The future of workspace design in 5 words

in Design Trends

Milan Design Week is always a very rich source of interior design inspiration. This year, there was a particular focus on workspace design. More than 50 exhibitors presented their new collections at Salone del Mobile in Workplace 3.0 as well as around the city.

Walking around Milan, I saw a clear change in the way workspaces are conceived, and I’m summarizing it here in 5 words.

1. Flexibility

The workspace of tomorrow is fluid and customizable according to personal needs. Spaces are adaptable, and the same spot can transition from group work area to individual working station in no time.

Modular and flexible furniture is what makes this possible and examples range from soundproof curtains and room dividers to easy-to-move chairs with storage underneath.

Small conversation areas enclosed with curtains.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Archiproducts apartment. Photo by BuzziSpace (via Instagram) (opened in a new window/tab)
Chair with small integrated table and a storage unit at the bottom.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Cila Go chair by Arper (opened in a new window/tab). Photo by Marco Covi & RNDR Studio

It is also more and more common to see single-place pods dedicated to focus work. Enclosed in acoustic surfaces, these pods provide a silent and private area that facilitates concentration.

The growth of focus work areas fits perfectly into the most recent researches that prove how open office design is actually detrimental for both productivity and collaboration.
In particular, studies* have proven that people communicate less directly in open offices (around 70% less!!!) and interact more via instant messaging & email.
Workers also complain about constant exposure to uncontrollable noise, which makes it way more difficult to concentrate.

Focus work individual pods.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Archetype Offices – New York City. Design by Unispace (opened in a new window/tab). Photo by Chris Cooper (opened in a new window/tab).
Focus work individual pods.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: MCI Group Offices – Geneva. Design by Bloomint design (opened in a new window/tab). Photo by Margaret Stepien (opened in a new window/tab).
Standing pods for individual focus work.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Airbnb Headquarters – San Francisco. Design by Airbnb Environments Team, WRNS Studio (opened in a new window/tab) and IDF Studio (opened in a new window/tab). Photo by Jeremy Bittermann (opened in a new window/tab).

2. Regeneration

Recognizing the importance of mental balance and wellbeing, the workspace of the future also has areas to relax. Call it silence room or relax area …this is a place to unplug for a while, enjoying few moments of silence.

For example, here is a shot from the Elle Décor at Work exhibition at Milan Design Week 2019. This small rounded room – called Nap Room – featured three individual alcoves carved into the curved wall with cozy cushions and relaxing lighting…the perfect example of what biophilic design would call refuge area!

As said in the project presentation:
 

“On the globalised contemporary work scene, hyper-competition and hyper-productivity are the standards that jeopardise the worker's equilibrium. In this stressful context, companies recognise the importance of their own workers' physical and mental balance: the need arises to guarantee holistic well-being and to make all those services linked to well-being easily accessible to those who work.”

Rounded alcoves for relaxation at the workplace, one of the additions of the workspace design of the future.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Elle Décor at Work. Credit: Elle Décor (opened in a new window/tab). Photo by Stefano Pavesi.
Close-up of one of the alcoves for relaxation at the workplace.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: DforDesign

3. Ergonomics

Always with wellbeing in mind, ergonomics becomes increasingly important in the workspace of the future.

First, this means making flexible desks that allow switching from sitting to standing a standard.

Organic-shaped desks with height adjustment.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Senses work tables by Bulo (opened in a new window/tab)

But that’s not everything.
Noise is another source of discomfort that can hinder productivity. Acoustic solutions are an increasingly diffused solution. But forget ugly ceiling panels! Today, acoustic solutions are available in all sorts of shapes and colours and can contribute to the aesthetic of the space as well.

Explore my roundup of sustainable decorative acoustic panels

Felt room divider with individually rotating modules that allow customizing the room divider.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Patch by True Design (opened in a new window/tab)
Hanging acoustic tubes.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Soundsticks by OFFECCT (opened in a new window/tab)

 
Another thing I discovered at Salone del Mobile is that tables can also be sound-insulating! These table tops have micro holes that – paired with an acoustic gap – actually absorb noises! And they work really well because the insulating surface (the tabletop) is very close to the noise's source (people sitting around the table and talking).

Office canteen area furnished with sound insulating tables.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Liner sound-insulating table by Aresline (opened in a new window/tab)

4. Wellbeing

Also called worker-centered design, the future of workspace design is more and more focused on human wellbeing.
As a consequence, office spaces are generally more informal and it’s common to find welcoming sofas and modular seating areas for brainstorming, meetings or breaks.

Sofa with integrated small desk.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Soft work by Vitra (opened in a new window/tab)
Modular bench with modules for seating, storage and plants, an ideal solution for the flexible workspace design of the future.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Konnekt by Swedese (opened in a new window/tab)

Indoor air quality is also fundamental for wellbeing. The focus here is on proper aeration and on the use of healthier materials. Indeed, indoor spaces are often more polluted than outdoor ones and this is mainly caused by the harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds) released by finishes and furniture.

Plants give another helping hand in purifying indoor air and they're also beneficial for our health as a whole.

Last but certainly not least, artificial lighting has a huge impact on wellbeing. Not surprisingly then, the newest lighting innovations take health and wellbeing into serious account. Next to light intensity, they allow customizing light colour and colour temperature, for maximum comfort.

 
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Conference room with plenty of plants and a welcoming feel.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Bakken & Bæck Offices – Amsterdam. Design by Kvistad (opened in a new window/tab). Photo by Tekla Evelina Severin (opened in a new window/tab)

As a final note on wellbeing, workspace designs are featuring more curved lines, and this is not by chance.
In fact, humans are naturally attracted by organic shapes, which can help to reduce stress and enhance concentration.
Curved shapes also feel more welcoming and facilitate collaboration, standing as a symbol of the adaptation of workspaces to individual needs.

Common office area with a prevalence of curved lines in the design.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Scottish Pacific Business Finance Offices – Sydney. Design by Valmont (opened in a new window/tab). Photo by Walters Macri (opened in a new window/tab)
Modular bench with a sinuous organic shape.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Waves by La Cividina (opened in a new window/tab)

5. Technology

Technology is a fundamental element of modern offices, and this is not going to change. But in the workspace of the future, technology is concealed and no longer exhibited.

On this line, charging stations get hidden in desk dividers and tables become touch screens. The overall aim is making the space more welcoming, approachable and worker-centered.

Removable desk dividers with integrated charging station.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Detach by Lammhults (opened in a new window/tab)
Standing working station with projectors creating touchscreens on the table itself.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Elle Décor at Work. Credit: Elle Decor (opened in a new window/tab). Photo by Stefano Pavesi.
Close-up of the projected touchscreen.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Elle Décor at Work. Credit: DforDesign

I have to say I’m really happy about this new tendency! In particular, it's very promising to see that the evolution of workspace design is based on wellbeing, comfort and health – 3 of the ingredients of a biophilic office!

 
* Sources

 
Cover image: HILTI Eastern European Headquarters – Moscow - Design by OFFCON Architectural Bureau (opened in a new window/tab) - Photo by Ilya Ivanov (opened in a new window/tab)

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