The New Office, The New You

I have been lucky enough to see the new workplace transformation here in Chicago through the eyes of design teams as well as employees. First, let’s imagine it’s Friday morning. My daughter is off to work in an advertising office that is quite modern. To make things more comfortable, she is treated to a breakfast meeting complete with a variety of pastry, egg dishes, and a catering staff to tend to the employees needs. This brings about collaboration, and catching up with team members.

The office is an open space, the kind that we’ve been reading about. There is no assigned seating… everyone can work where they feel comfortable. Whether it be at a standing desk, a sofa, or in a Pod to gather ones thoughts. Laptops powered up they are ready to achieve measurable goals, many of which are based on customer interaction, website clicks, timing, and floating banners.

This brings me to my recent trip to this year’s Neocon Conference. Upon entering the Merchandise Mart, the first thing I noticed was how many people were attending. The most attended design show to date here in the city. It was crowded. A line formed in front of every elevator. Making small talk while waiting, I couldn’t help but to take note, people from around the globe were attending to learn what was new and most importantly how to take advantage of these new office space trends in office design in their own businesses.

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Across most vendors common themes became apparent within minutes. Employee wellbeing. New styles of desk are adjustable, computer stations could be configured for standing or to use seated. The entire area can be moved and configured to meet office needs. Making the employee feel more “at home”. But that’s not all, they are encouraged to take breaks, to walk around, grab a healthy bite from an open cafeteria. Gone are the days of vending machines.  Why not play a game of Ping Pong with a coworker. A happy employee, a healthier bottom line, pretty simple.

Being a part of something bigger… today’s employees want to take ownership within the company they work for. Personalizing an office is a huge draw for the new workforce, something to be proud of. Surface design is one of the easiest ways to incorporate brand identity. When walking into a space we now take note of the logo, company colors, as well as the emotional feel of the office. One trend that stood out was bringing the outdoors in. Wood flooring with customizable colors and patterns, rustic surface influences of camping, semiprivate acrylic walls infused with items found in nature. All of which make spending time in the office more enjoyable.

However, with the open concepts a problem arises: privacy. No longer is the boss in a closed office but out on the floor with his coworkers. Yet at times one needs to get away, for a one on one, or a small group. There were many movable wall systems that encapsulated a small meeting. One item that stood out was a phone booth looking pod. I stopped for a moment and thought, what in the world… Once inside, The Shape of Silence was a treasure. It was a recharging station, a place to focus without distraction. It was brilliant. Odd shaped but brilliant never the less. Speaking of silence Sound barriers were very popular and colorful. They were designed to be wall or ceiling systems that can be customized on site in a variety of colors and textures.

These bright bold color accents have always been noted to draw ones attention. As a child I had the privilege of attending school in one of the new concept buildings. There were no windows in the classroom, few distractions only a bold color usually placed behind the teachers desk. It may not work today, but the influence of pops of power color could be seen through out the show. In upholstery, flooring, and semi private walls. These are usually apparent in the entryway making one feel excited to be in the space.

Finally Lighting. It’s small. It’s beautifully designed. It’s portable. Hardware in a variety of metals, plastics and finishes to accent any decor. Chandeliers can be moved along with the “nest” of workers as the office staff grows or relocates. Task lighting can be spectrum coded per employees preferences not to strain the eyes.

It was extremely fascinating to attend this year’s show. To witness what people were taking away from each vendor. The making of a happy employee through his environment is always a good thing for both the business and the bottom line. Buying well once couldn’t be more important. Quality, ingenuity and design will evoke success.