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3 Urgent Trends Shaping Workplace Design

Business August 25, 2021

Editor’s Note: Kay Sargent serves as Director of WorkPlace at HOK – a global design, architecture, engineering and planning firm. She shared her thoughts on workplace design with us in advance of our August 25th Master Class, “3 Hurdles Threatening Your Post-Pandemic Technology Strategy.” 

When Boomers and Gen-Xers entered the workforce, they went to the office because that’s where the equipment was. Now, with a laptop, smartphone and Wi-Fi connection, we can work from just about anywhere. Yet, many offices still look like they did decades ago – a sea of cubicles, assigned desks, file cabinets and meeting rooms.

Today, more than ever, employees are reshaping workplace design. Kay Sargent shared three important trends poised to change not just the office environment, but how we work as well.

Trend #1: The worker relationship to the office has changed

Companies can no longer design an environment and say, “this is where you have to work” because that’s no longer the case. Instead, Sargent believes companies need to transform the office – creating an ecosystem where employees want to be.

For example, employees may work from the office one day, work from a collaborative hub the company offers the next and spend the remainder of their workweek at home.

Technology started the shift in what constitutes a workplace and the pandemic dramatically accelerated it. As a result, the new hybrid worker relationship with the office has changed completely.

Trend #2: Spatial design needs have evolved

In the past decade, organizations did their best to densify the work environment. In many cases, work groups like customer contact centers drove this trend. Managers wanted to be near their teams to provide real-time assistance.

“I don’t think anybody wants to go back into those uber-dense environments now,” says Sargent. People are more sensitive to their surroundings and how close they are to others. Plus, there are technology options for getting answers and input that people are now very comfortable with.” Sargent added.

In addition to paying close attention to the amount of space employees want, Sargent believes companies should look at how employees use the space.

For example, many people no longer need an assigned desk because they don’t work in the office every day (which leads to wasted space). Plus, when the remote workforce does go to the office, many want the freedom to choose where they’ll work based on what they’re doing.

Some employees might be easily distracted or prefer a quiet environment. A more active space might energize others. And some neuro-diverse employees have even higher or lower visual or auditory sensitivities.

This means a one-size-fits-all design doesn’t work anymore. The solution, Sargent believes, is providing people with options and choices, allowing them to naturally gravitate to the space that best suits them. “To create a workplace that meets every need, you have to create tailored settings,” Sargent adds.

Trend #3: More businesses are embracing a subscription model

Sargent finds that many clients are afraid to make workplace decisions and investments because they’re concerned their choices will soon become obsolete. This is especially challenging in the United States because lease terms tend to be longer than in other parts of the world.

Sargent thinks building out for a 10-year or longer lease term is an unrealistic model going forward. In fact, she wonders: “Why would you ever want to own anything?”

From office furniture to technology, Sargent believes we need a new model similar to what’s emerged in other industries – where a product becomes a service (e.g., Uber and Airbnb). In other words, companies should consider a subscription model for workplace design.

Under this approach, companies contract with a provider for what they need, pay for it monthly and get ongoing expert advice. Then, they have the option to upgrade as they need or want. This is especially helpful for meeting room AV equipment because it offers a level of flexibility that benefits companies and users.

Are you adapting to these trends?

These are just a few of the design trends Sargent believes will redefine how the next generation views the workplace and how leading-edge companies can adapt. The common thread among them is acknowledging the need for a new approach.

Sargent encourages businesses to start where they are and reimagine from there, adding “We all have a unique opportunity right now to rethink where we work, when we work and how we work.”

Want to learn more? Check out our ebook, "The IT Leaders Guide to Supporting a Hybrid Workforce."


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