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Office Design Trends Changing the Modern Workplace

Vibrant colours. Big open spaces. Communal areas. State-of-the-art technology. Amenities including everything from game rooms and rooftop golf courses to dog patios and daycares.

Suffice it to say the modern office space is unlike anything we’ve seen in the past. Thinking outside the cubicle box has become the norm in the competitive commercial real estate world, as landlords vie to attract tenants to their buildings.

Cara Henry is a marketing manager at Truspace, an interior design firm for commercial real estate headquartered in Edmonton with offices in Vancouver and Toronto. According to Henry, people are being drawn to “collaborative spaces where there’s an opportunity for authentic connection.” At the same time, workers—and millennials in particular—are spending more and more time at the office.

“Because of the number of hours we’re seeing people work…we want to make sure they’re getting an enjoyable space they can spend time in comfortably,” she says.

One key trend is giving offices a more residential feel, which is thought to help spark collaboration. “It speaks to facilitating that authentic connection,” Henry says. “It’s really difficult to collaborate when you have a bunch of closed doors and everybody’s at their desk in a chair all day.”

This translates to more open space, more soft seating and a “homey” vibe, with comfy, communal areas and multi-purpose rooms where people can get up from their desk to work.

“We’re seeing a lot of breakout rooms, collaboration areas and flex areas,” explains Erin Gardiner, an associate with Shearer Design in Calgary. “You no longer have to come to the office and sit at your desk all day. You can work in other locations in your office.”

Working remotely has changed the way people view office life, too. As coffee shops moved to accommodate this work-from-wherever lifestyle, they inadvertently inspired a desire to replicate that café-like ambience at work.

“Many people are finding their employees go away to get coffee. They’re looking for that Starbucks environment,” Gardiner says. “But if they can recreate that experience in their office space, their staff are more likely to stay longer and enjoy the work environment they have there.”

However, open office layouts can also contribute to more distractions and noise. Office acoustics play a big role in productivity and well-being, which is why savvy designers are also looking to incorporate white noise or sound masking.

Collaboration, comfort and coffee shops aside, there’s another big “c” trend driving the industry: customization. Companies want to create a space specifically tailored to their ethos and branding.

“People are really getting away from the cookie-cutter office. In the 1970s and ‘80s, offices kind of looked the same,” Henry explains. “We’re finding that branding really permeates the look and feel of the space, so we want to make sure the space reflects the look and feel of the company.”

For Gardiner, the key to standing out in a competitive market is making spaces unique to each tenant, though she has noticed some commonality in the requested features—including more personal and functional (albeit, smaller) workspaces.

“They can have a smaller footprint but still have lots of personality to them, lots of storage,” she says. “Features like height adjustability are helping with the ergonomic aspect of design.”

Meanwhile, companies are evaluating the merits of conventional office set-ups and looking towards different ways of working altogether.

Karen Iredale, an associate for interior design at Kasian Architecture Interior Design & Planning Ltd. in Calgary, suggests the days of office cubicles may be numbered.

Dedicated workspaces are giving way to more flexible workstations and ”free-addressing,” a term describing a concierge-style office where “you don’t necessarily work from the same workstation every day,” she says.

Finally, there’s an increased emphasis placed on wellbeing efforts at work. Biophilic design, which refers to the use of plants throughout an office space, is on the rise. Plants are natural air purifiers and mood boosters, two very desirable elements for an office.

“It creates that feeling of calmness and bringing the outdoors inside,” Henry says. Plus, plants require lots of natural light—another important element in modern office design.

Plants aren’t the only wellness initiatives taking root. Spaces offering health perks and incentives—everything from hydration stations and green walls to yoga and meditation rooms—may soon become ubiquitous in modern offices.