What changes are Millennials driving to workspaces?

Forbes | Jon Norris | New Workplace Design Trends Promote Well-Being, Collaboration And Flexibility

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The office cubicle will never be the same. With Millennials set to make up half of the global workforce by 2020, they are driving interest in less conventional workplaces that offer flexible furniture and more space for collaboration — with nary a cubicle in sight.

“Companies require different things from their space now. Employees want breakout rooms, places to relax and open plan spaces that allow them to work more successfully with their colleagues,” said Alys Frankland of workplace consulting firm Rocket Projects Ltd. “This means offices need to be specifically designed for each company, enabling them to express their brand and ethos — this is where space planning comes into its own.”

Here are some key trends around how the office is changing to address the needs of today’s workforce:

Mixing Private And Shared Spaces

While open plan offices with so-called “hot” — or unassigned — desks have become trendy, employers are recognising that not everyone enjoys working from a different desk every day. A new trend in office design focuses on mixed-use spaces that offer a variety of areas to suit different needs. These might include everything from meeting rooms of various sizes and “breakout” areas to quiet work nooks and communal, open plan spaces.

This balanced approach allows companies to suit the habits and preferences of their entire workforce — from Millennials to Generation X to Baby Boomers, according to David Blood of ergonomic office furniture consultants Posture People.

“When we’re designing workspaces, we consider how all demographics can work together,” he said. “Although a hot-desk design is usually the most cost-effective solution for businesses [and popular among Millennials], we need to bear in mind that some individuals treasure privacy and ownership of their workspaces.”

Science-Led Composition

In a quest to create healthier office environments, more employers have embraced the scientific research behind modern office design. There’s even a high-tech facility called the Well Living Lab, a collaboration between the Mayo Clinic and Delos, that hosts studies on “how the indoor environment influences health, well-being and performance, from stress to sleep quality, physical fitness to productivity.”

This emphasis on science-based design means an increase in offices that encourage movement to promote employee well-being, both physically and mentally, as well as more subtle design choices such as ergonomic furniture (standing desks and desktop monitors positioned to encourage good posture, for example), abundant office plants and exposure to natural light.

“Design trends are now often based on scientific research,” Frankland said. “Everyone wants to know where the decisions come from and why they’re being made. Environmental awareness is at its peak, so there’s a constant stream of research and products being catapulted into the office design-sphere.”

The Rise Of Co-Working Spaces

With the rise of co-working spaces aimed at individuals, startups and small companies, the local coffee shop and its free-but-glitchy Wi-Fi may no longer cut it as an alternative workspace. Co-working spaces — where you can rent a desk or office space while sharing amenities such as meeting rooms, high-speed internet and coffee machines — also offer benefits of networking “cross-fertilisation with like-minded businesses,” according to Nic Pryke, design director of office-design company Oktra.

“Businesses are challenging attitudes and shifting emphasis from ownership to access, which is also having an impact on workplace design,” Pryke said. “Co-working offices will continue to grow as they provide an effective and flexible solution for young companies who need to stay agile and avoid committing themselves to leases and overheads which don’t flex with the business.”

Bringing The Outdoors In

With studies showing that plants in offices increase happiness and improve productivity, more workplaces are trying to bring the outside world into the office. This rise in “biophilic design,” where nature and the environment are a fundamental part of the design itself, is an important shift in classic workplace composition and construction.

Examples could be as simple as a rise in the use of large windows and glass walls to break down barriers between buildings and the nature that surrounds them, or as complicated as an actual indoor farm— as seen recently in a Tokyo office, where workers are encouraged to grow their own food via an in-house working farm space. It can even be as simple as an increase in potted plants on desks and in windows, and a decrease in artificial lighting in favour of more natural options.

“Working each day can be draining, and the benefits of adding natural elements are proven to help concentration and increase well-being,” Pryke said.

From cubicle farms to open plan offices to telecommuting, the trends in workplace design are ever-changing. Only time will tell which of today’s biggest fads will become the new normal. For now, we can watch as the demands of a changing workforce lead to a more flexible, greener space for everyone.

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