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3 Trends From the Leading-Edge of Workplace Design Companies at the vanguard of workplace design continue to push new ideas focused on engaging clients and empowering staff

By Meg Osman Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In today's highly competitive business climate, companies of all scales, sizes and maturity levels need to maximize the ROI they are pulling from their workplaces. Clearly, workplace ROI means different things to different organizations. For fast growth companies with highly mobile staff, they may need a workplace that infuses adaptable, technology-rich environments so people can do their work whenever and however they need. For organizations that bring clients into their offices frequently, creating a space that communicates brand and leaves an impression is key.

Recent data regarding Millennials and Generation Z reveals the workplace is one of their top five considerations when making employment decisions. It's fair then to assume they'll also use this criteria to evaluate business partners moving forward, too. Knowing this, organizations should understand that strategic investments in their workplace are investments in their future success.

Related: 5 Influences on Design for the Modern Workplace

With the workplace, each new year brings new trends companies need to consider and address. Below is a look at how technology, nature and discipline integration are helping organizations from all industries begin to better use their workplaces to empower staff and business growth.

Use technology as a tool, not a buzzword.

We all know new generations entering the workforce have relied on cell phones, GPS and tools like WhatsApp to connect their entire lives. Knowing this isn't just an opportunity for companies to make jokes about how times have changed or reminisce, it's an opportunity they need to seize to strengthen their business. DCI Artform, one of the largest retail shopper marketing agencies in the world, recently opened a new office in Chicago that relies on technology to create ease of access to clients and greater visibility for its company in the region. The new workplace offers a digital CAVE environment to virtually showcase retail environments. The CAVE uses high-resolution laser and stereoscopic projection and 3D graphics to put DCI Artform's clients in virtual spaces where they can experience and test retail designs before they invest capital. Along with being a tool for business partners, DCI Artform's CAVE also helps attract innovative employees drawn to the organization's forward-thinking view of retail science.

Related: How future workplace of Millennial Generation would look like?

At the core of DCI Artform's success is a deep understanding of the technology their clients and employees need. Rather than rely on guesswork or model their efforts after another organization, they researched work patterns and strategically invested capital resources. More organizations need to take this level of insight into their technology infrastructure – the more they understand, the more benefits they'll see through client engagement and employee retention over time.

Leverage nature and outdoor space.

Numerous studies and extensive data highlight fresh air's ability to increase energy levels, boost our immune systems and help us live healthier lives. Still, most of our workplaces are designed to keep us inside during our workdays. Organizations like Clorox are beginning to change this by introducing more outdoor spaces where employees can connect, log-in and complete work during the day. Not only do these spaces increase access to fresh air and daylight, they often create opportunities for more active postures and less sitting. Clorox new campus' in California features courtyard-style design features with rows of white deck chairs where employees can comfortably sit for individual work, hold meetings or relax and enjoy lunch. Reliable WiFi networks ensure employees can remain productive and connected while catching a few rays during the day. Another example comes from Southwest General Health Center where their new health facility offers open-air balconies and winter gardens on each floor so staff can step outside – even if just for a few moments at a time – during their non-stop, busy days treating patients.

Related: Being Active Begins in the Office

Space constraints may keep smaller companies from introducing courtyards with deck chairs, but smaller steps like finding workplaces with an outdoor garden, roof terrace or nearby park can help employees stay healthy, engaged and productive over time.

Integrate disciplines. Empower multi-disciplinary thinking.

Organizations have been recognizing the need to integrate disciplines to spur creative thinking and innovation over recent years, but it will soon become a necessity as educational institutions continue to graduate students expecting such collaboration to be infused in an organization's DNA. The Malcolm X College in Chicago recently opened a new School of Health Sciences that brings medical and research disciplines together to educate students that will close the gap between the current market of qualified healthcare professionals and the projected 84,000 new healthcare jobs in the region over the next decade. The facility combines a virtual hospital complete with operating and emergency rooms with nursing, radiology, respiratory care and science labs. Other features include an exercise and sports sciences area and an ambulance and EMT simulation space. Texas Christian University's (TCU) Rees Jones Hall houses the TCU IdeaFactory, a unit of the College of Science & Engineering – where students can develop ideas, advance prototypes, conduct market analysis and test. The facility surrounds the IdeaFactory with diverse programs including its Institute of Child Development and the TCU Energy Institute all organized around a central atrium to spur creative, intellectual "collisions" across multiple fields.

Related: Why Steve Jobs Obsessed About Office Design (And, Yes, Bathroom Locations)

Companies that aren't already responding to this shift by better integrating their workplaces are behind the curve and need to act fast. Not only will employees continue to seek out workplaces that promote connectivity and multi-disciplinary collaboration, but organizations can accelerate innovation and new ideas if they do it effectively. Designing for collaboration doesn't just mean reorganizing desks so HR is sitting next to operations, it means strategically orchestrating workspaces to promote synergies between teams, connect diverse skill sets and introducing collaboration spaces where this connectivity can further develop. Designing for multi-disciplinary thinking requires a plan and every organization needs one.

With more emerging and fast-growth companies recognizing the workplace can help accelerate their success, it's key they focus on how they invest in it as a resource. While trends can bend and shift over time, these three seem critical to advancing success with employees and clients into the future.

Meg Osman

Executive Director, Corporate/Commercial

Meg Osman is the executive director of CannonDesign’s global corporate/commercial practice, focused on working with startup and emerging companies to implement real estate and workplace strategies that turn challenges into opportunities for growth and success.

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