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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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).
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.
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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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.
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.
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!
- Ethan S. Bernstein and Stephen Turban. “The impact of the ‘open’ workspace on human collaboration” (opened in a new window/tab). Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. Vol. 373(July 2018) issue 1753
- JungsooKim and Richard de Dear. “Workspace satisfaction: The privacy-communication trade-off in open-plan offices” (opened in a new window/tab). Journal of Environmental Psychology. Vol.36 (Dec 2013), Pages 18-26
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)