For the past few decades, typical offices have been filled with confounding computer systems, stuffy furniture, and a printing station you’d like to take a baseball bat to.
Most of us aren’t asking much. It is not a technological wonder where digital infrastructure predicts an employee’s need to make work frictionless. But certainly, an automated standard teleconferenced meeting – putting iPads outside each meeting room, with custom software to clearly explain who’d booked it. That will solve the “is this our room?” problem.
The modern workplace is ripe for change. The open office’s efficiency has been thoroughly debunked. And somewhere between the fall and rise of coworking spaces, the growing trend of remote work, and the gray cubicles, there’s a need for new office design.
Infrastructure isn’t the only part of the office makeover.
Ask architects, and they will say productivity and satisfaction, business culture and branding, functionality and efficiency, health and wellness, energy efficiency, and long-term investments should be considered to decide if an office needs a makeover.
It’s true workplaces influence employees’ health, well-being, and productivity. But why is this thinking still not influencing most designs?
Many design practices have always emphasized visual value over overall well-being, says Fariborz Hatam, Managing Director of FHSI Design Studio. “To move away from this traditional way of thinking, you need to learn about the real effects of employee happiness on productivity and business success.”
“Unfortunately, organizations might put more value on saving money in the short term than on getting long-term benefits. Even though health and well-being projects could save money in the long run, they may require initial investments, which could turn off some stakeholders,” Hatam adds.
INCORPORATING NEW REALITIES
In the last few years, businesses across the region have come a long way in embracing the digital office since hybrid models became the standard. As a key priority, most offices are tasked to reevaluate their office layout in light of the new realities of the workplace.
“Flexible and adaptable layouts, technology-enhanced collaboration spaces, and areas that promote social interaction are crucial in this new paradigm,” says Dima Alkawadri, Assistant Professor at the School of Textiles and Design at Heriot-Watt University Dubai.
These include embracing some benefits of working from home, such as bringing in more standing desks and incorporating more flexible spaces for phone calls and personal matters while fostering focus.
“Employees’ utilization of office space and social dynamics have shifted as the trend towards remote and hybrid work schedules has gained traction,” says Hatam.
New office space designs should now consider the actual space demands with the number of regular employees and create flexible and adaptable layouts. “In a hybrid workplace, it is crucial to have adaptable spaces to support individual and group efforts,” says Hatam.
Experts say allocating space for collaborative activities is crucial since employees come to the office for face-to-face interactions. “These locations can be conference rooms, brainstorming spaces, or open collaborative spaces.”
Also, make workstations that accommodate various employees’ needs and preferences. Some businesses provide “hot desks” so part-time workers can choose where they sit daily.
Most importantly, since it is still a familiar routine, we’re in the middle of making a great point in a team meeting on a video call when someone says, “Oh, by the way, you’re frozen,” or “I think you lost connection,” connectivity is crucial to ensure high-quality video calls.
Conference rooms should be equipped with high-quality video cameras, microphones, and speakers to provide accurate and seamless tech experiences to those taking meetings in and out of the office. These solutions will increase productivity and efficiency by eliminating technical issues; they will also enhance the quality of experience for employees, making them feel included, even when working remotely.
“Obtain technology that helps in-office and remote workers communicate and collaborate. Digital tools such as video conferencing and electronic whiteboards enable local and remote employees to collaborate more effectively,” says Hatam.
“It’s also essential to create a harmonious blend of physical and virtual spaces that encourage collaboration, maintain productivity, and support the diverse ways employees now engage with their work,” adds Alkawadri.
To Hatam, the workplace must be a focal point for developing team spirit and collaboration. “Create settings that promote communication, teamwork, and the exchange of ideas.”
Incorporating these factors into the new office design can help businesses create an environment conducive to in-person collaboration and remote work.
FUN AT WORK
In the last decade, in office spaces, a common thread was ping pong tables, nap nooks, and other flashy office design features that took center stage. Work environments were built around the perception of “fun,” considered a barometer for the tech industry’s health.
More recently, they have become associated with un-inclusive environments and manufactured culture.
Hatam says the effectiveness of fun elements in the workplace primarily depends on the organization’s culture. “If your organization promotes creativity, innovation, and a more relaxed environment, entertaining elements may be a good fit. If, on the other hand, your organization places an importance on professionalism and a focused work environment, a different approach may be more appropriate.”
“Fun elements that contribute to the well-being of employees can add value. For instance, spaces for relaxation, mindfulness, or socialization can help reduce tension and increase job satisfaction overall,” adds Hatam.
“Think about providing a wide range of options to appeal to a wide range of tastes. While some workers thrive in peaceful, undisturbed environments, others thrive in dynamic, collaborative settings.”
It’s about tailoring effective measures that improve efficiency and employee satisfaction in a specific workplace.
In the Middle East, recently, there has been a significant shift towards more thoughtful and human-centered workplace designs, says Alkawadri.
“Architects and designers increasingly consider natural light, ventilation, and communal spaces that foster collaboration and mental well-being. This change is due to a growing awareness of the importance of employee satisfaction and a well-designed workplace in promoting productivity and retaining skilled workers.”
However, challenges to full integration still need to be addressed.
Cost also plays an important role. For example, including more open areas such as easily accessible gardens, collaborative rooms, and larger community or game areas requires organizations to have a much bigger space than they already occupy. Designing such areas aesthetically can also be an added cost, says Alkawadri.
SUSTAINABILITY DESIGN PRACTICES
Our vision for a workplace cannot ignore climate change. In recent years, indoor-outdoor areas have reshaped office architecture, especially as sustainability and employee well-being become increasingly important.
“The growing emphasis on sustainability is poised to reshape the traditional office landscape,” says Alkawadri.
“Integrating natural light, greenery, and open-air areas reduces energy consumption and enhances employee well-being and creativity. As organizations prioritize eco-friendliness and employee satisfaction, the indoor-outdoor office concept gains significance.”
The trend also underscores the need for adaptable designs to accommodate various weather conditions, fostering a seamless transition between indoor and outdoor workspaces.
“This trend represents a forward-thinking approach that harmonizes sustainability, employee welfare, and the evolving dynamics of the modern workplace,” says Alkawadri.
According to experts, the office of the future will be unrecognizable by today’s standards. Workplaces will feel much more like nature when they capture natural daylight and breezes, feature spectacular views of the surroundings, feature gardens, and other amenities.
“In the end, a well-designed office can boost productivity, encourage employee engagement, and add to a great work experience for all employees,” says Hatam.
The modern workplace is still something we’re creating, finding solutions that will make work as effortless as possible. The nature of work is in flux. Therefore, the nature of office design is in flux, too.