Unspoken Trends in Workplace Design

Dive into any writings or research on the trends affecting workplace design and you’re bound to come across a handful of recurring themes: advancements in and integration of new technologies, the multi-generational workforce, employee well-being, the privacy crisis, corporate learning and professional development, and the like. In the spaces we create with our clients, those forces are undeniable and very real. The work environments we’re designing today are noticeably different than those of just five years ago, let alone those I created almost 20-years ago at the beginning of my career.

While there are many trend pieces circulating the web outlining what to expect in workplace design in the coming years, there are two observations that don’t appear on many major trends lists that deserve calling out.

Tomato / Tomahto

We work across a pretty broad spectrum of commercial building typologies (K-12 education, higher education, corporate office, mixed-use, multi-family residential, public/community spaces, etc.). Regardless of building type, end user, budget, design aspirations, organizational culture—we are being asked to create the same basic types of spaces for all of these diverse clients. They might be called something different from one user to another (huddle area here, extended learning area there), but they share some fundamental commonalities: they’re inherently flexible, have ubiquitous technology, support multiple work styles, group sizes, or functions, and are naturally-lit, comfortable places to be.

Corporate clients have adopted the spaces that students learn in in higher education.  K-12 spaces have broken the longstanding “Model-T” era planning model of double-loaded corridors stacked with the exact same classroom spaces on either side, with every kid in a desk staring at a teaching one. Because of this, we routinely invite designers from our other studios to critique and help develop the programming and planning concepts coming out of workplace studio.

Eat, Drink, Design, Build Local

The local food and craft beer scene in Cincinnati has exploded over the last few years. People are drawn in droves to food that was grown on a farm located just a few minutes away from the restaurant that prepares it in an always fresh, regionally-inspired manner. The same goes for craft beer: it seems like each neighborhood has its own brewery and taproom (if you’re looking for something special, check out Darkness Brewery in Bellevue, KY). This philosophy applies to the design and construction of these places (offices and educational spaces too: check out the main conference room at Curiosity Advertising or the murals and sculptures at the new Fairfield City Schools).

A desire for something authentic and unique is tied very closely to the design and fabrication/construction of specific installation-level items or the space in its entirety. Integrating local craftsmen and women adds a rich element to the experience. It’s not something you get out of a manufacturer’s catalog—this is about craft, technique, and ultimately building something with your hands. The most meaningful solutions come out of the times when we are able to work with these talented folks early in the design process. There’s an intimacy and honesty to the process—which translates directly to the authenticity of the finished work.

Want to read more?

If you want a deeper dive into some interesting workplace reads I’ve come across recently, I’d recommend a recently published Deloitte Review paper titled “Navigating the Future of Work.” It does a pretty fascinating job of defining a comprehensive position based on linking seemingly disparate macro and micro-level forces affecting the entire notion of work in the future (among other things: where, how, who, why):

In technology, first go beyond your thinking of simply connectivity and wi-fi. Spaces are being significantly impacted by advances in V/R and A/R, sensors, and real-time data. If you’re feeling like you really want to be on the bleeding edge, consider this workplace that just leaped forward into the future with personal implants of NFC chips into employees. (Personal opinion: not likely to infiltrate the mainstream in the foreseeable future):

And while it’s definitely not a super-scientific, data-driven analysis, I got a kick out of reading comments from six esteemed and diverse professionals from the broader workplace community on what to expect of the workplace 10 years from now.