Shaping the look of the modern office

Office design has come a long way since the early days of dark wood panelling and crammed-in rows of desks with no privacy. And we’ve largely moved beyond the cubicle age, too: while twenty years ago we’d find divided spaces in most offices, recent design trends have led to larger, open plan offices that promote collaboration.

But what’s next for office interiors? Among design experts there’s plenty of discussion around activity-based working spaces, which blend open plan with enclosed areas on a task-to-task basis. Aimed at allowing staff to work in environments which best suit the work they’re doing at the time, the hope is that these spaces reduce what some companies consider the distracting atmosphere of no-walls offices.

It’s hard to say whether or not this will catch on, but before we look at the future of office design, let’s analyse why office interiors play a big role for the workforce at large.

The motivations behind office interior design

First things first: why is office design important? Interior design can undoubtedly have a  positive impact on employees, through either boosting productivity or increasing engagement, but it is not solely for staff benefit. 

Although that plays a large part – and for many smaller companies, a good office is crucial for attracting the best talent – the modern office is designed according to the way the working world operates at any given time. One of the major ways this plays out is through how we communicate at work.

Think back to those early offices with closely-packed desks: most communication took place either through letters or in-person, and when we shifted to telephone, private cubicles took precedence to give staff an area where they could conduct calls with a semblance of quiet. When the internet began to dominate, this moved towards open-plan spaces where staff could communicate with each other, while conducting meetings and conversations via email that didn’t require space to hear.

Today, offices are commonly built around a mixture of in-person meeting spaces and email / instant communication, leading towards a trend for open plan offices that allow for discussion and collaboration to take place simultaneously.

Open plan offices vs. the alternatives

As mentioned, that’s not always considered a positive. Office space design has to balance two things: productivity of staff, and whether it’s fit for purpose. Recent research shows that often staff don’t feel they can work efficiently in an open plan space, showing that in some cases the modern office environment might have become too geared towards being a pleasant space rather than a place of work. To tackle this, designers have been looking at creating an agile workspace to match our increasingly diverse working lives: offices that have mixed-type rooms and spaces made for suiting all types of employees.

The movement is gathering momentum. Instead of offering an open plan office, many modern companies are now creating these spaces with purpose-built areas for relaxation, work, and special tasks. And of course, there’s the increase in flexible working, which allows staff to work from home or to hotdesk in different locations all for the purpose of increasing productivity and retention.

In this way, optimising office space and how we use it is a critical part of the future of work. Developing alongside the advances in technology and communications, which will dictate how businesses choose to deploy their staff, it’s safe to say that the designers of the future will need to work hard to create a space that does everything we need it to.

Offices of the future

While it’s difficult to predict exactly what the future of office design will look like, we can analyse the cutting edge offices of today and draw parallels for likely future trends. Open plan definitely seems here to stay: the benefits are so obvious, covering everything from increased natural light to adaptability, that we’d need to change working habits drastically for this style to disappear soon.

However, office interiors are likely to change over the next decade. Looking at spaces like our new Broadwick Street office in London’s Soho, which features a purpose built podcast studio, library and breakout areas, we can already see the blend of workspace, focus space and relaxation space that many designers are moving towards. 

Common emergent trends in office space design include:

Focus on sustainability

The workplace of the future will almost definitely place emphasis on sustainability in design. Younger employees already value companies who tackle green problems, a trend which will continue as they age up in the workforce and begin to make these larger decisions. And as it becomes more important for the environment at large, businesses will make the shift towards sustainable offices to ensure they’re keeping up with current standards.

Customisable office space

We’ve already looked at the possibility of agile workspaces: this is likely to continue and perhaps even grow in popularity as the decade moves on. From modular furniture to creative walls, extensions and purpose-built spaces, flexibility will be an important aspect of the increasing need for practical office design.

Tech in focus

Not just limited to tech companies, the renewed focus on upscaling the office’s technology will likely continue as new opportunities for communication develop. The previous decades have been all about revolutionising how we talk to one another at work: augmented reality and VR meetings might just make their way to the forefront.

Windows for walls

It’s widely stated that productivity goes down when staff don’t have ready access to window spaces. Exposure to natural light is important for people who work in an office, and future designs are likely to focus on bringing this to the forefront. Whether this looks like larger windows – creating a greenhouse style – or moving part of the workspace outside, this is an aspect of office interiors that is here to stay.

Those are just the four most prominent trends to emerge in the last few years, but the modern office is already unrecognisable from that of the 80s or 90s. 

It’s clear to see that the future of office design is taking shape as we speak.

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