.
With the right infrastructure, connectivity allows employees to be more flexible with where they plug in from, whether they are on the road or working with a team via a video conferencing system. As a result, less than half of traditional workstations are occupied at any given moment throughout the day. From a business standpoint, this is neither sustainable, nor efficient, because organizations are powering, heating, or cooling a partially empty office, Preston explains. Thus, mobility programs reduce the number of underutilized workstations and better support an organization’s overall sustainability efforts.
In order to endorse these mobility programs, product manufacturers have responded with contract-grade solutions that can easily adapt to the user experience, including access to power, agility, as well as the ability to adapt to the organization’s changing needs and workstation configurations. “Funny enough, many companies are asking us about demountable partition wall systems again,” notes Mavis Wiggins, managing executive at TPG Architecture.
The dual-purpose Roto Collection by m.a.d. Furniture design allows users to engage with one another and their surroundings, easily adapting to breakout meetings in the workplace.
The future success of an organization hinges upon its ability to adapt to market changes, expanding or contracting to meet the needs of the present. “Creating a space that a client can either grow into or adapt to changing needs is something that we are always thinking about,” Strickland says. A well designed, flexible workplace can easily scale up or down without sacrificing the human experience. Much of the ability to scale is dependent upon an organization’s success recruiting and retaining talent.
Scalability considers design from the inside out and remains constant through the peaks and valleys of business. “Storytelling, as it relates to the design of the physical environment, can be seen expressed through the brand implemented in the space, the layout of the physical spaces, amenities and even the use of materials,” says Courtney Johnston, interior design practice leader and principal at Perkins+Will.
"The office landscape has and continues to change. Many factors are driving people away from their desks including powerful mobile computing technology and increasingly diverse tasks that are ideally performed in a variety of collaborative settings,” says Nick Gillissie, designer of Exchange for Allseating.
Exchange is a modular soft seating system that responds to the demand for furniture that supports both active work and relaxation in today’s constantly evolving corporate, education and healthcare environments.
In this sense, retaining talent while scaling down in response to the changing market means that the design of the office needs to be a continuous narrative. One of the ways that product manufacturers have responded to this need has been through the introduction of product lines that can expand or contract with ease. Instead of abandoning a well-appointed design that supports office culture as the organization changes, brands have taken a systems-based approach to their new collections.
Robert Sonneman predicts that the lighting of the future will be defined by integration – be it within the architecture as a component of a broader environmental management system, or as an emotional element that can be adjusted to impact the status of our wellbeing. Pictured, SONNEMAN-A Way of Light’s Suspenders Precise.
This approach allows organizations to easily maintain their interiors, despite changes, through outfitting their spaces with adaptable products. At the human level, these introductions translate into a seamless storyline that drives home the organization’s core purpose.
The Tailored Workplace
“[Our job is to create] the physical space to align with and spark stories about the business and the people,” Johnston says. Tailored design goes beyond the standard best practices of office layouts or spatial ratios, Johnston explains. “It’s in the details.”
Acworth, allows the company to produce custom mosaics based off of any inspiration—including drawings, renderings, and logos—allowing the designer the ability to customize and tailor mosaic artwork to match any corporate branding.
Artaic collaborated with Charter House Innovations to design an art-deco mosaic sign installed in a Winona, Ontario McDonald’s. Made from gold, silver, and other ¾ inch vitreous glass tiles, this mosaic expresses a retro contrast to an otherwise modern space.
The human experience inevitably varies across workplaces, even within organizations that bind their outposts by the same purpose. With a different set of personalities and circumstances, an organization’s core values do not always translate into a homogenous individual experience. Understanding that office culture plays a fundamental role in how employees feel about going to work, it is essential to recognize ways to tailor corporate interiors to suit the various cultures and workstyles that are housed within.
“Offices have stepped back from long benching systems that resembled cafeteria tables. Innovant offers solutions through products such as the beSpoke collection, which can be customized according to what the user needs,” says Bruce Wells, director of marketing & design at Innovant.
“Many clients, including our recent collaboration with MSCI, are considering workplace design from a global perspective, seeking to establish an international standard that consistently reflects their brand and identity,” says Fauzia Khanani, founder and principal of NYC-based Studio Fōr. With MSCI, Khanani explains, the client chose to maintain similar palettes and materials, while specifying unique desking solutions and breakout spaces that best serve the workforce of a particular region or office location.
By approaching the workplace from this perspective, companies can marry the needs of the individual with a larger sense of organizational purpose.
2019 and Beyond
The idea of considering design at the human level is hardly novel. “If you think about open public spaces, like parks, they offer a platform for micro-environments and gathering spaces,” explains Teddi Guilfoy, senior design professional at TPG Architecture. “[This idea] translates directly to how we approach workplace design.”
The human experience at work (or not at work) is defined by these collective elements, for which the demand is not likely to subside. “Humans are social creatures, and we need spaces that respond to our need to gather and connect” states Julie Gauthier, associate principal at Perkins+Will. “Serving as proof of this basic human instinct, the co-working model rose from a need for human interaction amongst remote or independent professionals as a way to co-locate even without a unified purpose or skill set. So the need for the office will persist even as technology and digital platforms for communication continue to evolve. We know it will be different, but we’re excited to play a role in shaping what that space will look like.”—and we couldn’t agree more.
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