contributed by Maddie Davis, Cofounder & Editor at Enlightened-Digital
Interconnectivity, sustainability, and technology are hallmarks of a “smart office”, a growing trend in workspace design. Smart offices have heralded a shift in design principles that parallel a change happening in organizational psychology circles. Today’s workforce is more “plugged in” than ever before, so easy access to day-to-day tech is key. However, designers and their clients are starting to place a greater emphasis on creating spaces that encourage collaboration, happiness, and productivity as well.
What are some core design trends to watch, and how do they benefit the employees that will work in the space? We took a close look at some of the standout themes, below:
Downtown Seattle is home to tech giant Amazon (among others), headquartered in a brand new glass and steel office that also houses over 40,000 plantsfrom cloud forest ecosystems. This lush, greenhouse-type environment, dubbed “The Spheres”, is one standout example of biophilic design, a trend intended to address our gradual aversion to the outdoors as a result of being constantly logged in and on the go.
“The first step is, ‘Why don’t we just go outside? The second step is, ‘We’ll just bring some trees inside,’” Amanda Sturgeon, CEO of the International Living Future Institute, said to CNN. “We’re trying to go to the place after that — which is, ‘What could we learn from what makes us love being outside and incorporate it into the design of our buildings?’”
Other elements of biophilic design include strategic lighting, outdoor meeting places, white noise, even patterns in carpeting that mimic designs found in nature. This blend of simulated and natural biological components work together to create a subconscious experience that is both relaxing and stimulating.
Instagram’s revamped New York City office includes a digital wall right in the lobbythat highlights stories and posts from real users- all 800 million of them. That, coupled with a prismatic glass dome and innovative mobile conference rooms, epitomizes who they are as a brand, as well as the role technology continues to play in their business.
Technological integration is about more than just a display screen on a wall; a good design will incorporate aspects of tech into both the very physicality of the architecture as well as in custom engineered employee experiences that, like Instagram, serve as a reminder of current progress and the constant need for innovation.
One of the largest trends in modern workplaces is the drive to collaborate in all forms, whether that be via the layout of desk space and conference rooms or the use of task management software to expedite workflow. However you look at it, it’s more about balancing the “me” space versus the “we” space in a way that makes sense both from the standpoint of function and productivity.
A recent study from Karlstad University in Sweden found that open-plan offices, which had previously been considered a front-runner of collaborative design, might actually be doing more harm than good.
The author reported that “The results show a negative relationship between the number of co-workers sharing an office and employees’ job satisfaction”, and indicated a correlation between the open concept and lower levels of face-to-face interaction and employee happiness. The original study has since been seconded by researchers at Harvard, which begs the question: how can an office design incorporate the spirit of true collaboration without harming employee morale?
According to Tom Price, principal architect for Strada Architecture based out of Philadelphia, companies should design spaces that “support a diverse range of working styles throughout the day”. These include meeting spaces that reflect the variables of human interaction, including collision (communal spaces where employees can get food or drinks upon running into one another), mixed-use (a more workshop-style environment where people can ideate and test), and huddle rooms ( small spaces with a mix of digital and traditional media- including whiteboards and conference space- that support “we” and “me” time). All of these foster a positive collaborative atmosphere.
The smart office concept is one that seamlessly blends human and machine interaction, promotes employee wellbeing and accelerates a company’s potential for growth. The design elements listed above are by no means an exhaustive list, and as the body of literature on the future of work continues to develop, more insights will come to light on how architecture can impact organizational culture.