Mobile working is on the rise as most office workers don’t need to physically be in the office to do their job. It still remains generally true that many of them are most productive when they are though. That’s why employers are undertaking a fundamental shift in their approach to office design. The main goal is to create the workplace where people want to be.
Modern office designs are created to engage employees by appealing to their senses and empowering them to choose where and how within the workplace they want to work. Workers are in a continual search of a better work environment and some are even willing to settle for slightly less pay if the workplace feels like a home away from home in the truest sense.
To understand how that homey workplace should actually look and feel like, we interviewed four of the most prominent voices in the architecture and design industry:
Aidan Hart, the Creative Director and Partner at Inhouse Brand Architects
Nicola Osborn, the Design Director at MoreySmith
Marilia Veiga, an Interior Designer running the company Marilia Veiga Interiores
Eduardo Arroyo, the Principal of NO.MAD Arquitectos
Q: The modern office. How and why is it so different from 1980s workplace?
The 1980’s office environment was determined by a company’s hierarchical structure, the inclusion of extremely large equipment and diminishment of a work-life balance. Employees were often encouraged to work in silos foregoing the importance of communication, collaboration and dialogue. In addition to this, offices were decidedly bland, often used as a tactic to reduce distractions.
These days, as a more modern office becomes the norm, an open-plan layout is given increasing significance. The hierarchical structure is de-emphasized, creating an air of freedom and association over separation. Modern, open-plan offices stimulate interchange between employees in various departments — increasing productivity and require less energy to cool and heat (which is an increasing concern). Modern offices are inspiring and encourage creativity, becoming behaviour-based, which in turn, encourages results-based outcomes.
I think the biggest factor that has affected the workplace over the last three decades is technology. These advancements have undoubtedly transformed the way in which people work and as a result, offices have adapted in response. People are able to work much more flexibly now and are increasingly keen to do so. The rise in the number of start-ups has also fueled the influx of ‘co-working/shared’ spaces.
Additionally, I think people now have greater choice — there are so many varied career paths and companies competing for the attention of staff. This has put pressure on employers to re-think their office environment so that they are able to attract and retain top talent.
Sustainability is another feature that has significantly risen up the agenda and is now a key consideration for developers, designers and occupiers. There is a much greater focus on creating spaces that minimise their impact on the environment but also encourage people to live and work in a more environmentally sustainable way. The provision of bicycle storage, fewer car parking spaces and sustainably sourced materials are all examples of this.
In the recent years people started to think a lot about spaces. The space is more expensive. In the work space, people are now concerned about comfort, beauty, productivity. Also, the design needs to reflect the company’s culture and values. In the recent years we have seen many improvements in furniture, fabrics, lights etc. In the 80s, the work habits were different. We didn’t have e-mails, we had fax , all the computers were giants. Now people care more about how we are going to spend time in the office.
Work has become a more collaborative function. New enterprises tend to be less vertical oriented in terms of responsibility, instead they manage more horizontal organizations.
Q: What characteristics define the office that makes us feel like home?
The home-like atmosphere depends highly on the boss-employee balance instead of assigning designated areas. A free-flowing spatial layout assists in creating an atmosphere whereby employees feel uninhibited to create open-dialogue. The inclusion of home-like office amenities, such as coffee machines and lounge areas assist employees in feeling more at ease and relaxed in an office setting.
That’s something clients often ask me. They want to have the same feeling they have in their homes. I think it’s a mix of resources. Color, furniture design, light, arts, materials, etc. For me, the most important thing is to have the coziness felling.
The cozy atmosphere and the proximity of objects, both in distance and usability. The less imposing atmospheres that avoid pragmatism and homogeneity.
Q: In terms of office design, how the workplace is adapting to people’s desire for a more homey office?
The workplace is adapting to people’s desire for a more homely office in the form of an open-plan layout and inspiring surroundings. Employers feel more impelled to create an enjoyable atmosphere that fosters creativity and happiness at work (after all, on average we spend eight hours of our day at the office). Modern/homely offices are seeing an increase in contemporary aesthetics, fun work elements (such as swings, slides and inventive meeting rooms), as well as stimulating pops of colour.
There is certainly a growing parallel between home and office design, partly due to the fact that few people now work a typical 9–5 day. Many people work beyond their contractual hours and employers are keen to provide a space in which their staff can feel comfortable, relaxed and ultimately more productive.
At Argent’s headquarters in King’s Cross, we created a team space which embraced the family culture providing a cozy lounge/snug, social family kitchen and dining area as well as a mini roof terrace for a mini kitchen garden! It is important to have variety between the formal, traditional spaces with more relaxed, open environments in which people can relax and interact.
In Coca-Cola we created a variety of work environments to promote choice of how and where to work encouraging people back into the office to connect with their colleagues.
The presence of the space tends to be less homogeneous and imposing towards a more fragmented and friendly environment.
Q: What is the impact of having a home-like office culture on employee performance?
A home-like office culture encourages productivity, collaboration and open dialogue. Employees feel free to openly discuss work-related topics without repercussions. This creates open-communication that facilitates increased productivity and understanding between staff members. Employees are inspired to collaborate more often with various departments, sharing ideas, thoughts and knowledge.
From experience, our clients have found that these spaces often lead to more creative discussions and are an important attribute to the office.
For British Land, we introduced a range of meeting rooms including a living room style, with comfortable, informal seating complete with state of the art technology and connectivity retaining professional functionality ideal for this business. This has proved to be the most popular space in the office, with staff finding that it engenders a more creative, informal meeting ambience producing open box thinking.
I think it’s very positive — we have a great feedback from people who work in such spaces. For me, it’s a trend. It touches our emotions. Also the client establishes a different relation with the brand.
The idea of working at home is somehow a dream for most of the population reminding us of the artisans and handcraft ancient workers. This makes us feel less impersonal at work and has a direct impact on the efficiency of the worker.
Q: Do you feel that “home-like” office concept is becoming more popular in recent years?
A home-like concept has definitely seen a rise in popularity in recent years. More and more employers understand the value of a de-structured workplace, open dialogue and increased collaboration. Working in silos is no longer seen as a more productive alternative. Happy employees that feel “heard” create better outcomes for the company and retain employees for longer, ultimately diminishing recruitment costs.
Yes, this is certainly a growing trend and the one that we have been exploring for many years. The lines between office, coffee shop, hotel and retail are blurring as people are more mobile and are choosing environments to best suit their productivity and motivation.
Yes, everybody likes the home feeling of cosiness. It’s crucial to feel comfortable. We spend most of our day at work, so it needs to feel good. If we feel good, we are going to work happy and create better.
Indeed, but we have to be careful not to implement spaces that resemble too much like home because it can easily become a fake scenario or even a joke.
Q: Office amenities are now becoming a hot commodity. Which of them are usually expected by modern employee?
Work “perks” as we call them, are increasingly provided by employers. From an array of snacks to a fully-stocked bar to an on-site masseuse, the modern employer goes beyond to make sure that employees are kept content and the office environment fosters a home-like atmosphere. At the bottom end of the spectrum, employees often expect perks, such as coffee, tea, snacks and access to social media channels or unblocked Wi-Fi.
We have been including cafes and good coffee in offices for many years and these have now become incredibly sought after. At Primark’s European headquarters we introduced a health food café which is proving really popular.
Other amenities which staff are beginning to look for include wellbeing facilities (a gym or studio space), bicycle storage so that they can cycle and showers so that they can run or jog to work or during the day. Outside space such as a courtyard or roof terrace is also very important,promoting a great alternative meeting and interaction space. The terrace we designed at Coca-Cola’s headquarters has been a great success, providing a unique meeting and events space and even plays host to their annual party!
Well, usually the employee care about their particular space. They want a good chair, and a functional table, with a designed place for computer, documents, etc. It has to be pretty but the most important part is to be functional.
Multi-use spaces, children nursery, breeding spaces or gyms, all of them create in the worker a sense of belonging.
Q: What role does furniture play in designing a place that combines personal living and professional workspace in such way that neither is compromised?
Furniture plays a significant factor in creating a certain home-like atmosphere. Comfortable and inventive seating provides aesthetically pleasing decorative features and allows employees to feel relaxed while at work. Large desking systems provide just enough personal space, yet enough room to communicate — which assists greatly in combining the personal/professional living aspect. Furniture for reception or “break-out” areas is often innovative or brightly coloured — yet it remains comfortable, while being aesthetically pleasing, so that it is practical for informal meetings.
Furniture is a really important aspect of the design aesthetic and the choice of pieces can help determine whether a space feels homely and warm or more formal. Softer finishes, comfortable sofas, armchairs, coffee tables and pod seats are examples of furniture we might consider when creating a space that we want to feel ‘homely’. For the more formal spaces we would look for more structured, yet still comfortable seating, elegant, smart desks. Adaptability and flexibility is key in creating modern workspaces, from the individual desk or work position to areas being curated to optimise team collaboration.
Furniture is a very important element in the workspace design. It has to have the mix between design and functionality.
That is a difficult task. Furniture that serves for many purposes normally tends to be a bit confusing. I personally prefer a mix of furniture with a very specific purpose in the same space.
Q: What’s the importance of mixing work spaces, breakout zones and communal spaces within the office?
“Break-out” zones facilitate meetings between employees where they can discuss work-related topics, or, converse informally. These spaces give staff members the opportunity to collaboratively come together and “break-out” from the mundane routine of a typical desk job.
It is important to recognise that everyone has a different style of working and the office space needs to reflect this. Not everyone responds well to open plan offices and prefer a quieter, more private setting, whilst others enjoy bouncing ideas off colleagues so flourish in a bustling open plan environment. The key is acknowledging this and introducing a range of environments and facilities within an office, so that people have a choice of how, where and when to tackle their work activities.
It’s also important to ensure that individuals have some downtime during the day as, not only is this key to their wellbeing and happiness, but it is also proven to enhance productivity.
We are humans, and not machines, we need to rest, to relax, to change the pace. So that’s why we need those spaces.
It is the hot tendency now. It makes people relaxing and interchanging collective attitudes during working time. These mixes avoid the need to move through long distances or change of storeys to find a place to rest and relate to others.
MODERN OFFICE SHOULD BE A PLACE YOU CAN RETREAT AND FEEL COMFORTABLE IN
It’s so easy to start feeling disconnected from your home life and to lose passion for whatever you are doing as distinctions between work life and personal life are becoming so tough to discern. Workplace amenities are no longer something that’s nice to have. Many of us can’t even imagine our busy workdays without office breakout areas, multi-use spaces, game rooms and other work “perks”. That’s the reason why designing a homey office is a trend that you’ll be hearing a lot about in the foreseeable future.
This post originally appeared on TableAir blog. This is the seventh installment of the series of Q&A sessions about modern workplace. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter in order not to miss great insights from top architecture & design industry professionals.