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9 Essential Workplace Design Developments For 2017 & Beyond

09 October 2017


Back at the beginning of 2016 our global design team came together to research and put down their thoughts on what the significant developments would be in workplace design over the coming year.

We created detailed insights into the major trends that were developing in office design. However, we might have done too good of a job and while these were popular features in the design process throughout 2016, we predict these trends will continue to be popular throught the next year.

Therefore, we've put our heads together again to look at how these trends have developed and if any new trends are emerging. We've highlighted the 2017 additions especially for those of you that read the 2016 article.

What's spurring the trends in 2017?

Workplace design trends often evolve gradually, representing a continuous development. The aim is to improve the work environment to create a place where employees are enabled to work more productively and collaborate with ease. However, over the next few years we could begin to see a revolution rather than an evolution. Here's why...

Generation Z Starts Entering the Workplace

The first years of Generation Z, those born between 1994 and 2010, will complete their education and start their careers. Gen Z has grown up with a greater access to technology than any generation before. Due to the current skills shortage, companies are keen to recruit this generation. The workplace will be an essential tool to attract and retain this generation.

Millennials Will Make Up the Largest Generation Within the Workplace

As more Baby Boomers retire, Millennials, those born between the early 1980s and the mid-2000s, will become the largest generation. SHRM reports that 68% of HR professionals think this will have a major impact on the workplace over the next five years. The number of Millennials taking managerial positions will increase significantly over the next few years.

New Technology Advances

Technology trends, such as the growth of wearables and the development of tablets as useful work tools, will continue to influence design. The launch of products such as the iPad Pro and Windows Surface Pro show the ability for tablets to replace laptops and allow employees to become increasingly mobile.

Recognising the Impact of Workplace Design

More companies are realising the real impact workplace design has on productivity and a company's bottom line. Research from Gensler, a global architect and design firm, reveals that poor workplace design costs U.S. businesses an estimated $330billion in lost productivity each year.

Increasing Competition for Talent

A skills shortage has meant that companies have already been competing for the top talent for years. However, an increasing skills shortage and a workforce who are more willing to seek new opportunities will take competition up a level. 76% of full-time employees are currently looking at or open to new opportunities. We can expect organisations to use their workspaces as one way to attract and retain employees.

There are many other factors which will contribute to the changing workplace landscape in 2017 but these are a select few that are most current for the coming year. Here's how such changes will affect the approach to workplace design:

1) 2017 Update: Maturity of Office Design

While start-ups were emerging at an unprecedented speed, everyone was looking to make their offices cool and appeal to younger talent. Foosball tables, slides and beer taps were common features. Even traditional industries were influenced by this shift. Now however many of those tech companies are maturing as the people running them and working there develop and change, they're realising it's not just about creating a "cool" space but about representing your brand and company culture.

While offices still maintain some of those youthful features, the style of the spaces is more sophisticated and professional while overall design is more considered than before. Rather than just looking at providing the latest fads, organisations have used developments such as those listed below to reach the goals of their workspace.

2) 2017 Update: Feature Storage

Storage was once seen to serve a purely functional purpose, while it was usually finished in the same material as other furniture within the office space, it didn't go much further than that.

Recently furniture has become more of a design feature for the workplace. Not only does storage furniture provide functionality but is also able to provide additional style and character to a workspace.

Functional aspects are still important, but they are beginning to change. Hot desking and limited space has meant that lockers are a more common sight. Storage furniture is also being used more to divide up areas within open spaces and as additional soft seating areas.

Storage designs and styles have developed, they are becoming something you'd more likely expect in a domestic setting. Natural finishes, minimalistic designs and handle-less designs are all contributing to this.

3) 2017 Update: Use of Virtual and Augmented Reality

Virtual reality will allow people to step into a virtual view that shows how a finished project will look. While renders and floor plans provide an idea of a finished space, they are often difficult for an inexperienced eye to truly understand and envisage the full space. The development of products such as the Oculus Rift will allow more companies the opportunity to visualise their new space before construction begins.

Augmented reality, on the other hand, has the ability to show how a product or design will look in an existing space by placing virtual product over the real world using the camera on your phone or tablet.

Beyond 2017, Microsoft's augmented reality headset, HoloLens, shows promising developments for the workplace. The headset features sensors that allow the wearer and environment to interact with the virtual elements. HoloLens allows people to see 3D models and concepts and edit them. Further beyond 2017, augmented reality headset combined with the use of 3D cameras could make virtual conferencing a viable option.

4) Data-Driven Design

In the past, workplace design and office layout have been based on assumptions, current trends or looking at other companies results. This is no longer necessary as the capabilities to collect and analyse information is becoming easier. Wearable devices and big data have made it possible for companies to know how employees work and interact. This is already being used to influence workplace design.

US company, Humanyze, have created "sociometric ID badges". A combination of infrared sensors, accelerometers, Bluetooth and microphones enable them to collect data. Employee movements, encounters, speech patterns and posture are all collected but are kept anonymous.

Clients, such as Bank of America and Deloitte, cross-reference the data with information including sales, revenue and retentions rates. The results are analysed to find which encounters and behaviours are making contributions to the company.

Another company helping develop data-driven design is Enlighted. Enlighted's Sensors are fitted to each light fixture within an office space. They gather information on occupancy and movement, allowing a company to understand how the workplace is utilised.

These new technologies mean data can be used to create an office design that encourages work methods and collaboration in the most positive way specifically for the company.

5) Future-Proof Workplace Design

With continuous changes in technology and expected shifts in working culture, many organisations are creating workspaces with flexibility built in. It is increasingly difficult for companies to predict which job functions there will be in the next few years. Many essential positions now didn't exist five years ago, and companies can't accurately predict what new staff they will need.

With a more flexible workspace and adaptable furniture, new technologies can be integrated with ease. According to a study from YouGov, 50% of businesses are uncertain about their ability to keep up with technological advances. Thus, companies need spaces and furniture that can adapt to new equipment.

When the technology people are using changes, the furniture and technology support shouldn't have to. For examples, the ARC monitor arm can cater for a vast range of screen sizes. Therefore, as monitors get lighter or companies adopt larger screens, the arm can accommodate the changes.

As the workspace is the second highest expense for most businesses, utilising the available space is essential. Companies want the room to grow and expand but don't want to pay for space that goes unused. Consequently, adaptable furniture will become a popular choice for many offices.

Using data to influence design, as previously mentioned, also helps to future-proof the workplace. Continuous monitoring of how the workplace is used allows companies to adapt to changes before they become an issue and can impact turnover.

6) Activity-Based Design

This trend is the combination of two other factors– the need for increased privacy and designing to promote collaboration. Together these can't work in the same space, activity-based design provides separate areas suited for a particular work-style dependent on the task.

The open office aims to increase collaboration but many employees want more privacy to allow them to focus. We've seen the introduction of pods in the last year to provide privacy. These are often small, brightly coloured cubicles for short periods of escape. These need to be strategically placed to remove background noise and reduce the risk of interruption.

On the other hand, activity-based workplaces can provide quiet zones. These areas show that people want to concentrate and don't want interruptions while reducing any background noise. Some workplaces have introduced silent areas as part of an activity-based working set-up, this is a trend we expect to see more of in 2017.

Activity-based working also allows for specific areas which aid collaboration. Research from Gensler has found that two-thirds of workers believe they are more efficient when they can work closely with others. Each area needs to be designed to promote its specified use, from acoustics to the layout of the furniture. This also means employees have options on how to work, making them feel more empowered and engaged.

Furniture that helps promote collaboration and sharing will grow in 2017. For example, monitor arms that let people turn and show their screen to others nearby are growing more popular. Tables with built-in touchscreens, which enable people to collaborate on projects in real-time, will also be embraced across workplaces.

7) Designing for Well-Being

Well-being has been one of 2016's hottest trends and will continue to thrive this year. Wellness programmes that offer employees health and fitness facilities have been around for some time. However, workplaces that integrate well-being into their design aren't easy to find. From sit-stand desks to the placement and design of staircases, more architects and designers will use such methods to encourage movement throughout the day.

The WELL Building Standard is the first certification focused on enhancing health and well-being. Although this initiative launched in 2014, this initiative is gaining traction with its use expected to grow considerably. Encompassing seven factors: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind, the programme aims to reach the same recognition as the LEED certification.

The popularity of sit-stand desks, such as SBFI's Aspect range, has grown massively in recent years, yet still just a small percentage have access to sit-stand. There are many studies showing the health effects long periods of sitting can have, however, there are counter arguments to. As a result, we can expect to see more research on the issue in future. The majority of studies show that sit-stand desks have a positive impact on internal health and we expect studies in 2017 to follow suit.

Often the improvements sit-stand can make to reduce musculoskeletal discomfort, such as back, neck and shoulder pain are forgotten about. An increasing number of employers will begin to offer sit-stand as musculoskeletal pain often results in absences and presenteeism. Studies have also pointed to positive effects such as relieving stress and increasing productivity.

8) Biophilic Design

The well-being trend has been partly responsible for the rise of biophilic design. Most of the studies on biophilic design focus on the effect it has on productivity rather than well-being. Research has shown the positive effect features such as plant, natural light, and views of nature have on employees. According to a Report by Human Spaces, offices with plants and natural light can increase productivity by 6% and creativity by 15%. Yet, 47% of employees work in offices with no natural light while 55% don't have any greenery.

A recent study has suggested as much as 95% of our time is spent in enclosed spaces. When such a large portion of our lives are spent inside, bringing the outside inside is important.

Incorporating greenery has been a developing trend, one of the most popular ways to incorporate this has been living walls. These are not only an impressive design feature but are also often used to represents a company's commitment to the environment.

9) Integrated Technology

Our final workplace design trend for 2017 is developing workspaces that integrate technology. Furniture and equipment that allow quick set-up and connections will be a high priority.

Products such as the FUSE desktop module have grown popular in the last few years, allowing people to connect devices quickly. Workplaces will continue to adopt such solutions but also look at new ways for employees to connect to power and displays.

Wireless charging will become even more popular in 2017 as more devices are released that support the feature. Apple has held out on wireless charging but it could come featured in the next iPhone. This will be the determining feature that will see wireless charging embraced in numerous workplaces. We can definitely expect to see more furniture with integrated wireless charging.

Shared touch screen table
We'll also see a growing number of solutions that offer connections to shared displays in an aim to promote collaboration. Shared tables with built-in displays will find a place in more workplaces. Devices such as Google's Chromecast, which is popular for home use, will be embraced as a workplace solution to enable collaboration on shared projects. Chromecast allows you to wirelessly stream from your laptop, tablet or mobile to another display.

LiFi is a new innovation that provides an internet connection at 100 times faster than WiFi's current capabilities. LiFi transmits wireless data through light, therefore, it is restricted by walls but could be ideal for large open office designs. Although it isn't likely to gain mass adoption in 2017, LiFi is one to watch for the future, with it expected to be a $113bn industry by 2022.

In the near future of workplace design will be all about designing for people. More employers recognise that taking care of their employees wants and needs means a healthier, happier workplace and, in turn, increased productivity, higher retention and an improved bottom line.

Many of the key decision makers of the next few years have experienced both cubicles and the open office. They are aware of how the workplace can affect the people that work within it. We'll hopefully see the impact of this as more companies place workplace design high on their list of priorities.