Workplace Design Trends that Increase Comfort and Boost Attraction and Retention in 2018

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By Amanda Schneider

Wouldn't it be great if we had a crystal ball that could predict the hot workplace design products of 2018? What's the new year's standing desk, working pod or telecommuting-enabling device? While we can't predict what products will make their mark on the coming year, we can dive into the trends that undoubtedly will define 2018's workplace design.

One thing we know for sure is employees are gravitating toward a more comfortable work environment. As the lines blur between office and home, with more work occurring outside of the traditional 9-5, employees are seeking workplaces that allow flexibility while merging the comforts of home. What's more, we're seeing the conversations about culture and how a space is defined are happening earlier in the design process. Instead of building a space and then throwing in a coffee shop to satisfy employee desire for onsite amenities, the initial planning conversations include conversations about larger kitchens with the ability to prepare real meals, on-site fitness centers that incorporate wellness activities like walking tracks and yoga studios, access to green space and other health and wellness trends proven to increase attraction and retention.

As we look to merge comfort with the desire to attract and retain, we begin to see a few core design principles emerge. Not surprisingly, these trends lead to some of the most prominent predictions for 2018.

Spaces will be inclusive for every life stage

While the hot topic of the day continues to be design trends that attract millennials, many experts predict new trends will lean toward inclusivity across the board. The workplace demands of a 20-something single individual vary greatly from a mid-40s married colleague with kids at home. The hours each group can work, the personal calls needed during work hours and even the comfort preferences while in the office may be significantly different between these groups, and modern workplaces will embrace design trends that accommodate every employee in every stage of life.

Peter Bacevice, HLW director of research, elaborates on this trend: “Organizations are embracing design ideas that accommodate the needs of a broader and more diverse workforce. There are many ways for workplace design to be inclusive. In the past, there has been a focus on supporting the needs of different age groups in a multigenerational workforce. A few years ago, there was a recognition that introverts work differently from extroverts and need to be supported. Now we're seeing a greater interest in universal design principles that ensure accessibility, safety and support for all people.

“If such basic needs aren't met, then engagement and productivity suffer. Some implications of this include rethinking the use of color palettes and signage fonts (for those with color blindness or other visual problems); re-evaluating meeting room size (for those with disabilities); considering the effectiveness of acoustics and audio technology (for those with hearing loss); HVAC calibration (office temperature settings are often biased toward male body types); greater use of gender-inclusive restrooms; more access to and better placement of mother's rooms.”

New technology applications will drive space allocation

The use of technology in new ways will drive the way we design workspaces. The integration of technology into our everyday workplace has been a trend for some years now, but what's going to change is the way we use technology to better design the spaces where we work. We'll begin to see the use of technology to aid in the efficient use of space. As a result, we will see the restructuring of space to align with these new insights.

"We were enlisted by a confidential tech client to conduct a detailed workways study to better understand how their current space was being utilized and could be improved,” says Raul Baeza, associate/senior project designer at the interior architecture firm lauckgroup. “The findings showed that phone rooms were being taken as private offices, four-person rooms were highly utilized, and eight-person, medium meeting rooms were being booked for meetings, but only one person was in the room with the other participants attending via video conference. In addition, large conference rooms were being taken over by engineering teams and converted into lab spaces for extended work sessions.

“As a result, the conference room utilization was not effective, and workstations were often empty. As a solution, we created a hybrid space — part workstation/part conference room — with bench-style seating at the center, writable glass partitions as dividers surrounding the row and one large monitor at the end to support team huddles and ease information-sharing capabilities. The result is an incubator-style space that lives within the open workspace, semi-private for the team, with technology to reduce disruptions and make development more effective. Underutilized space was then recaptured and converted to shared amenities for the teams with private stations for heads-down work.”

Space design will become even more deeply intimate

As companies look to workplace design as a form of attraction and retention, many are beginning to realize it's not necessarily the bells and whistles that make design conducive for its atmosphere. While the current trend is to make the office feel like home — with comfortable seating arrangements, entertainment spaces and even sleeping pods — some experts think aligning a company's energy to its design stems much deeper than these amenities.

"We are beginning to see a maturing of work culture as even young startup staff members become more deeply invested in a company's philosophy, mission, and goals,” says Steve Delfino, Taknion vice president, corporate marketing and product management. “People now grasp the fact that radical creativity is not dependent upon perks like a smoothie bar, foosball and ping-pong tables. It's about being fully engaged in a community in which everyone is trusted to do his or her job and to do it well.

It is more about having a clear sense of individual and collective purpose, about being committed to making the corporate vision actionable. Companies are looking for a reflection of themselves when it comes to the design of their office space. Spaces should also be a reflection of how employees work and live. Comfortable settings reminiscent of coffee shops and well-appointed libraries create the right mood. As we move from process- to knowledge-based work, a workplace that matches our work mode is a fundamental necessity."

As we look into 2018, workplace design trends are inspiring, to say the least. We're looking forward to design taking more dramatic turns, as we attempt to pacify the growing list of demands put upon it. Speaking to the idea of taking design to the next level, April Warner, lauckgroup associate principal, leaves us with this: "Great design in the next few years will have to solely solve issues beyond beauty, with solutions and details that make a stronger impact on people and the planet. This trend will be amplified based on necessity. The measure of the outcome will not only be evaluated based on user satisfaction, but also by the impact on the contributors along the whole distribution chain of a project.”