5 trends impacting office space design

5 trends impacting office space design

Originally published in the Hartford Business Journal November 1, 2021.

The staggered return to offices has created some unique themes that commercial interior designers, architects and space-planning experts are tracking across clients in many different industries.

Here are five trends to think about:

1. Work from home is here to stay

Most companies are currently planning on letting their employees have a hybrid schedule.

While most of the focus work can be done from home, activities that require collaboration, generation of new ideas, and new business are better done in the office environment.

The office is a place to facilitate the social aspect of work, where employees can mingle, have informal and planned social interactions not only within their own team, but also with other departments.

2. Work from home isn’t the problem, it’s inspiration

To facilitate the return to the office, companies are taking steps to re-imagine their spaces by adding a “resi-mercial” twist to their existing facilities.

Rows of desks are being removed to make way for residential style (but commercial grade) soft seating, plush carpets and tablet-top tables.

Some of the popular features include furniture with electrical and USB outlets to power your device, acoustical panels for noise control, TV screens with cloud or Wi-Fi capabilities to catch up with a working-from-home colleague, and work cafes with healthy snacks and delicious lattes.

These multipurpose areas will be used for collaboration, hoteling or some impromptu social interactions that lead to the flow of creative energy where new ideas and concepts are born.

3. Focus on employee well-being

Mental and physical well-being of the employees is something that needs to be addressed in the “new” office even more than before.

Equal access to window views and natural light, various re-charging spaces, spaces to take a private phone call or have a private conversation, ergonomic furniture, good lighting, plants, spaces that support functions performed in the office, as well as aesthetically pleasing color and finish schemes show employees they are being valued by the company

That, in turn, increases the sense of belonging and helps with productivity as well as talent retention.

4. Focus on sense of safety, security and cleanliness

It’s important to provide a new office that people feel safe to return to. Simple renovations like cheerful fresh paint on the walls, new carpet, and deeply-cleaned surfaces can show employees they are coming to a clean, sanitary environment.

Soft furniture with curvy lines and grounded bases look safe and welcoming.

5. Taller workstation panels are making a return

Companies are requesting them for the employees that will be required to work from the office most of the week. Higher panels that can be cleaned with bleach-based solutions topped with glass panels create a physical barrier that make people feel psychologically safer while providing some visual privacy.

The pandemic has accelerated the arrival of the future of work and the future of the office. I believe the pre-pandemic office as we knew it will never return.

Rethinking the way we design and build offices can create truly inspiring spaces.

In such spaces employees can work more efficiently and in a healthier way than at home, collaborate and generate new ideas and products, and have clear and healthy boundaries between work and home.

If employers want to get employees energized about returning to the office, it’s going to take more than dusting off old cubicles.

Laura Merrill is the director of design for Infinity Group, a commercial design-build firm headquartered in Hartford.