Office design: what can we expect to see this year?
In our final installment of our office design series, we caught up with David Smalley, Director at Mix Interiors to find out what trends the team are expecting to see this year. As the leading magazine for the UK’s commercial interiors market, Mix Interiors is able to provide valuable insight early on through their consideration of what they refer to as the broader “commercial property food chain”.
Last year (slightly tongue in cheek), Mix Interiors dubbed 2017 the ‘year of the floor’. “We are blessed in the UK with an amazing breadth of commercial flooring companies who have been creating a huge variety of options for interiors designers,” explains David. “In 2017, most of the workplace schemes we featured in Mix Interiors had a variety of flooring solutions. Architects and designers were spoilt for choice and allowed them to enhance their designs by using a variety of flooring solutions to subtly create different zones.”
But what about this year? “The difficulty with talking about trends is that it is not an exact science; in fact it can be counterproductive,” says David. He firstly speaks about the addition of fun office perks, such as the infamous Google slide. “They are wonderful for getting the workplace sector excited, but of very little value to a modern workplace setting,” he says. “Yet we hear time and again clients asking designers for a ‘Google office’.” Regardless of their lack of purpose in the workplace, though, these office quirks are igniting the creative workplace designs we’re seeing today.
David feels that we are now in “an activity based workspace period”, with more and more businesses encouraging employees to participate in agile working. This is causing workforce activity to be the focus, with the furniture and design there to support that activity.
For a workspace to be activity-based, the office space and the building it’s within need to be flexible. “On average, most people will spend 50% of their time alone and 50% involved in group activity,” says David. “This is not likely to change any time soon and therefore requires a workplace layout that will support both group and isolated activity.” By creating flexible spaces, companies can easily accommodate for all kinds of work activity.
This flexibility is also key when it comes to the inevitable changing number of employees, as companies look to grow. “The core to this is a happy workforce,” explains David. “The environment created in any transformation, should allow staff to be rewarded, to have a degree of autonomy and to develop personally. This should be the starting point – not the installation of filament lamps because they’re trendy!”
With people now being at the centre of workplace design, we are seeing a shift in decision making. “As little as five years ago it was almost exclusively the decision of the finance department, as companies treated the move as an asset issue,” explains David. “Now, the dominant decision makers are more likely to be those with an HR function.” HR teams are more likely to know about the wants and needs of the employees and are sure to focus on this, rather than the cost or aesthetics of a design.
As spaces become more employee-centric, we are seeing a higher importance being placed on health and wellbeing within offices. Another essential factor in employee happiness. “Health and wellbeing grew throughout 2017 and will continue to hold a key and rightful place in workplace discussion,” says David. “Currently, the WELL standard, (think BREEAM for interior design) is grabbing a small but significant band of committed followers.” A good example of this is the introduction of biophilic design to workspaces. “Championed by, amongst other people, Oliver Heath, focuses on promoting the benefits of the outside world in the office for the benefit of all.”
We’re constantly being told of the different ways the workspace can impact our health, whether it’s busy workloads causing stress, or the impact staring at a screen has on our eye health. David uses the ‘sitting is the new smoking’ headlines we see, as an example. “In Denmark, if your job requires you to sit for more than two hours then your employer must provide a sit/stand desk,” says David. Is this something we could potentially see in the UK? “While the benefits of these devices appear to be compelling, the actual usage remains low. Figures suggest that only 30% of desks are used for the purpose they were designed for. Most think it is unlikely that the UK Government is going to take a similar stance, but do expect to see a structure that sits on top of the desk.”
What we are currently seeing more of, however, is monitor arms, designed to help workers sit in the most comfortable position. “As the health and wellbeing of the workforce increasingly becomes a more important consideration, so will the make up for the typical work setting,” explains David. “While previously we might have viewed the chair as a key component, we are likely to see this overshadowed by the monitor arm, which allows users to move their position with much greater ease.”
It’s technological engineering of features such as these which are making the workplace a more productive place to be, as we feel more comfortable at work. But technology is also having a huge impact socially, too. “The ability to have a social experience with someone in the office or a colleague on the other side of the world can be hugely beneficial for most companies,” says David. “However, the interesting challenge for business leaders in their race for the best technology is to avoid the complex. Good business sense remains – technology is just at tool.”
But what would David love to see making its way into the workplace? “The best trend is that the workplace is being talked about with enthusiasm!” says David. “Higher Education has been living agile working for years, we wait in anticipation to see how the Public Sector will embrace the ‘Workplace Revolution’ and realise even they have to attract, retain and engage with good workers. We have seen some examples in the last year (HMRC in Croydon and DWP in Manchester) and we expect this trend to continue.”