Workspaces in the digital age

5 min read

Three enterprise design professionals offer their perspectives and outline design trends for modern workspace and workplaces. Thoughtful design integrated with modern technology sets the standard for a more productive and innovative workforce. 

Working in a corner office? That’s so Don Draper.

Your employees sit in their cubicles all day? Can you be any more "Office Space"?

Your prevailing office colors are grays and mauves? The ’80s are calling.

The workplace has evolved dramatically over the past decades. Not only has technology changed the way we do business, it has also changed the way our employees work with each other. In addition, cultural changes and increased awareness in employees’ health and well-being have created a revolution in the way we work.

Millennials entering the workplace rate work environment high in their consideration of a new job, and companies looking to lure young talent are making major changes in that environment to attract that talent.

We asked three suburban office specialists to look at what’s new – and important – in the modern office environment.

Melissa Dotson, President, Rieke Office Interiors, Elgin:

The purchase of office furniture has changed quite a bit over the last few years. Clients have the well-being of their employees in mind when planning their office spaces.

Sit-stand desks are on almost every order today, while just two years ago we sold an average of only one project a month with sit-stand desks. We have developed the ability to raise an entire conference table to standing height, as more and more companies see the health value of sitting less. Ergonomics on all furniture is now expected as customers become more savvy about muscular-skeletal concerns.

Tall panel heights on workstations are extinct and open spaces and collaboration areas have become the norm. Some companies are eliminating private offices altogether. We encourage clients to think about their employees individually and to get employee input, when possible. Some people are happier and more productive if they have the ability to work in a quiet, heads-down space. Not all jobs require the same level of concentration and not all personalities are the same.

Another big change has been client intent. Years ago, companies only bought office furniture if they were moving, growing or downsizing. Now, more companies are refreshing the spaces in which they are staying. They recognize that it helps them attract and keep better talent in their workforce. Here is an example: If a potential employee has two job offers with similar pay and benefits, but one of the companies has an outdated, uninspired office and the other company has a beautiful, organized, ergonomic space, which company do you think the applicant will choose?

Working in the office furniture industry for the past 20 years has never been more exciting or rewarding than it is right now. Our customers are driven by the welfare of their employees and truly care about their workspaces and the design and functionality of their furniture.

Guy Ranallo, Vice President Construction Management Maman Corp., Elk Grove Village:

Today our clients are asking us to create spaces that embody their company’s culture and core values. We have had the chance to work with large and small corporations across the country and see similar design trends throughout their spaces.

While at the same time each space is truly unique, we are building spaces for collaborative group thinking integrated with modern technology components. For years we saw our clients differentiate themselves by using simple and low-cost options such as paint colors, carpets and signage. Today, we are now creating organic environments that capture their employees’ and customers’ attention with permanent custom architectural features, unique corporate branding and integrated technology.

We have also seen a switch in the traditional space plan. Our clients are using an open concept to condense their footprint while creating spaces that feel larger. We are starting to see the fusion between employees and executives. We are renovating existing spaces to move away from private offices that once gave an air of importance to open office spaces that focus more on collaboration between executives and employees.

We are making spaces fun – trying to get away from the four-letter "WORK" – building spaces for work and entertainment. Maman Corp is not just a general contractor, we are also a carpentry contractor. Our carpenters use unique building materials to create spaces with playful attributes such as Ping-Pong tables, foosball, scooters and other items.

New technology has allowed manufacturers to make unique building materials with limitless possibilities. Using customized architectural elements lets our imagination shine through. We are taking the company’s brand and custom-building elements that showcase who they are.

One of our oldest clients, who is a leader in the water treatment industry, identifies themselves with clean water. We have taken the concept of clean water and tastefully integrated it into their building design. In one area, by using drywall and plaster we were able sculpt walls to represent waves.

David Thompson, Thompson Interior Studio, Chicago:

Four Workplace Design Trends of 2019:

Activity-based working areas: The move from individual offices and cubicles to open workplace plans has morphed once again with the design concept of activity-based working areas. By addressing activities the staff needs to perform to productively carry out their diverse job functions, spaces can be created to encourage and enrich those activities. Quiet spaces like libraries for contemplation and concentration (no headphones allowed!) and collaboration spaces with music and interactive technologies allow the staff to find the right place to work on a specific activity. Additionally, this concept addresses the staff’s overall well-being as no one is restricted to one desk all day long, fulfilling two highly sought-after desires of today’s staff – choice and control.

Biophilic design: Plants and natural light might sound simplistic, but they are key to the biophilic movement in office design. By giving people access to living things and a connection to the natural world, a sense of well-being is achieved. Textures like natural stone and wood and even colors stimulate our senses and have proved mentally and physically beneficial in the working environment.

Workspace as an experience: Experiential design is used to describe a multitude of trends in retail, restaurants and other businesses and has entered the workplace as well. An evolution of the game rooms and work/play spaces of the era, an experiential workplace consists of well thought out spaces that make staff feel valued, happy and productive. By involving staff in decisions like the feel of communal spaces, snack choices and personal needs, the design team can make choices to develop and nurture the staff’s experiential feeling in the workplace every day.

Residential design style: Commercial design has embraced the way residential designers approach creating a home – layering, textures, diverse lighting sources and functional yet well-styled communal spaces like kitchens, to name a few. We create our homes to be our sanctuaries that make us comfortable, safe and revitalized. Why not address those needs of your staff in the same way by creating an environment they are happy to be in every day?

CREDIT: By Richard Klicki Business, Ledger Editor


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