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Looking to the future in office design

jeremy-jeffersWhat do you think of when you hear the term “office?”  What image flashes through your mind? I believe for most of us, the answer is based on our own experiences from our careers, or from visiting an office that has left an impression that may be positive or negative.

An office is not a static layout in which one size fits all. Office design today is dynamic, and fluctuating based on recent design thinking and awareness that our work place is an environment that is healthy. It is a place we enjoy walking into every day. It optimizes our potential for production, creativity, and happiness.

In the design of an office, there should be no “one size fits all” philosophy. The imitation of the Google open office is not always a good thing. If an employee is an introvert, working in such an open environment is a torment.  Sometimes, the availability of private office space is necessary for office functions which require confidentiality.

square-feet-january-commentary-blurbIn a recent article in Inc., Jeff Pochepan, president, Strong Project, Inc. wrote, “With the onslaught of open-office trend articles and latest technologies, sometimes we forget the considerations of what makes for great, classic, authentic office designs. The deeper foundations of a company’s culture are sacrificed for the new and shiny, and fast design is mistakenly favored over thoughtful layouts and high-quality furniture and thoughtful layouts.”

Is there a need for privacy, or is open, creative collaboration a priority? Creating a great work space that emphasizes and promotes the company brand and provides comfort for that company’s employees requires team work, attention to, research with the company’s branding specialist, and consideration of the company culture that is to be built. A checklist should include:

1.     Focus on the psychological comfort of the employee.

2.     Not sacrificing brand identity for discounted finishes, fixtures, and furniture.

3.     Review the materials that will be used.

4.     Choose designers and suppliers whose stories resonate with you.

5.     Measure your workspace needs for effective planning.

6.     Keep movement and wellness in mind and invest in the employee’s physical well-being.

7.     Not jumping on the open office trend if it is not right for your employees.

We must also be careful of those design elements that may be disguised as cutting edge, but are overused and out dated. Examples of type of design trends include reclaimed wood, providing too much fun or gimmicky attractions, providing non-office furniture like bean-bag-chairs, standing or walking desks which only add to office fatigue, and as what one article stated, “Stop imitating Google.”

The goal of today’s office design is to go beyond creating a building that is sustainable and energy efficient, and to work with the occupants for which we are designing the spaces. Our intent should be to make employees more efficient, productive, and inspired. Today’s emerging office design trends are grounded on the principle of attracting and retaining great people.

There are numerous articles available that share the do’s and don’ts of office design.  A trend identified as “Biophillic Design” has emerged from technology changes, a focus on the human factor, and environmental and energy awareness.

To call this a trend is not completely accurate, as biophilic design is a philosophy founded upon our innate connection with nature and natural elements. This design concept extends beyond the office building type, and has become a tipping point that could be considered a design best-practice.  Examples of biophilic features include green walls, plants, natural woods or stone, and any material that mimics the natural world. We, as a species, have divorced ourselves from nature. We spend more time now indoors at home and at work, and experience more commute time in our daily lives. Nature has never been more important than it is today. As a result, we are missing the basic benefits of our needed exposure to nature.

The core features of biophilic design include scattered or clustered varied vegetation, overlooking landscapes, blurred boundaries between indoors and outdoors, dynamic and diffused light, natural scents, proximity to water, the use of natural and local materials, and providing shelter or privacy. The benefits of biophilic design may include reduced employee absenteeism, improved health, increased feeling of well-being, improved productivity, increased employee engagement, reduced stress levels, and reduced fatigue.

Sometimes our perception of new concepts is merely a reinvention of something past. The organic architecture movement of the early 20th century was developed around these theories. What we see today are the technologies, means, and methods to take the best of these practices and make them better. As businesses become aware of the scientific research into mental and physical benefits to their workforces, and of their increased profitability due to sustainability and improved building performance, the more important biophilic design will become in the future of office design.

Jeremy C. Jeffers, AIA, CSI, CDT is president-election of the American Institute of Architects – Idaho.

 

 

 

 

About Jeremy C. Jeffers