When it comes to workplace environment, cultural shifts are driving design strategy

AS THE AGE of single-purpose workplaces vanishes and employee punch cards are replaced by flexible hours and instant messages, workplace environments continue to evolve in order to meet the needs of both modern employees and employers.

And with the continued growth and influence of tech industries, the work environments they’ve fostered ­continues to have a big sway on office design. Employers from all sectors are realizing that old, rigid style office designs that didn’t necessarily encourage creativity and didn’t allow employees to be comfortable no longer meet new-age challenges.

So, what does work look like now? In order to assess new trends, Rodney Lover, principal at Lovers atWork Office Furniture, begins by taking a close look at emerging ­workplace culture. Noting a measurable move to inclusion, he says one driving trend is “more recent schooling styles that promote group work and a changing culture that stresses value for all individuals, no matter their position or age or experience.”

“Technology companies avoid big differences between leaders and soldiers. No longer are executives the ones with the majority of the office furniture budget. Every position matters in lean organizations” —Rodney Lover

Lover observes that incorporating “places to gather” in office design is prevalent today as a way in which to change the way people meet and interact—a decided shift away from gatherings in formal conference rooms.

“This new flavour includes casual refreshment stations within the office workstation area so team members can stand, have a coffee and chat while they work,” says Lover. “It can mean unique, softer seating corner areas to meet up for quick connections. It can mean standing meeting tables to not only speed up meetings, but also get people out of chairs and get blood flowing.”

In addition, Lover notes that technology is “flattening the classes,” a concept that manifests in the office.

“Technology companies of the last couple decades have led by avoiding big differences in office setups between leaders and soldiers. Avoiding posh corner offices, techs have pushed meeting rooms to sunny windowed areas and company ­leaders are close at hand to their reporting staff—even sitting in cubicles themselves,” says Lover.

“No longer are executives the ones with the majority of the office furniture budget. Money spent on amenities for all workers is seen as an investment across the operation. Every position matters in lean organizations, and so do all workspaces, meeting and eating areas.”

Another underlying theme reveals itself in how ­flexibility is influencing the way we work. As new generations and expectations redesign work and jobs, remote capacities and open lines of communication are replacing traditional nine-to-five workday structures and conventions, and office design is reflecting this.

“We are often doing work at home and home stuff during work hours,” observes Lover. “This trade-off brings more desire by workers for companies to relax their demands on being stuffy and uptight.”

Lover notes that colour and design are used as vehicles for whimsy to encourage a melding of productivity and fun, as it “balances intense hustle.” He says the trend of lowering office panels is becoming a classic style in order to connect more openly with colleagues, and that attention to colours, textiles and amenities for general enjoyment are crucial to staying competitive.

All of this is not to say that a more relaxed environment means reduced productivity, though. Andrew Mullings, account executive at POI Business Interiors, says tech ­companies generally place a high value on streamlined ­processes, and that often translates directly to their ­workspace design.

Technology companies are characterized by high-­performing, hyper-collaborative teams, and that means they require flexible, hackable workspaces that support ­innovation and are adaptable to the way people work,” he says. “These progressive workspaces now support ­user-controlled task-based design that gives agile teams the tools to work more productively.

Because time to market is a competitive priority, spaces need to seamlessly integrate both digital and analog tools which are essential to delivering creative output,” continues Mullings. “They also need to attract and engage talent by providing a range of settings which help people rejuvenate, socialize, focus, learn and, most importantly, collaborate.”