By Sarah Barker
From commercial interior designers to architects to cubemates, we are all in constant search of what’s next in workplace trends. After all, a well-designed office is not just easy on the eyes, but is key to boosting productivity and morale. In other words, we get why Peter Gibbons knocked down his cube walls in “Office Space,” and we’re on a mission to help make your office better. So we headed to Chicago’s NeoCon—North America’s largest design expo for commercial interiors—to get a pulse on what’s working in workplaces. But we didn’t stop there. Sourcing locally, we looked to our own backyard and attended Denver’s version of the expo, NeoCan’t, taking us back to the 1960s workplace. “The [‘Mad Men’] theme this year did a wonderful job of connecting the mid-century modern era with today—and yes, there is crossover,” said Traci Lounsbury, Principal at ELEMENTS, NeoCan’t host. “Individual workspaces are smaller, furniture design is more rectilinear, and the classic pieces from manufacturers like Knoll have resurfaced with a vengeance.” While some trends are taking cues from the past, plenty of new ones have emerged, as technological advancements continue to change how we communicate, innovate, and think. The five trends here show just how far we’ve come in the modern workplace—making office life a picnic!
TREND 1: QUIET
Over the last several decades, workspaces have been evolving to become more open and multifunctional. And in keeping our iPads alert and our LinkedIn feeds open, we’ve been privy to the great debate of the open plan versus private offices. While there has been a great push to open the environment—encouraging communication and collaboration—we are starting to recognize the need for private spaces and focus zones, and furniture manufacturers are responding. Steelcase promotes the idea of creating a new ecosystem within the office and recently launched the Susan Cain “Quiet Spaces” line (above), which offers a haven to prevent overexposure from distractions. “My favorite component of the new Susan Cain Quiet Spaces is that we are creating experiences and applications with the integration of architecture, furniture, and technology that allow me—as an individual—to select the best light level, posture, connectivity, and acoustic privacy level that I desire throughout my day to do the best work, or be the best me,” said Leah Drach, Local Workplace Consultant for Steelcase. Available at OfficeScapes in Denver, the Quiet Spaces line offers several styles, including the “Flow,” modeled for focus, the “Be Me” room, which can be used for lounging and reading, or even the “Studio,” outfitted for yoga and meditation. Other companies taking to the privacy trend are using acoustical panels that double as walls to provide peaceful respite.
TREND 2: SERENDIPITOUS
Collaboration is important in a workplace, but it has become an overused term that may seem forced and counterintuitive. There is a shift from this concept, and we are finding ways to create huddle spaces or shelters that allow people to engage in the right connections. It is this cross-circuit interaction that inspires the new Izzy+ collection. “‘Connection’ is the more accurate buzzword, but they go beyond that and say that ‘serendipity’ is even better,” said Crystal Nodsle from Source Four about the Nemo Trellis and Bar (above). “Rather than scheduled meetings, people are out in the open and a spark is created simply by having a point of interest in the office that people gather to instinctively.” Herman Miller even designed its new Public Office Landscape line around the idea that “the more people connect, the better they work.” Creating opportunities for chance encounters, companies are moving coffee stations to the front, constructing longer and wider hallways, and are even offering games, picnic tables, and volleyball pits for more serendipitous interaction among those who may not regularly interact. What you won’t find, however, is a space to call your own. Many offices are embracing open seating, boosting chances to bump into colleagues even more.
TREND 3: INFORMAL
The workday is changing, and the 9-to-5 is becoming a thing of the past. Robin Tardy of Denver’s Workplace Resource encourages firms to recognize the cultural shift that is forming a new work-life balance. It is important for companies to look at the needs of their employees as technology is creating an “always on” environment. Furniture manufacturers like Geiger are responding to this need with furniture that is becoming more comfortable and casual. This year at NeoCon, they launched the Elsi collections by Jess Sorel, for a full range of conferencing functions with a more residential feel. You’ll also notice more lounge options, including sofas and even ottomans. Fabrics are softer, cafes are on the rise, and inviting nooks are around every corner.
TREND 4: HEALTHY
How lucky are we to design in today’s world? In addition to improving the function of a space, new innovations change the function of the products themselves. We are now able to specify materials that perform at levels we have never seen before: more products with antimicrobial technologies, carpeting that provides emergency lighting, and flooring that cleans the air and resists bacteria growth. FilzFelt launched the Architecture Research Office Collection at the Knoll’s NeoCon 2014 showroom made with 100 percent wool design felt. With this product line, it is now easier to design seating areas and spaces that are not only comfortable, colorful, and welcoming, they are static, mold- and mildew-resistant, biodegradable, and have thermal, acoustical, and self-extinguishing capabilities. Also, as manufacturing processes evolve, companies are responding with an increasing interest in social responsibility and sustainability. 3form (above) has recognized this fact in a continued effort to create a decorative resin with handcrafted details from artisans around the world, with this year’s new launches from artisans in Nepal and Senegal. Finally, ECONYL is a 100-precent recycled content carpet fiber made from discarded fishnets and carpeting—benefiting seas, beaches, and marine life. We’re also seeing an increase in outdoor access and rooftop decks.
TREND 5: FLEXIBLE
The trending quote from NeoCon this year was “sitting is the new smoking.” We are seeing more companies encouraging active work environments as they realize the importance to employee wellness and its effect on increasing performance. While the standing desk was, and still is, popular in the workplace, adjustable worktables are stealing the spotlight, accommodating the informality of standing meetings. “The lounge height conference table is a hit!” said Robin Tardy of Workplace Resource. “It’s a unique trend that allows people to have less formal meetings.” But the flexibility isn’t just vertical. Tables and seating are becoming mobile with the help of wheels. And most furniture lines today can not only be moved around, but also configured differently. There is an overwhelming need for flexibility and movement throughout the workday, and with that, we are also seeing the increasing emergence of walking meetings. “The workplace is considered to be an extension of our own personal spaces—and we spend a lot of time there—so there is a desire to incorporate opportunities of healthy activities,” said Ange Ard, Mountain Region Sales Manager at Watson.
For even more modern workplace trends, pick up the fall issue of Modern In Denver magazine and see the full story.