Change in the Workplace: Past, Present & Future

The business world has witnessed significant social and technological transformations over the past few decades that have dramatically impacted how we work. And with these transformations comes a drastically different method to approaching modern office design. Trends like cubicles and individual offices are losing popularity, and flexible multifunctional offices are becoming the norm. Look no further than Inscape’s Toronto showroom to visualize this trend in action. Together with interior designer figure3, we designed a multifunctional space for Inscape to operate as a product showroom, office, collaboration space, study area and also a training headquarters. To successfully incorporate each of these functions, we created a residential atmosphere where both guests and employees could feel at home, even while at work.

As a 130-year-old company, Inscape has become an industry leader by identifying market trends before they happen, and creating solutions to stay ahead. The three most important trends affecting today’s modern office design comes from business models of the past, present and future.

The Past: Switch from Cubicles to Adaptable Spaces

Over the past few decades, businesses experienced rapid change in how their workplace was structured. Most of this change is due to technological advances: no longer tethered to our desks with landlines, desktop computers and dial up internet connections, the need for a designated and private space for each individual worker has been significantly reduced.

The current work environment focuses on adaptable spaces and we have smart phones, laptops, cloud-based collaboration software, and video conferencing to make that happen. In fact we tend to transport each of these tools with us wherever we travel, making the work environment truly portable. Due to this technology advance, we have seen offices do away with the traditional 9-to-5 work culture. We only have to look back to 2002 to find that only 10 per cent of workers looked at their email outside of office hours. However with the increased adoption of portable communications technology since then, in 2018, 50 per cent of workers now check their email outside of work, according to Guardian.

The trend away from cubicles and the traditional 9-to-5 workdays has created an opportunity for creative and strategic office designers to emerge. Designers must now create more technology-centered workspaces, but also spaces that are more casual, playful and creative to adapt to modern working styles.

The Present: Demand for Flexible Real Estate

The current trend in 21st century office design surrounds the notion of flexibility. Businesses require spaces that are scalable enough to increase storage space, accommodate fluctuating staffing requirements, or even change the entire floor plan to incorporate new technology or strategy. In addition, all of these capabilities must be available “on demand.” This means that businesses want adaptable work environments that they can adjust themselves, instead of relying on time-consuming and expensive professional crews to reconfigure the spaces.

For office designers, this means creating workstations that are moveable, multi-purpose and, of course, flexible. A great case study to highlight this trend is Inscape’s work with U.S. telco giant, Verizon. The communications firm required a restructuring that turned their offices into activity-based workplaces that could adapt and evolve with their work force. 90 per cent of the workstations at their headquarters in New Jersey are unassigned and augmented with multifunctional meeting, collaboration and personal focus spaces. The key principle is to remain agile regardless of the needs of the day or the next year. The next phase of development will feature mobile workstations that even further increase flexibility and provide instant, DIY reconfigurability.

The Future: Focus on Sustainable and Healthy Environments

Businesses are increasingly focused on both environmental sustainability and personal wellbeing, both out of their responsibility for the planet, and also to provide employees with a healthier and more productive work environment.

Sustainable Workspaces:

Industry leaders use LEED guidelines as the gold standard of sustainable construction and environmentally conscious design. LEED is the global leader in green building rating, with almost 80,000 projects planned as of 2016 according to the USGBC. Bloomberg, for example, had 36 office spaces become LEED certified as of 2018, while Wells Fargo had 193 certifications. And so as businesses take a more conscious effort to reduce their impact on the environment, designers are incorporating more sustainable design into the spaces. One designer adding green consciousness to their business philosophy is Inscape which produces the RockIt system with up to 85 per cent recycled content, and the Nuform worksurfaces and Tables with up to 98 per cent FSC Certified Recycled wood content which can be used to contribute to clients’ LEED credits.

Healthier Environments:

A global study by Human Spaces found that almost 48 per cent of Office Workers had no natural light in their workspace. To address this, office designers are incorporating the practice of biophilic design, which is the “theory of creating buildings inspired by nature, with the aim to continue the individual connection with nature in the environments in which we live and work every day” (Human Spaces, 2015). According to Work Design, this design approach has a positive impact on employee health like lowering heart rates and blood pressure levels, while improving overall mental and physical health.

Businesses are looking to incorporate more biophilic elements ranging from biomorphic shapes, organic patterns and natural materials like wood or stone. In the coming years, the rapidly decreasing costs of LCD and LED technology will give designers the ability to gently change colors and bring natural images and patterns within work spaces that lack views to daylight or nature. And so by mimicking the natural environment, designers can build office environments that bring about the positive emotional experience of actually being in nature.

What’s Next

In today’s fast-changing modern society, offices need to transform and adapt as fast as the world around it. And so the next big trend in design will most likely be improving the use of technology in the workplace by further integrating the Internet of Things into our daily lives.

One innovative case study of this already happening today is with WZMH Architects, the firm behind Toronto’s iconic CN Tower. They are the first-ever architectural practice to be accepted to participate in Microsoft’s global Internet of Things (IoT) Insider Labs, a program that accelerates businesses that are transforming the way people, devices, and data interact. The two firms are collaborating to further develop WZMH Architects’ smart building solution, called the Intelligent Structural Panel (ISP). The ISP is plug and play infrastructure which:

  • Enables a range of devices – from lighting, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), elevators, motorized shades, smoke alarms, security systems, and more to be connected, networked and wirelessly controlled, and
  • Allows these connected devices to analyze data from their localized surroundings to react and respond to changes in environment, including: movement, touch, sound, sunlight, room temperature, or even personnel flow, to become proactive to the needs of end users.

As the world becomes more connected through technology, designers will be creating office spaces that incorporate the Internet of Things from the initial design and build phase. They will be able to leverage the connectivity of technology to help make offices more energy efficient, user friendly, barrier free, accessible and healthy. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

David Gerson, Inscape’s Chief Brand Officer, is responsible for the overall brand and product marketing strategy for Inscape. Through a demonstration of best practices and design-led solutions he helps Inscape’s interior design partners and commercial end users imagine the workplace of the future – highly adaptable and always built to last.