The power of office design – 10 major trends to watch

The power of office design – 10 major trends to watch
The power of office design – 10 major trends to watch

Setting up an office in 2014 is not as simple as a creating an imposing front entrance, nice boardroom, rows of desks and glassed-off rooms for the managers.

Do this, and your workplace will be viewed as mediocre – sending the wrong message about your capabilities to clients and also to potential and current staff, who could feel less valued and connected to the company as a result, experts say.

To avoid this, many top businesses are investing extensive time and money into creating an environment that is cutting edge. Collaboration hubs, areas to hold functions, flexible workspaces and café-style kitchens are just scratching the surface of possibilities.

While SMEs may have small budgets to work with when it comes to creating a dynamic, future-focused workspace, it is possible to take some ideas from the corporate or creative worlds and adopt elements within your financial reach.

For inspiration, SmartCompany spoke to two leading experts in the field of office design, HASSELL principal Steve Coster and Schiavello workspace planner Nick Tennant.

“The good thing we are seeing, particularly for SMEs is that these themes are applicable to businesses regardless of their size,” Tennant says.

Here are 10 of their hot tips.

Above: The entry to the Savill’s office in Brisbane is grand but has a sense of being open - designed by Carr Design.

1. Let the outside world in

A grand entrance and reception space hiding the work environment may serve some organisations, but today it is more about letting the outside world in, according to Coster.

“Now work is a much more collaborative process, where you may be working with another firm, so your space needs to allow you to do that,” he says.

“You may have an external firm in your office more often, or freelancers working as part of your project team. It is a more complex population of people that are just as likely to be from outside your organisation as in it.”

Coster also says this means office spaces can become a marketing tool to show clients how you work and the strength of your team. He says the ANZ Centre in Melbourne’s Docklands is a good example of an open environment, as visitors can walk right into the middle of the building into an atrium, without going through security.

Above: This Schiavello design uses a Krossi sit/stand workstation to enable flexible work options.

2. Attract staff with style and culture

If you want good staff, create an appealing workplace, suggests Tennant.

“Top performing businesses are in a war for talent, and to get the best talent they are using the workplace as a tool to retain staff,” Tennant says. “It is also about making them happy to give their best.”

He says the “bells and whistles” offered in some workplaces range from simple things like free food, to café-style lunch areas, or ping pong tables and sleeping pods.

“We are seeing residential and hospitality design influencing the more informal areas of an office, such as a lounge or a break area. As people spend more time in the office, it is becoming a home away from home,” he says.

“It could be a sit/stand workstation to provide comfort and control to an individual as a trade-off to perhaps a smaller desk.”

Coster agrees, citing researching that shows the more extra facilities an employee offers, the greater chance staff will find the workplace an attractive office.

“It might be gym facilities, wellness facilities, or classes such as yoga. Or childcare to show support of diversity,” Coster says.

“Also there is a broader atmosphere dynamic which is about people perceiving it as the kind of organisation they want to work for – the social capital of an organisation, not just being a number.”

“It is the opposite of anonymity – the big buildings with repeated rows of workstations is not going to cut it.”

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Above: This Schiavello design features the Krossi, a sit/stand workstation for greater flexibility across a wide range of workspaces.

3. Activated spaces

As the way people work becomes more diverse, so too are the spaces they need to facilitate this work.

Tennant says that one of the greatest trends is making the configuration of office spaces diverse.

“We try to get a deep understanding of work styles and work modes. So rather than spending all day at a single desk and popping into a meeting room, we are seeing break-out lounges, circulation areas, informal seating, and standing work areas to facilitate serendipitous encounters and random acts of creativity,” Tennant says.

This “activity-based working” has often been referred to as hot-desking.

“It comes back to the idea that a standard desk for every person is an outdated notion now.”

Coster says the key to these “activated spaces” is balancing them with areas for concentrated work.

Above: This design for Transfield Services designed by PTID Environments shows a modern, collaborative workspace.

4. Sustainability as the norm

A few years ago sustainability was a buzzword when it came to office design, but Tennant says it should now be simply “good practice”.

“Basically, traditional office buildings are underutilised and sparsely populated – so it makes sense to populate them with more people,” Tennant says.

“It is also sustainable. Having huge buildings running lighting and air conditioning and not having many people in them makes no sense.”

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Above: This Schiavello design uses the Kayt Quiet booth-like lounge with high sides and back for quite conversation or concentration.

5. Musical furniture

Office spaces traditionally have fixed furniture that requires facilities teams to assemble or disassemble. Now, flexible furniture options are key, explains Coster, enabling staff to “self-organise” their office space.

“(This is) so spaces can be changed at the speed at which they need to be changed, not next Thursday when the facilities department has time to come and move it for you. So that speeds up the whole business, potentially,” he says.

“Linked to that is greater emotional ownership of those spaces by the teams. People need to feel like it is their space to move around, so they can turn it into whatever sort of space they need.”

Tennant says this need for workplace design flexibility is not only about day-to-day experiences, but also reflective of general volatility in business conditions.

“With volatility being discussed in the media environment… with all these changes happening constantly, businesses have to think how to adapt faster than their competitors. The take-out from that as a product response is that furniture needs to be able to be moved easily.”

The power of office design – 10 major trends to watch

Above: Schiavello set out to make workplaces malleable with Climate, a workplace furniture platform that gives control back to the users. It can be moved around easily to support changing needs.

6. Create social capital

Creating a community within a workplace is now just as important as productivity. Coster explains this helps to build “social capital” which leads to other sorts of value in your business.

“An example of a workplace that is also a community is dtac House in Bangkok, the headquarters for one of Thailand’s leading telcos,” Coster says.

“They had a whole lot of employees in their 20s and a big turnover rate. They provided a whole series of recreational facilities, gyms, games rooms and music rooms and all sorts of whacky stuff that the young employees would use together. Through that play they developed a greater sense of cohort among themselves and developed a greater retention in the organisation.”

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Above:The HASSELL offices in Sydney have an in-built auditorium for hosting presentations. Photographer: Nicole England.

7. Home for events

To make a mark in your sector, bringing the industry to your workplace is a good way to go about it. Coster says creating spaces within an office environment to hold events and engage with clients and collaborators is becoming important.

“It could be event spaces where your aim is to host event spaces in your office. You could host those to bring people closer to your firm. It could be an exhibition space or event space or roof terrace,” he says.

“Right in the middle of our Sydney office is a big set of bleacher steps where we have our team meetings and industry lectures.”

Above: This Schiavello design uses a Krossi sit/stand workstation to enable flexible work options.

8. Mix your community

Thinking beyond the realm of your own company and to how you could be in proximity to a mix of industries is key, Coster says.

“If there are only ever accountants coming out of your building it is a lost opportunity.”

He suggests looking at the surrounding mix of big companies and smaller independent companies that could be service providers to those other organisations, and sharing space with them or freelance workers.

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The power of office design – 10 major trends to watch

Above: At the ANZ centre in Melbourne HASSSELL created different environments on each level. Photography: Earl Carter.

9. Spread into the public

Workplaces are spilling out into the public realm, with people working outdoors and in public spaces, Coster explains.

“What people have been doing for a long time is working in the coffee shop as much as the office. It is an extension of that idea. Some places already exist like libraries, or the airport lounge or co-working facilities,” he says.

“But it makes you think about public spaces as well. A City Square or a park could be places you work in the right weather.”

Above: HASSELL designed the George Patterson offices, with versatile spaces catering to creative and business needs. Photography: Dianna Snape

10. Authentic interiors

There are no set trends when it comes to office interiors, Coster says, but rather the need to create authentic spaces “that don’t feel fake and contrived”.

“Why do people like being in heritage buildings more than generic office buildings? Traditional generic office buildings are contrived spaces,” he says.

“That is why people think of theme parks as fake, they want places that feel authentic with texture, layers and heritage.”

This article first appeared on SmartCompany.

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