The workplace of the future is always being created. Every day, companies are introducing new ideas, strategies, and technologies that change how and where we work. Each year, new graduates enter the workforce with bold ideas about their workstyle preferences and needs. New research is constantly emerging that points to new ways for us to work smarter, healthier, and more effectively. Collectively, these influences are reshaping workplaces and pushing them to a future state that never stops evolving.
For years, companies were caught up in the debate about open versus closed workplaces and their respective merits. Recognizing that this debate never led to a strategic solution, companies have been ramping up investment in research and employee engagement to better understand the types of work their office spaces need to support. Even more recently, organizations are beginning to look toward other industries like education, art, hospitality, and more for design ideas that can spur innovative cultures and enrich company offices.
This turn toward cross-market design influences is indicative of a larger trend in the industry. While markets used to focus on innovating within themselves, we’re now seeing hospitals model their care experience around Apple Stores and corporate workplace strategy influencing the creation of major research centers. Companies and institutions alike are realizing that several of the design principles that enhance creativity, collaboration, wellness, and efficiency are universal when right-sized and strategically applied. They’re also learning that when used appropriately, these cross-market ideas can strengthen recruitment/retention, improve employee performance, and accelerate innovation.
Graduating from college and entering the workforce can be a period of dramatic transition for young employees. Not only may this transition require moving to a new city or other serious life changes, it’s often exacerbated by the fact that modern workplaces don’t promote the same experiences as college campuses. Students often spend four or more years on campuses with multidisciplinary, technology-rich learning facilities, green space, and campus walking paths that promote movement and energy. Students who have excelled in these campus environments may have trouble building connections or advancing creative ideas in workplaces that lack these elements.
Before creating their new Chicago-area headquarters, real-estate investment company CA Ventures teamed with us at CannonDesign to conduct extensive research into the plans of collegiate campuses to learn how they empower students. The team recognized that diagonal cuts across campus quadrangles could be incorporated into their workplace design to evoke campus environments while functionally connecting different areas of the office for teaming and collaboration. To integrate the green space often found on college campuses, the new workspace features a living wall that anchors both its reception area and main staff quad. These design elements help the entire workplace operate like its own campus plan, incorporating a main path that connects meeting areas and offices from East to West.
No doubt, higher education campuses offer more space and resources for creating these kinds of connections and spaces. However, organizations should be up to speed on trends in higher education design. Emerging and future generations of the workforce are learning in powerfully different campus environments than previous generations. Investing in research and design strategies that calibrate workplaces to support these generations will be critical for recruitment and retention of top talent moving forward.
Many of today’s most innovative companies were launched from remarkably un-innovative spaces like garages and basements. While none of these spaces were intentionally designed to increase innovation and creativity, they found a way to fuel ideas that went on to change the world. While there are many ways these spaces inspired this innovation, one key attribute is their ability to promote flexibility and freedom. At startups, employees are often able to work as they see fit: They can stand for phone calls, sprawl out on a couch to decompress, hold meetings outside, and close all the doors for focused work.
Larger organizations are beginning to model this approach to work with the design of their new corporate workplaces. Roche—the world’s largest biotech company—will soon open a new 200,000-square-foot office building in Indianapolis that fully promotes a mobile workforce. In the office building, employees are assigned to neighborhoods, but not specific work areas. This allows people to have a home base and identity but also provides the space, flexibility, and technology to empower them to use whatever workplace setting they need, when they need it across the building. Infused with a strategic combination of neighborhoods, offices, open work spaces, focus rooms, and team rooms, the building is designed to help employees collaborate, work, and innovate as they require.
Finding ways to promote flexibility and employee choice is not something that requires extensive space or capital. Everything from corporate headquarters to cluttered garages can offer this to employees in ways that speak to them. Organizations simply need to find the right balance for their workforce.
People often find their best ideas when they’re allowed to put different pieces together, try, modify, tweak, and try again. The new Theater School at DePaul University welcomes this notion by surrounding offices with expansive shop spaces for costume, makeup, prop and scene shops, rehearsal studios, lighting laboratories, movement studios, etc. where students and actors are encouraged to let their imaginations run wild.
All the tools and props they might require are placed along the walls of the shops, and there are no set rules for how they need to be used or arranged. Instead, the entire space is an open canvas where these artists can work together to find creative solutions.
This is an idea organizations can infuse into their workplaces. Rather than view the workplace as a space where prescriptive actions happen in set areas and specific people sit in the same place every day, it is okay to dedicate spaces where employees can arrange technology, furniture, and lighting as they see fit for different activities. It’s okay to let employees sit and work amidst different people or departments for different efforts. This workplace freedom increases employee satisfaction and allows them to be more comfortable and creative each day.
Technology and travel have changed the way we work. We’re able to connect in new ways, and this can lead to employees spending more hours in the office and/or more days traveling away from home. Companies shouldn’t just ignore this reality as a new fact of life but actually respond to it with thoughtful design strategies that enhance employee comfort. Infusing an office with social spaces like cafes, gyms, outdoor terraces, or game rooms lets employees unwind, connect, and discover new ideas when they least expect them.
Insurance giant Lockton recently installed a fully-stocked bar in its new office space to help employees relax, and to drive camaraderie. Company leadership believes the space is helping to increase energy and idea sharing in the office and help prevent office fatigue. DCI Artform goes as far to leverage design ideas from personal homes. The new workplace integrates residential design features and furniture to help employees take a moment to relax during the day and/or work in more comfortable settings. The company also added a café and full-service coffee bar into its workplace. These features not only help employees who are working long days but also clients who are visiting from out of town or working their own long days.
It’s key for companies to find creative ways to integrate these amenity-style spaces into their workspaces. However, it’s rarely as simple as just designating a certain area as a game room or café. Organizations leading this charge are taking the time to engage their employees to learn which types of spaces will most enhance comfort in the workplace.
More than ever before, ideas formed in separate industries are beginning to influence one another as organizations look to promote creativity, collaboration, and employee satisfaction. Organizations are taking this same approach to the workplace and realizing that best ideas across academia, the arts, and more can have positive impacts on their company for the future.
Meg Osman is the executive director of CannonDesign’s Corporate/Commercial Practice, focused on helping businesses design solutions that turn challenges into opportunities for success.
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