Four Trends Reshaping Design Solutions for the Workplace

by Heather MacDonald
Farnsworth Group

Creative interior design can enhance your business, increase employee retention and promote your brand.

Above: A break room can be much more than a space to house the office refrigerator. If designed with multiple purposes in mind, it can be transformed from a place for informal meetings to an area for playing board games with coworkers—almost like the kitchen at home.

As an interior designer, one expects to see trends come and go in the industry. With the fast-paced lives we now lead, the innovations in design are expected to keep up. Color palettes are always changing as new, bold color trends are redefined. Materials are reimagined and enhanced to meet higher industry standards. Furniture styles have evolved from formal arrangements promoting office hierarchy to a more minimalistic approach reflecting comfort and flexibility. Technology and digital media are shaping how companies utilize space.

Creative interior design can enhance your business, increase employee retention and promote your brand. Here are four trends that may influence how interior designers provide solutions in workplace design.

Branding: More Than a Logo
Branding has become a full-force marketing tool, but the ways in which designers use branding techniques are expanding from just web and print material. From utilizing a company’s logo colors on accent walls to wallcoverings digitally printed with its mission statement, corporate branding is really having its time in the sun.

Designs must emphasize and drive the brand from the moment an employee or customer steps into the space and continue throughout the workplace. Bright colors and digital photography can enhance even the smallest of meeting rooms or copy rooms. Companies use branding to place importance not only on gaining customers and increasing profits, but also on employee culture, hoping to attract exceptional candidates in an increasingly competitive job market. Overall, branding has transitioned from a logo at the front desk into an immersive corporate experience.

RLI Huddle Space
The Workstation Huddle Space in RLI’s Peoria office helps to spark creativity and interaction among coworkers.

Technology Controls Workplace Flexibility
The age of the expansive, private corner office has long since passed. Consolidated shared offices, remote working and open concept desking are taking its place. More and more, coworking spaces are controlling the design dialogue for how employees get work done.

For many young professionals, the flexibility to move their workspace to various locations has become a top priority. In stride with rising leasing costs, this phenomenon drives companies to cut back on the square-footage needs of the “brick and mortar” office and provide opportunities for collaboration in other ways. Since a lot of work happens in the cloud, spaces must be equipped with communication devices that can connect people from across the globe—not just the cubicle next door.

The ability to move your work area around also promotes an active lifestyle, which helps the growing ergonomic concerns faced by many companies. Sit-to-stand desks, active-sit chairs and workplace wellness programs help employees fight the sedentary lifestyle of the typical 9-to-5 desk job.

Advances in acoustics technologies also play a big role when discussing open office concepts. As workstations move toward lower panel heights, separate rooms designed as private spaces give employees the flexibility to have confidential meetings or take personal phone calls in private, away from their workstation. In addition, white noise systems are being used to offset noisy environments in open office layouts. A focus on flexibility—for individuals to work how and where they want—is critical in designing for the future office landscape.

Bringing the Home/Café/Bar to the Office
The old saying “Don’t bring your work home” has never been more relevant than it is today. Each and every day, employees are trying to walk the blurry line of being accessible yet private, being hard-working yet having a flourishing family life. Designers are tasked with providing solutions for this within the workplace.

With flexible technologies at their disposal, many employees are used to working in locations other than the typical office setting. Millennial workers are accustomed to getting work done in cafés, brewpubs and hotel lobbies. Designers are taking cues from the retail, hospitality and residential realms to bring the concepts of customer service, amenities and eye-catching designs to the workplace.

Open-concept floor plans are being broken up into “neighborhoods” that promote interaction among coworkers. Each neighborhood may have its own café, serenity space or collaborative area to spark creativity. Even in smaller offices, these shared breakout spaces are becoming more interactive and multi-use. A break room can be much more than a space to house the coffee and office refrigerator! If the space is designed with multiple purposes in mind, it can be transformed from a place for informal meetings to an area for playing board games with coworkers—almost like the kitchen at home.

More often, furniture is being designed to be used in a variety of ways within a work-lounge atmosphere. Lounge seating has become more residential in appearance, and chairs are upholstered with softer and more comfortable fabrics. Soft curtains are being used to section off space in larger rooms, and pillows are being used to bring that “living room feel” into collaboration areas.


The Brainstorming Room at Electrolux shows how softer, more comfortable furniture can bring a “living room feel” into collaboration areas.

Bringing Nature Inside
With all this technology in the workplace, there’s been a big push back toward natural materials. Whether it’s repurposing barn wood, growing indoor vertical gardens or providing greater access to sources of natural light, the intentional effort to bring nature inside has proven to enhance an employee’s well-being at work.

The use of time-tested materials like wood, stone, grass and woolen fabrics can provide the space with a “lived-in” comfort, even in brand-new environments. The innovative use of skylights shows how natural light can make all the difference in an otherwise artificially lit space. Employees who can connect to nature in their office space—even just to see if it’s raining outside—have been shown to express more happiness with their companies than those who are stuck in a sea of cubicles with no connection to the outside world.

It’s been shown in healthcare environments that biophilic design, a trend which focuses on designing with humans’ inherent inclination to affiliate with nature in mind, speeds up healing time for patients. The same principles can be used in corporate environments to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Spaces with emphasis on natural lighting, materials, flooring and acoustics promote well-being and happiness for each employee.

Many design trends come and go, but those that stay are the ones that reflect larger shifts in society. Branding is a key component in how companies connect with customers and employees, and technology continues to become more intertwined with how we work day to day. As spaces become more casual and flexible to the changing workplace culture, there’s still a deep sense that we are all connected to our surroundings. Designers are using their expertise to creatively use materials, lighting, technology, acoustics, branding and color to create experiences that promote successful and purposeful workplace interactions. iBi

Heather MacDonald, IIDA, NCIDQ, is an interior designer at Farnsworth Group, Inc.

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