5 Influences on Design for the Modern Workplace
Design can play an integral role in aligning the future workplace with the new expectations of a younger workforce.
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Like many other facets of modern life, the workplace has evolved beyond the grey cubicles of yore. Naturally, technology has improved and streamlined many processes and changed the way people work, but most importantly, employees' concepts of the ideal workplace have also changed. This is due to a combination of factors of which changing business models, an increasingly multi-cultural workforce and exposure to massive amounts of information are just a few. But the largest influence can be attributed to Generation Y – and Z right behind them – who take time for personal interests, make health and wellness a priority, have a more casual and collegial work style, possess a strong desire to learn, and seek (and expect) mentorship.
These younger generations at work, who in 10 short years will represent more than 75 percent of the workforce, work differently and expect different things from work. Design can play an integral role in aligning the future workplace with these new expectations. Here are five influences on design that we will see increasingly incorporated into, or accommodated by, office design.
A brand is more than a logo.
Design is used to express brand in the workplace in myriad ways, including color, graphics, technology, product and awards display, amenities, and social and environmental attributes. Now we see brand expression extending beyond representing the corporate image, to distinguishing divisions, departments and even teams. For example, design standards created by Mancini Duffy for a global financial and insurance firm's new headquarters included elements of controlled choice that allowed for individual brand expression. A unifying color pallet was created for the building, and reception areas for business units were placed in consistent locations on each floor. Business units then chose different color and material accents and customized reception desks to differentiate their division. Allowing this kind of autonomy to convey individuality (while still remaining part of the larger corporation) instills pride of place and position, and inspires employees to act as ambassadors for the brand.
Culture informs design.
Increasingly, we're seeing a desire for more visual awareness and transparency – manifested by central points of welcoming and gathering, low horizons that provide access to daylight and create a sense of buzz, and a variety of space types that support collaboration and promote a sense of community. In a recent project for A&E Networks, Mancini Duffy's principal designer, Alan Dandron, created "The Commons," a town hall space with state of the art technology where employees assemble, both on site and virtually, for company-wide meetings. A combination of formal and informal meeting areas overlook and are incorporated into the double height space. (As note of caution, however, firms developing strategies to move in this these new directions need to make sure that any changes made are in concert with company culture. Because culture trumps strategy, and it is culture, not strategy, that informs the design process.)
"Make your feet your friend."
As this quote from Scottish author and dramatist, J.M. Barrie, recommends, "inconvenient design strategies" are meant to get people up and out of their seats to improve body circulation and, at the same time, increase opportunities for spontaneous interaction. Planning methods include placing staircases in more prominent locations than elevators, to encourage people to take the stairs; making stairs wide enough to allow people to stop and have a chat; dispersing support functions so people have to travel to copy/print and use the restroom; and incorporating mobile and wireless technology to encourage people to change locations throughout the day. Add to that, standing height tables to encourage quicker, healthier meetings, and walking meetings to invigorate both the body and the mind.
Let's do lunch.
As lunch is becoming the largest meal and people are working (and eating) 24/7, employers and developers are responding by adding food-oriented amenities. Whether congregating to grab a meal or a snack, or just seeking a change of scenery, these venues provide great opportunities for serendipitous encounters and networking. They're also a smart way for companies to leverage real estate. By accommodating spill-over from over-subscribed conference rooms, cafeterias and cafés offer additional collaborative space. And if large and well-appointed, these spaces can be rented out for events to produce additional revenue and brand visibility.
Freedom is the new currency.
At the 2014 KV CEO Summit, Google co-founder Larry Page opined, "Most people like working, but they'd also like to have more time with their family or to pursue their own interests." While much of the business world is not ready for this concept, this kind of thinking is exactly what companies need to do to prepare for a future where the workplace will look more like a hotel or a club than an office and will operate on a fluid principle of supply and demand. This means wired, mobile, flexible, self-configurable and compelling. This means more than out of the box thinking because there will be no box, and there will be no cubes.