The Office Design of the Future Is Here Now

David Jenkins

What’s driving modern office design? It’s generational. Millennials are sharing space with Baby Boomers and even entry-level Generation Z. Boomers are increasingly retiring; the younger workforce rejects the soul-crushing offices of the Mad Men era. The drive is also self-serving: companies are looking to appeal to young workers — and retain them. The idea is to project an image that’s ahead of the curve and innovative. It’s become a buyers’ market.

The feel is real: research shows that poor workplace design (most likely cubicles, corner offices and lack of nature and shared space) costs U.S. businesses an estimated $330 billion in lost productivity each year.

Here are a few cool trends that are becoming increasingly commonplace:

The “greening” of the office. There was a time when the office couldn’t be further removed from the great outdoors. Today, natural light, rooftop gardens, indoor greenhouses, paths for “walking meetings,” locally sourced food in the lunchroom, air purification systems and even plant-filled wall dividers are becoming increasingly standard in modern offices.

The reason for this trend is rooted in our very DNA: biophilic design is based on the principle that humans have a deep need to feel connected to nature for their own wellbeing. This type of design is meant to increase creativity and productivity and remove carbon dioxide and other pollutants from the air.

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A growing trend in office construction: using natural materials, such as wood, stone, and even water. Hardwood floors, stone-lined hallways and even waterfalls are popular items to make it feel like Mother Nature is a team player. These materials mimic the texture and feel of the outdoors.

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Plants — as well as concrete or marble — can absorb distracting noises and improve employee focus and productivity. In fact, concrete design is as hot as you can get these days. Why?  Concrete is simple, minimalist, clean, smooth, and tough, and now used in floors, countertops, sinks and shelving.

Personal space replaced with communal space. Knowledge workers spend just 40% of their time at their desks, and non-group tasks have decreased to about 20% of the working day, according to the Gartner Group, a global technology research firm. As a result, personal workspaces are shrinking some 30-40%. Individual desk size is also shrinking. With more documents being filed not in cabinets but on the cloud, and the growing philosophy that collaboration produces more results, we’ll see fewer desks and longer tables and couches.

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Home-like work areas. Telecommuting is becoming increasingly acceptable, but corporations want you to feel at home even when you’re at the office. Amenities like these were unimaginable only a few years ago; now they’re becoming standard: meditation spaces, game rooms, nap rooms, fireplaces, bean bag chairs, yoga mats, and even beer fridges are making workspaces more fun, cozy and homey.

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Dynamic monitors. Forget your smartphones — bigger seems to be better. Offices are upgrading to 32-inch-or-larger screens, featuring borderless edges or even a curved display. Also changing the scene: all-in-one PC and screen displays. These were once the domain of iMacs, but PC components are becoming smaller; as a result, thinner, larger screens could leave more space for what a PC needs to do. Also, currently considered cutting edge: 4K ultra-high definition displays, with four times the amount of pixels as an average HD screen. Benefits include richer colors and reduction in eye strain and fatigue. These sleek screens also contribute to the overall look of the office.

Solar-powered elevators. We all know that elevators save you footsteps, but now, they can also save the planet. Solar-powered elevators were introduced only in 2013, but they have since become an increasingly integrated part of multi-floor buildings around the world. These elevators operate from solar energy (but they can also run on grid power, or a combination of both, as a hybrid). The common misconception about solar elevators: they stall out and break down at night or when it’s cloudy. Not true; they’re powered by solar panels placed on the property’s roof. Energy captured by the solar panels can be used immediately or saved in special batteries for later. The stored energy is used during cloudy days and at night, minimizing the likelihood of an elevator getting stuck.

Robert Hicks, group HR director at global employee engagement company Reward Gateway, says, “Moving into 2018, organizations should be focusing on their office layout and design in order to engage their employees. Workspace is one of the key elements to an engaged workforce and you have to cater for individuals and tasks.

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“Having a workspace that’s designed to help build relationships between people and between teams will be key for companies in the coming years. For example, by having no fixed desks and no individual offices [as in, none of the leadership team have their own office space], it results in a reduction in hierarchy and builds relationships.”

Although these trends won’t be receding anytime soon,  corporations are increasingly stepping back from the monkey-see-monkey-do design of the typical coworking space or that of global organizations such as Google. In many cases, simply copying a “hip” floor plan or following the latest trends is not a guarantee of improving a company’s corporate culture.

SBFI, a manufacturer of office furniture, predicts that in 2018, “companies will take a step back from the typical trends and design strategies adopted by the most admired companies. Rather, businesses will take their own approach tailored to their industry, employees, the way they work and the company culture. This means we’ll see culture and values become more integrated into workplace designs.”


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David Jenkins is Vice President, Capital Project Manager Washington, DC.  Mr. Jenkins is responsible for providing all capital project implementation for all new acquisitions and existing assets, in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Ohio. His responsibilities include managing all aspects of building repositioning, development and large scale tenant build-outs.