The Next-Gen Workplace Supports Diversity, Technology and People

11/01/2019

The newly designed offices of ActiveCampaign, a rapidly growing marketing software company in Chicago, is an example of a project that was designed with flexibility, amenities, and employee comfort an

One of the great ironies of the cubicle farms common to the 1980s-era workplace was the idea that employees were encouraged to “think outside the box” as they spent their days confined to an 8-foot-by-8-foot cube. Thankfully, those days are long gone, and in the evolution of the modern office, the walls have come tumbling down — so much so, however, that it seems the pendulum has swung too far.

The now ubiquitous open office plan overcorrected the problem of partitioning people into boxes by getting rid of nearly every barrier that offered employees a semblance of privacy. While long benching systems crammed more people into a smaller footprint (good for a company’s bottom line) and promised greater collaboration, the unintended consequence of putting people to work in “a fishbowl” was just the opposite.

In fact, a 2018 Fast Company article suggests that open offices are “sexist, bad for productivity and make people miserable.”1 Citing research from Harvard Business School, the author points out that moving to open office plans actually decreases face-to-face interactions and increases the number of emails and messages being sent by employees.

Lack of acoustics and privacy, and distractions were named among the top reasons for the negative outcomes, with 65% of creatives surveyed saying they need quiet or complete silence to do their best work. The lack of visual privacy also had a greater effect on women, the article points out, many of whom felt it opened them up to subtle forms of sexism.

As such, there is a renewed effort to add more private spaces and improve acoustics in the workplace to address the issues with the open plan, as evidenced by current industry trends.

Likewise, as today’s corporate offices bear little resemblance to the cubicle farms of the past, the same holds true for the people who occupy them. The workforce today is more diverse demographically than ever before, representing multiple generations that bring with them different values and expectations about their place of employment. And with technology advancing at an incredible pace, the workplace must be increasingly more adaptable and offer more choices to balance the needs of multiple users.

Add to the fact that employers are expected to provide various amenities and perks that attract and retain the best talent, and the design of the office is shaping up to be an increasingly complex undertaking.

Learning Objectives

interiors+sources’ Continuing Education Series articles allow design practitioners to earn continuing education unit credits through the pages of the magazine. Use the following learning objectives to focus your study while reading this issue’s article. To receive one hour of continuing education credit (0.1 CEU) as approved by IDCEC, read the article, then log in to take the corresponding exam. To earn 1 learning unit (LU) as approved by AIA, read the article, then log in to take the corresponding exam.

After reading this article, you should be able to:

  • Identify five drivers of change in the workplace.
  • Explain the importance of flexibility in meeting varying generational needs at work.
  • Discuss the trends toward wellness and hospitality inspired amenities in office design.
  • Review the role of technology integration in creating agile workplaces.

This CEU will identify the main drivers behind the changing nature of the workforce and its implications on the design of the workplace, provide an understanding of generational differences and needs of employees, emphasize the importance of both flexibility and wellness in modern offices, review the types of hospitality-inspired amenities that companies are expected to offer to employees and highlight intelligent technology that can support workplace objectives. It will also touch on what manufacturers are doing within the rapidly changing environment of contract furniture to help usher in the next generation workplace.

5 Drivers of Change in The Workplace

As we’ve already established, the workplace is undergoing tremendous change. Old paradigms are giving way to a new reality where the lines between home and office, physical and digital are increasingly being blurred in large part to the technological revolution and its impact on our mobility.

According to Gensler’s 2019 Design Forecast, the need for a more human-centered workplace has never been greater and the stakes have never been higher:

How, when, and where we work is increasingly redefining the workplace. It requires a human-centered design approach to meet the needs of a changing workforce and include people of all abilities. As the business day expands beyond 9-to-5, and people are getting the job done in many more places besides the office, this work-anywhere, work-anytime culture is pushing employers to create great workplace experiences that attract talent, boost performance and make the office a satisfying place to be. Organizations are using data to create intelligent spaces so that offices can anticipate people’s needs in real time. Companies are adding variety and providing choice in the form of collaboration rooms, focus rooms and work-focused amenities. And, with a global talent shortage of 85 million people projected by 2030, the competition to attract talent is fierce.2

Behind these significant shifts in the workplace are five primary drivers: demographic changes, greater choice/flexibility in where and how people work, health and wellness, hospitality-inspired amenities and thoughtful technology integration. We’ll examine the scope of these factors in the remainder of this section and then discuss the implications they have on workplace design in the next.

1. Demographics

Demographic changes to the workforce are not new by any means, but the implications for employers in terms of workplace planning and diversity initiatives are more urgent than ever, according to a report from Deloitte.3 The notable characteristics of today’s workforce are that it will continue to age even with an influx of millennial and Generation Z employees; it will be more diverse than ever; and employees will be more educated than in the past. Somewhat surprisingly, the workforce as a whole won’t be as tilted toward younger employees as one might expect due in part to lower birth rates and people working well into their 70s, the study concluded.

Likewise, the authors of the report suggest “if current trends continue, tomorrow’s workforce will be even more diverse than today’s — by gender, by ethnicity, by culture, by religion, by sexual preference and identification, and perhaps by other characteristics we don’t even know about right now.” The study projects that women will make up a greater percentage of workers in the future, rising from 46.8% in 2014 to 47.2% in 2024. Also, less than 60% of the labor pool will identify as “white non-Hispanic” in just five years.

Americans are also expected to be more educated than in previous years, with almost two-thirds of the labor force obtaining some education beyond high school, compared to less than half in 2005. The Deloitte study notes that more young people are attending college and an increasing number of workers are improving their education midcareer, which presents both benefits and challenges.

2. Choice and Flexibility

Increasingly, employers recognize that employees desire office spaces that mimic their lifestyle and their ability to choose when and where they work. Data from research suggests that workers who have greater autonomy and choice in the workplace are happier, more motivated and perform better than those who don’t, according to a Harvard Business Review article.4 The study revealed that knowledge workers who had the ability to choose when, where and how they work were more satisfied with their jobs and more competitive overall.

In other words, it’s important for companies to allow people to discover where their do their best work and to support those types of spaces — and it’s happening with greater frequency. One study found most companies today use 48% of their space for dedicated workstations, while 52% is allotted for alternative work and communal areas that can be used for work- or non-work-related activities.5 These spaces may include cafes, libraries, lounges or other casual touchdown meeting areas that are designed specifically for collaboration.

3. Wellness

Among the leading trends in the design industry at the moment is the focus on health and wellness — not only in the workplace, but across multiple markets including education, healthcare and hospitality. The industry has reached a tipping point as it relates to this trend, with an increasing number of companies showing interest in and taking steps toward providing healthier spaces for building occupants.

According to the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), U.S.-based companies are very concerned about corporate health and wellness. Almost 50% of employers indicate that health and productivity programs are an important component to their company strategy, while 91% of employers report offering health and wellness programs beyond medical cost savings.

Additionally, IWBI suggests the physical workplace is one of the top three factors affecting job performance and satisfaction, citing a study in which 90% of employees surveyed admitted their attitude about work is adversely affected by the quality of their workplace environment.

As such designers and architects are increasingly being asked to design workplaces that consider the impact the built environment has on human health, as evidenced by the 3,799 projects encompassing over 448 million square feet that are applying WELL across 58 countries. The WELL standard takes into account seven concepts that comprehensively address not only the design and operations of buildings, but also how they impact and influence human behaviors related to health and well-being: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind and innovation.

Of course, not every project will apply for WELL certification, but as a whole, design practitioners and suppliers are showing greater concern for chemicals of concern that are used in the manufacturing of products, materials and furnishings for interiors.

4. Hospitality-Inspired Amenities

The competition for talent in the corporate world is getting increasingly fierce. Studies suggest that 40% of the workforce will be independently employed in 2020 with employees choosing to work at home or other “third places” rather than the office.7

As companies seek to attract and retain the best and brightest talent, companies like Google, Apple and Facebook have upped the ante, so to speak, by offering hospitality-inspired amenities to draw people in and keep them there — and many companies are following suit.

From fitness centers, rooftop gardens, cafes, lounges, grab-and-go food offerings, game rooms to sleep pods, these amenities are drawing top employees and tenants alike to commercial office buildings.

The influence of the hospitality industry is crossing over beyond the workplace into health care and education markets as well. People seek spaces that remind them of the comforts of home and the conveniences and experiences they expect from the best hotels.

5. Technology

The workplace is more technologically advanced than ever, and designers are challenged by creating environments that can adapt to the speed of change. However, many employers eager to include the latest technology often assume it will result in greater employee productivity and satisfaction.

Even a modern office equipped with up-to-date technology can deliver an unproductive and unsatisfying work experience, from an RFID door entry pass not working to spotty audiovisual/video conferencing systems, poor lighting and temperature automation management, or other IoT systems that might malfunction.8

Technology needs to be implemented thoughtfully to work seamlessly with a company’s culture to be truly effective. One study revealed that only 20% of respondents felt highly engaged at work, but there was a significant difference between engagement levels in businesses with strong versus weak digital cultures. As such, the relationship between technology and people must be carefully balanced to ensure employees are not overwhelmed by it.

Considerations for Designing the Next Gen Office

Taking into account the factors identified and explained in the previous section, how can designers create the next-generation workplace that holds all of these elements in balance? In this section, we’ll look more closely at each driver and the implications they might have on the creation of more agile, healthy, human-centric workplaces that leverage technology to ensure employee productivity and satisfaction.

As noted earlier, the demographic shifts in the workforce mean there will be a wider variety of people from all walks of life sharing the same space. These groups share many commonalities in terms of what they need to be effective, but are also unique in many respects — and the successful workplace of tomorrow will be a place of inclusivity that fosters creativity, innovation and productivity. In other words, the next generation workplace will be an environment that supports diversity, whether it’s age, sex, personality or ability.

Focus on Generational Commonalities Rather Than Differences

Much has been said regarding millennials in terms of how and why they think the way they do, the idea that they are an opinionated and coddled generation, with special consideration given to changes in technology and communication.

However, this doesn’t mean office life with millennials necessitates throwing away conventions and installing a beer tap beside a ping pong table to lure them toward their office stations (although they might not protest such perks).

Rather, studies have found that a majority of millennials have a priority to make the world a better place, they would like to have flexible work schedules to accommodate work-life integration and they want to avoid becoming a number in a faceless company.9

In other words, this younger generation’s desires and goals for work align more closely to those of older generations than many might realize. A 2016 Harvard Business Review article cited findings from an IBM Institute for Business Value study which revealed that the percentage of millennials who agreed with long-term goals such as “make a positive impact on my organization,” “work with a diverse group of people,” “do work I am passionate about,” and “manage my work-life balance” rarely varied from the responses from both the Generation X and baby boomer categories that agreed.10

So while the office aesthetic may have changed between baby boomers and millennials and Generation Z, the reality is the same: Employees of every age group want to feel appreciated, like they are making a difference, and that their voices are heard. Millennials don’t want to feel stagnant any more than those in other generations. However, the instability of the economy when they entered the workforce taught them that they are easily dispensable; therefore, they may feel more comfortable changing jobs until they find one that feels like the best fit.

What this means for the design industry, particularly in hiring, working with and designing for millennials, is that while perceptions of what the younger generation wants may seem averse to workplace norms, little has actually changed beneath the surface. Trends should be perceived as such with corporate and workplace decisions being made to better the organization as a whole, taking into consideration the individuals on staff rather than preconceived generational stereotypes.

The office doesn’t need to be a place to have fun and kick back over employee happy hours Instead, it should focus on the current scientific studies providing evidence that the most productive employees are those who are able to gain wellness-minded advantages such as natural light, time to get up and move away from their desks, and work collaboratively in environments where they feel their time and opinions are respected.

Be Mindful of Personality Types

In a recent study of 103 employees across three different offices, design firm Perkins Eastman found some personality types to be more content with their work environment than others, while sharing a number of environmental preferences universally.11

The study identified four different personality types in the office: Extroverted (12%), Conscientious User (34%), Openness User (17%), Agreeable (30%), Neurotic (6%). From that, it produced findings that revealed their preferred work mode, obstacles to their productivity and the effect of individualization on their office attachment.

Several notable findings among the different personality types include:

  • Extroverts were likely to make use of informal spaces for various tasks, and are particularly vulnerable to acoustic and visual distractions.
  • Conscientious individuals included the most people who would enjoy working in a highly organized space.
  • Individuals with a predominant Openness trait had the most respondents indicating they were satisfied with their ability to modify their personal workspace.
  • Those with an Agreeable personality showed the highest attachment to their personal workspace and one of the highest indications that they were likely to miss it should they move to another office location.
  • Only half of the Neurotic personalities indicated they were satisfied with their overall personal workspace, which was the lowest among the personality types. They were also one of the groups that had the lowest percentage of people satisfied with their ability to individualize their space.

The study found speech privacy and noise levels to be the most significant concerns. Ergonomic support was also a high priority across the personality groups that participated. Additionally, thermal comfort was the most notable obstacle to productivity that survey respondents mentioned, followed by visual privacy.

“While different personality types have different preferences when it comes to their work setting, the findings of this study ultimately underscore the importance of individualization in the workplace,” the study’s authors note. “There is opportunity to provide greater user control within the work setting, both at the individual workstation and away from the desk. Visual and acoustic privacy, ergonomics, lighting, organization and thermal comfort may all be controlled — to varying degrees — by the user. Providing the greatest range of flexibility, variety and control within each of these categories will empower all users to create a uniquely optimized work setting.”

Offer Choice and Variety

As the aforementioned research on personalities in the workplace suggests, choice and variety are key to creating a truly inclusive and supportive work environment. Because the bottom line is, with all the differences between age, sex and personality types, a one-size-fits-all approach to workplace design is bound to leave employees frustrated and unproductive -- just ask anyone who’s ever worked in a cubicle.

According to the latest Gensler study, workplaces that provide variety and choice are more effective than those that don’t.12 The report concluded that people with choice in where they are able to accomplish tasks are significantly more likely to report a “great experience” than those without, with the majority (71%) of people with choices reporting a great workplace experience, as opposed to less than half of people (49%) without choice in where to work indicating a similar experience. Further, the vast majority of employees (79%) who had variety in the types of workspaces they had access to reported having a “great experience” compared to just 33 percent of people who didn’t have a variety of work settings to choose from.

Providing alternative seating choices rather than purely open space is an important distinction when considering seating arrangements for the next generation workplace, according to a new report from design firm Ted Moudis Associates.13 “As we continued to see this year, we are designing spaces with slightly more alternative seats than workspace seats, providing employees with plenty of opportunities to change up their work environment throughout their day,” the authors note.

The breakdown of seating types last year across 59 projects in four industries represented in the Ted Moudis report is as follows: meeting seats (72%), amenity seats (24%) and focus seats (5%). Within those categories, the variety of environments from which employees can choose to work include: enclosed (48%), open (24%), café (17%), other (6%), library/quiet (3%) and phone (2%).

Offices that are designed with a variety of choices to support various work modes and styles are often referred to as agile workplaces. These environments blend a variety of distinct spaces, but the design focuses first and foremost on the employee experience, according to a GetApp.com article.14

“Since the perfect office environment is different for everyone, businesses must offer solutions to the shortcomings of traditional one-dimensional offices. Agile offices should be arranged so that balance is struck both between collaborative and individual space and between public and private,” the article noted.

In practice, this means designers should provide a mix of individual workstations along with collaborative teaming areas, as well as a variety of quiet zones and common areas that employees can choose from that works best for the task at hand.

Working Toward Wellness

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that U.S. employers lose about $225.8 billion annually due to employee health issues. Given the tremendous impact employees have on a company’s bottom line, many employers are actively working to create office environments that promote health and self-care to reduce this economic loss. 

Architects and designers are being tasked with creating office spaces that are functional yet flexible enough to support a framework for future wellness initiatives. The types of facilities and amenities a building provides — an office’s floorplan and the implementation of design elements, such as materials and lighting — are instrumental to promoting health and wellness in the workplace.

Specifically, let’s look at a number of design strategies that can help to promote health and wellness in the workplace, including active design, healthy materials and furnishings, daylighting, acoustics and biophilia:

Active Design. It’s been said that “sitting is the new smoking,” referring to the negative outcomes that result when people remain seating for extended periods of time. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that a man who sits more than six hours a day has an 18 percent increased risk of dying from heart disease and a 7.8 percent increased chance of dying from diabetes compared with someone who sits for three hours or less a day.15 Further, researchers report that people spend an average of 64 hours a week sitting, 28 hours standing and 11 hours milling about (non-exercise walking), all of which can contribute to poor health.

A few simple changes to space layout can encourage people to walk more and be more active throughout the day. For example, arranging communal amenities (coffee makers, water dispensers and equipment like printers) in a central location instead of sprinkling them throughout an office will not only require users to walk farther to get what they need, but also they may be drawn into a meeting space where colleagues can bump into each other and spark impromptu conversations.

Likewise, offering sit-to-stand desking options can encourage movement throughout the day, a category that is gaining in popularity. According to Ted Moudis Associates, 62% of the firm’s projects last year featured sit/stand capabilities at every desk, while 20% provided at least access to desks with sit/stand capabilities.16

“This shows that wellness is provided to employees in a multitude of ways. We’ve seen the percentage of projects where every employee is given a sit-stand desk increase over eight-fold since our first report. In other words, over 74% of employees represented in this year’s report are working at a sit/stand desk.”

Healthy Furnishings & Materials. One of the biggest challenges facing designers and specifiers today is knowing how to determine which products, materials and furnishings are safe for environmental and human health. The market is flooded with third-party certification programs and labels, such as Cradle to Cradle, Declare, EcoLogo, FloorScore, FSC, GREENGUARD, level, Living Product Challenge and SFI — all of which make some kind of environmental and/or human health claims.

Unfortunately, these programs don’t use a consistent method or standard for evaluating a material’s composition or impacts, the result of which has been confusion in the market and an inability to provide purchasers with an apples-to-apples comparison of products. Tools such as Health Product Declarations (HPDs), Pharos, the Precautionary List 3.0, and the Healthy Building Network’s HomeFree resource listing (to name a few) can provide valuable information to help inform the product and material selection process.

Designers and specifiers should carefully consider the impact that antimicrobial treatments, CFCs, flame retardants, formaldehyde, perflourinated compounds, polyvinyl chloride or a host of other ingredients found in building materials and furnishings might have on occupants.

For example, while specifiers may assume flame retardants are necessary or even required for commercial projects, research from Perkins and Will’s Materials Performance Lab (MPL) suggests the opposite. A report from MPL estimates that flame retardants have cost the U.S. more than $340 billion dollars by causing diabetes, neurobehavioral and developmental disorders, cancer, reproductive health problems and alterations in thyroid function.17 Additionally, the report concludes that fire safety for upholstered furniture can be achieved without toxic chemicals, as noted in California’s updated Technical Bulletin 117-2013. As such, MPL urges specifiers to consider alternative products and methods of addressing fire safety.

The task may be daunting, but the more informed specifiers can be about the materials they’re using, the better and safer interior environments will be.

Daylighting. Since the adoption of the LEED building rating system, daylighting has become a widespread design strategy even in those projects not pursuing LEED certification due to its many benefits. If daylighting is managed appropriately in a space, taking into account glare, heating and visual controls, occupants will feel energized and creative, ultimately making them more productive.

The Heschong Mahone Group found that office workers who are provided with a better physical indoor work environment, including daylight, an outdoor view and better ventilation conditions, were:

  • Found to perform 10 to 25%  better on tests of mental function and memory recall
  • Less likely to report negative health symptoms
  • Found to work 6 to 12% faster18

 Similarly, according to a daylighting and work-performance study by the California Energy Commission:

  • Exposure to daylight was consistently linked with a higher level of concentration and better short-term memory recall
  • Students in classrooms with the highest levels of daylight performed 7 to 18% higher on standardized tests
  • Students with the most daylight in their classrooms were found to progress 20% faster on math tests and 26% faster on reading tests over the course of a year

Daylighting can also save energy and meet sustainability objectives. According to the Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG), electric lighting accounts for 35 to 50% of the total electrical energy consumption in commercial buildings.20 Lighting also adds to the loads imposed on a building’s mechanical cooling equipment by generating waste heat. The energy savings from reduced electric lighting through the use of daylighting strategies can directly reduce building cooling energy usage by an additional 10 to 20%, WBDG adds. For many institutional and commercial buildings, total energy costs can be reduced by as much as one-third through the optimal integration of daylighting strategies.

Acoustics. Among the biggest complaints with the open plan office is the fact that they are too noisy. With few barriers and long, open spaces in which sound reflects off of hard surfaces and reverberates, it’s no wonder so many employees are often seen wearing noise-canceling headphones to help them focus. Studies demonstrate that poor acoustics can be detrimental to employee productivity in the workplace.

In a post-occupancy evaluation of 15 buildings by 4,096 respondents in a variety of office configurations, the Center for the Built Environment at the University of California, Berkeley, found that more than 60% of occupants in cubicles believe acoustics interferes with their ability to get their jobs done. Additionally, 99% of respondents said their concentration was interrupted by office noises, such as unanswered phones and background speech. These types of distractions resulted in a 66% drop in employee performance.

Successfully addressing acoustics in any space can be a complicated process, so enlisting the help of acoustic experts is recommended. Acoustical consultant Benjamin Wolf of ABD Engineering & Design points out that effective acoustical design is never a one-size-fits-all strategy, but following the ABCs of acoustics — absorb, block, cover — can be helpful as a general rule.22

Wolfe explains that the principal of absorption is about identifying how much sound needs to be “soaked up” or absorbed to optimize the reflections in the space. “And yes, there is an optimal amount. We don’t simply add as much absorption as possible. Too much absorption can make a space sound ‘dead,’ which can be unnerving,” he says.

Likewise, blocking is less about obstructing all sound from traveling within a space, but rather impeding the optimal amount of the right sounds in the most effective way. Sound-absorbing and blocking materials can be specified in walls, carpet and workstation panels, for example, but in open plan offices where partitions heights are low, it can be a challenge, according to Wolfe.

Covering involves the use of sound masking products and systems that can be an effective solution “if designed and deployed with precision,” Wolfe points out.

Biophilia. Much has been written about biophilia, a term coined by entomologist E.O. Wilson in 1984 that translates to “love of life.” As it relates to interiors, “Biophilic design is a response to the human need to connect with nature and works to re-establish this contact in the built environment. Ultimately, biophilic design is the theory, science and practice of creating buildings inspired by nature, with the aim to continue the individual’s connection with nature in the environments in which we live and work every day,” according to the 2015 report, “Human Spaces: The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace,” commissioned by Interface.23

Data from more than 50 empirical studies confirms that environments devoid of nature can have a negative effect on health and well-being, according to the report. More specifically, lack of greenery and the visual absence of plants are among the leading causes for dissonance.

Because ultimately, people inherently want to be (re)connected to nature, even while spending time indoors at work. In fact, the top five elements most wanted in the office according to respondents in the Interface study are: natural light (44%), indoor plants (20% ), quiet working space (19%), view of the sea (17%) and bright colors (15%). The report also found that perceptions of well-being can increase by up to 15% when people work in surroundings that incorporate natural elements or provide a connection to nature, in contrast to those who have no contact to nature in their workplace.

A few strategies for introducing biophilic design elements into the workplace include:

  • Green walls, trees, plants or water visible throughout space
  • Nature-inspired carpet patterns, colors and textures 
  • Blur indoor-outdoor transitions
  • Furniture using natural finish materials, such as wood, stone and leather
  • Natural lighting and lighting that supports circadian rhythms

Hospitality-Inspired Amenities. In the commercial buildings market, owners are looking to attract and retain Class A tenants just as companies are trying to entice to talented employees to their workplace. As it turns out, both are turning to hospitality-inspired amenities as a survival strategy of sorts in a competitive economic environment. Amenities can provide for employees’ comfort and needs that will encourage them to stay longer.  

There are a number of amenities that both tenants and employees are looking for that are trending today. First on the list is a full-service café. For a workplace to stay competitive, some type of food amenity is a must-have where tenants and visitors can find hot-pressed sandwiches, coffee and an employee behind the counter all day, for example. Separate grab-and-go stations, as well as healthy food options are also popular. Food trucks are another option for buildings without additional space for food and beverage offerings.

Employees can only spend so many hours indoors before they need a breath of fresh air (literally). Creating stronger connections between a building and the outdoors can be an attractive amenity for tenants and employees alike. This can include adding outdoor tables or seating, a courtyard or garden, rooftop patio or bar, and sufficient walkways and pathways from the building to the surrounding area. Some building owners have gone so far as to provide outdoor basketball courts connected to a fitness center.

Designers are also increasingly seeing requests for workplace wellness rooms, a space that can be interpreted in a multitude of ways. It might be a place for yoga and meditation or it could be a maternity room for mothers of newborns to pump. It might also just be a quiet space where employees can have a reprieve from their busy schedules.

Break rooms are also getting an upgrade from bland spaces where employees might grab a coffee. Hip startup companies might offer pingpong, billiard tables and bars, but it doesn’t need to be all fun and games. Creating a lounge space with comfortable furniture and bright colors can go a long way in helping employees unwind and ultimately be more productive.

Integrated technology. Forward-thinking companies are increasingly integrating Internet of Things (IoT) into their buildings and promoting smarter workplaces. These organizations realize that by improving the health, comfort and wellbeing of employees by utilizing data and metrics from IoT applications, they can provide a significant boost to productivity and enable greater decision-making for management.24

For example, a study from Memoori notes that smart environmental controls give power to the individual, allowing them to create their ideal environment for maximum productivity at any given time.

According to Gensler’s research, the commercial smart building market for IoT is expected to grow almost tenfold to more than $51 billion globally by 2023, and currently, 80% of commercial buildings already have IoT in place.25

“Sensor technologies, machine learning and AI are changing the way we measure and manage buildings. Their application opens new ways to learn about high-performance space and understand what makes people happy and healthy,” according to Gensler. “Data-driven design enables the tailoring of environments and greater empowerment of people. Owners and occupants will have the insights necessary to predict and optimize hospitality, wellness, and utilization. The agile model creates customized experiences that will have far-reaching impacts on the ways people live, work and play.”

Additionally, a 2017 British workplace study revealed that 90% of decision makers would make a business case for working in a smart office, citing productivity, wellbeing, appeal to new talent and employee loyalty as the main benefits.26 The most popular smart office features among all respondents in the study were: self-adjusting lighting and window shades, personalized heat and light settings that follow occupants around the building, circadian lighting systems that mimic natural daylight and heating/lighting systems that adjust automatically according to weather and occupancy. Decision makers indicated they are also interested in apps for booking desks and meeting rooms; meeting rooms where screens work seamlessly with personal devices; and desk or room sensors that track usage for efficiency monitoring.

The Gensler study suggests intelligent personal devices and building systems will become essential to learning behavior and observing activity patterns that will help create a more agile workplace. “The next frontier is integrating data into real-time, user-accessible 3D models, giving owners and occupants valuable capabilities in advanced scenario planning, and designing for operational efficiencies.”

Of course, designing a smarter workplace isn’t simply about adding more technology for technology’s sake. Ultimately, the best technology solutions should align with what the optimum workplace should be for clients and their work culture.

Case Study: ActiveCampaign, Chicago

As we consider the next generation office and what it might look like, the tech startup sector is a good place to find case studies. The newly designed offices of ActiveCampaign, a rapidly growing marketing software company in Chicago, is a great example of a project that was designed with flexibility, amenities, and employee comfort and wellness in mind.

Architecture and design firm Eastlake Studio faced was recently commissioned to create offices for ActiveCampaign at its new location in the century-old One North Dearborn building in downtown Chicago. As one of the fastest-growing tech startups in the Chicagoland area, ActiveCampaign’s CEO and founder Jason VandeBoom envisioned a new office that was truly employee-centric with flexible, open workspaces, social meeting areas and quiet work rooms to give employees options on how and where to work. The company worked with Eastlake to visualize a warm, energetic office space that embodies

To address ActiveCampaign’s rapid expansion, the design team strategically spaced out departments across the 52,000-squre-foot, single-floor office and placed sizable lounge areas between them to create usable, temporary space. The center of the floorplate features a 5,000-square-foot communal area that’s combined with a large boardroom featuring garage doors and is adjacent to a cafe. The space is intended to be flexible with mobile furniture to accommodate a variety of functions from hands-on meetings to event hosting.

In addition to flexibility, a residential/hospitality inspired aesthetic was also important to the client, which is reflected in the design team’s approach to materiality and color. “They wanted to go with really warm, wood tones and blacks and whites, natural colors, and then using different colored lighting in the conference rooms [as accents] and to indicate different departments and zones within the space for wayfinding,” says Christina Brown, NCIDQ, LEED AP ID+C, principal and senior interior designer at Eastlake. “It just has that warm sort of feel, and I think the materials all speak to that as well — something that’s easy on the eyes and it makes you feel like at home, even when you’re at work. But it still has a cool, hotel vibe that I think everybody’s looking for right now — that hospitality, home-away-from-home kind of space,” she notes.

Original crown molding and large windows hint at the history of the building, while new elements revolve around a theme of rustic, industrial materials, along with references to ActiveCampaign’s fantasy and sci-fi-loving nerd culture. Perforated steel and reclaimed old-growth timber add to a bold entry and central cafe. The large cafe space is equipped with communal tables, terraced seating and projectors. Beyond break time, the cafe allows ActiveCampaign to host outside speakers and company events, with coffee and beer on tap.

Colorful LED lights and textured paneling enhance the project’s 57 conference rooms, each named by ActiveCampaign employees after fictitious locations including Gotham, Narnia and Atlantis, for example. Coined the “sad space” by VandeBoom early in the design process, a darker, remote area of the office facing an alley was transformed by Eastlake into a shelf-lined game room and leisure area with the feel of an old-fashioned men’s club. In the aptly named “Knowhere,” one bookshelf doubles as revolving door, hiding a “speakeasy” style lounge for happy-hour strategy sessions.

In the end, the collaboration between Eastlake and ActiveCampaign turned out to be a perfect match. “When we first met the CEO, I think he was just looking for [a design firm] that matched his casualness and somebody that was lighthearted and captured the spirit of their company and not feel too reserved or too uptight,” she recalls. “They were probably one of the best clients that I’ve ever worked with, just from the perspective of them letting us do what we do really well but giving the right feedback and being involved at the right moments and not getting in the way. That can be a tough balance with a client.”

Before taking the exam, please watch this video: https://youtu.be/GOGtFEH0GXk

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