2017 Office Design Trends

You may find it hard to believe that designs existed prior to the glamorous egg white paint, cube farms, and fluorescent lighting that have occupied office spaces for decades.

by Hai Blankinship

You may find it hard to believe that designs existed prior to the glamorous egg white paint, cube farms, and fluorescent lighting that have occupied office spaces for decades. Our journey through the evolution of office space can be traced back to the early 1900s when rows of desks that resembled production lines were commonplace.

Fast forward to the mid-1900s when a design variation of the now widely accepted open floor plan was first introduced as the German concept “Bürolandschaft,” which translates to “office-landscape.” From there we move into the years of the notorious cubicle which plagued baby boomers for the greater half of their careers.

The horror!

Luckily, we’ve survived this traumatic period, and now lounge in oversized bean bags sipping organic kombucha while our coworkers play ping-pong during a Skype meeting. While this description is far from reality at most offices, the main takeaway is that design trends are in a constant state of flux.

Why do these shifts occur? Because, your office space matters.

Employees spend thousands of hours per year working within the four walls of their professional dojo. Taking measures to keep them happy and healthy should be a top priority. After all, neglecting their well-being will have turnover numbers through the roof.

Company culture and “work perks” have become highly scrutinized elements of the workplace during the job search process. Prospective talent will absolutely Google the heck out of your company before applying, and a lack of desirable features could have them dismissing your organization before you serve up that juicy offer letter.

Clients will have set expectations for your workspace when they come to visit. Office design speaks to the values of your company and the purpose behind your brand. A work environment that doesn’t support the claims you’ve made about your business may have clients second guessing your arrangements.

Don’t go writing a check for that waterslide into the break room just yet. Drastic changes in office design require a thorough examination of your organization across the board. If Tommy has a designated work space where he buckles down to crush out some seriously great work, maybe putting a bounce house on the other side of his wall isn’t such a great idea.

Office revamps should be a well-balanced blend of functionality and innovation. This is especially true for creative office spaces that are meant to inspire employees and keep them churning out high-quality work.

We’ve been keeping tabs on the rapidly changing landscape of office design. Here’s a roundup of 2017 design trends we anticipate will make their way into an office near you.
 

Diverse Workspaces

Remaining stationary at a desk for hours on end can be a total drag. A change of scenery can work wonders for sparking creativity, and thus, modern office designs will continue to incorporate a variety of workspaces that facilitate different interactions.

Not limited to desk space, employees can roam around the office and set up shop wherever they feel most comfortable. This could mean the kitchen, living room, lounge, or even the floor, who knows! Areas with identical seats, tables, and décor, will be scrapped and replaced with unique environments that each serve their own purpose.

With setting playing a crucial role during collaboration, the key here is to have multiple options. For example, a round, low-level seating arrangement will initiate a much different conversation than a long table with high-back chairs. While we don’t foresee traditional conference rooms disappearing from the office anytime soon, cutting-edge employers will experiment with design elements that cater to the specific goals of their employee gatherings.
 

The Death of Open Floor Plans

Earlier, we referenced the open floor plan. These low-profile designs increase transparency, expose employees to new ideas, and boost communication. But is it productive? There are conflicting viewpoints on both sides of this argument.

On one hand, the open floor layout puts worker side by side, encouraging interaction and fostering a sense of community. Open offices increase communication, but can result in endless distractions and little to no privacy. Socialization is important, but there is a time and place for it.

Not everyone wants to hear about the latest Netflix series you’ve binge watched, or how many steps behind you are in your Fitbit challenge. Inescapable office chatter can make even the most diligent workers unproductive.

“There has to be a space where that individual can sit down, really crank things out, really focus, and not have a million distractions. They have to have enough space to do what they need and the resources to do it.” – Diane Hoskins, co-CEO of Gensler

So what’s the answer? We anticipate a blend of both worlds. One in which a limited number of private offices and designated quiet areas, dare I say cubicle banks, make a resurgence. The widespread adoption of the open office floor plan was a hot trend that seems to be cooling off.

Workers have different needs throughout the day. Companies will reevaluate their office space and structure a design that best fits the needs of their employees. Riding on the coattails of diverse workspace, increased privacy and noise management accommodations will make their way back into the mix.
 

Going Green

Design trends of today have surpassed simply creating a cozy office with plush couches. Scientifically-backed research has shown that incorporating elements of nature into the workplace through biophilic design has a positive impact on health, job performance, and focus, while also reducing levels of anxiety and stress.

“We put people in windowless offices and give them a computer and a desk and think they should be able to work just fine because they’ve got all the obvious things they need, like air to breathe, artificial light to see by and access to all kinds of information…but we find that they don’t actually work all that well in those kinds of environments. They are more likely to experience fatigue, lack of motivation and higher rates of absenteeism.”

– Stephen R. Kellert, Tweedy Ordway Professor Emeritus of Social Ecology at Yale University

We aren’t talking about a ficus plant in the corner. More like an array of overarching plants that take up an entire wall. These vertical arrangements of photosynthesis in action are aesthetically pleasing, boost morale, and will literally pump fresh air into the workplace. Look for more of these magnificent pieces of living décor to appear in office spaces in 2017, specifically in urban areas that lack vegetation.

Companies that lack the real estate or have budgetary constraints for a living plant wall can take it to the next level by having a garden, vegetables, herbs, and spices somewhere on the property. Not only does it add a cool, quirky aspect to office spaces, it also provides food for employees to cook with at their leisure. Talk about sustainability!

This is another hot topic trending across the world. Corporate responsibility is in the limelight, and businesses are now expected to contribute to environmental causes that affect the global population. Because the aforementioned living walls and gardens may not be plausible, look for an increase in the number of organizations that obtain environmentally-friendly certifications such as LEED and WELL Building Standard.

Eco-friendly properties are all the rage nowadays. These certifications demonstrate a commitment to environmental initiatives by reducing their carbon footprint while also cutting energy costs.
 

Purpose-Based Design

In 2015, Millennials surpassed all other generations as the largest percentage of the American workforce. For this group of young professionals, a job is more than a paycheck – it is a purpose. As such, it is critical that elements that reinforce purpose-based work that contributes to society is evident in office design. This requires a comprehensive analysis of organizational history, mission, vision.

“Employees today see workplaces as a clear physical symbol of their company. By explicitly designing with brand in mind, we believe workspaces have the opportunity to connect with employees daily by communicating business priorities and organizational purpose. Equally important is the client and customer audiences who visit a company’s workspace. The workplace provides an opportunity to convey credibility and differentiation in their minds and forge a positive relationship with them.” – Gensler, WPI Culture + Identity Module

There are no cookie-cutter solutions here. Where have you been? Where are you going? What are your core values? Office designs will vary enormously depending on the answers to these questions, and companies will use their identity as inspiration. Office space featuring branded colors, bold design, and industry-specific décor will to continue to penetrate the workplace.
 

Final Thoughts

There are no “new” office designs. Our brief overview on the history of office space goes to show that we simply take old ideas and recycle them for modern needs.

The shifting trends we’ve mentioned today revolve around one thing: people. Who they are, how they work, and what matters to them. Modern-day workspaces will be used as a strategic tool that facilitates productivity, collaboration, and growth. The future looks bright for office design in 2017.

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