4 Drivers Behind Workplace Design You Need to Understand.


Let me tell you a quick story then I’ll get to the crux of the post, I promise.

Recently, I completed a 3 day fast with my wife.  The first 36 hours were brutal, but I began to understand that it wasn’t my stomach that was hungry.  It was a perception of hunger rooted in my state of mind.  As I sat there in ketosis, I quickly came to the realization that I spend a lot of time unnecessarily thinking about and designing my life around food, which seems silly and unproductive.

Food should support our life goals and activities, not run it, right?  So, by becoming aware of my mental perception of food and habits that support potentially unhealthy behavior, I now sit before an opportunity to drastically improve my general health and wellness (sounds good on paper anyway).  That’s my story, but I also believe the same line of thinking and importance of awareness applies to trends we’ve been seeing in workplace strategy and design over the last few years.

Articles are coming out against the open working environment, including drawbacks of an open style office layout similar to this article from Inc.  There will always be naysayers, but I submit that many of the companies who regret their office layout didn’t dive deep enough to understand how to design it in the first place.

Successful work place design should integrate initiatives surrounding work place strategy, business objectives, workforce, and clientele in a way that enhances the workplace and provides a return on their investment (boost productivity).  Basically, these companies threw some s*** against the wall hoping it would stick without really assessing the needs and defining their requirements.

It is more important than ever for C level executives to understand their employees and how the workplace supports the workforce and the business in general.

Let’s look at the drivers behind changes we’re seeing in workplace design.

1) Boomers on their way out.  Bring on the Millennial’s:

Companies are pivoting to focus on employee experience, hiring, and retention.  What worked for Baby Boomers is no longer par for younger generations seeking work/life balance, quality of life, and leadership development opportunities.  Data and demographics play a role in where a company should be locating (e.g. downtown or the burbs).


2) Team focus:

The business environment today is incredibly ambiguous, which allows for problem solvers to thrive.  Part of developing teams is to understand the roles of each player and how leadership structures/culture are changing.  If high performers become stifled as they filter ideas up through the chain of command, it creates a self defeating bottle neck.  People have a disincentive to contribute which holds the entire team back.

Whereas creating an environment (we’ll call it a “nest”) that encourages multiple points of view and ideas shared across the team and leadership, enhances creativity and a safe environment.  Designing a space that supports teaming is key as young people begin to step up and take on more responsibility.  The days of the “order taker” are gone, but first, companies need to set up an environment for young folks to feel more comfortable engaging and raising their hands.

“According to research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, an empowered office environment can increase worker productivity on cognitive tasks by 25%, and possibly more.” – See Forbes Article on the FETCH Model

3) Investment to increase productivity:

Simply stated, you get out what you put in.  Companies are spending more on their space to design it in a way that encourages collaboration among the right groups in order to support company initiatives.  Different working activities demand different types of working spaces to bring out maximum results.  Here’s a list of the types of spaces we’re seeing incorporated in to design.

  • Team work spaces
  • Shared spaces
  • Alternative work areas
  • Large meeting areas/training
  • Huddle rooms
  • Activity rooms
  • Focused work spaces
  • Networking spaces
  • Lifestyle spaces (gaming, meditation, etc.)
  • Lifestyle areas (quiet rooms, maternity, recreation, etc.)
  • “Canteens” or cafe style break areas (Why eating at your desk is bad for you)

One thing to keep in mind as you or your client redesigns a workplace: productivity is enhanced when positioned as secondary behind community.  Natural lighting, quiet rooms, bars, cool artwork, “canteen” or cafe style break areas, and modern finishes don’t give the perception of productivity.  However, those areas are being designed in a way that supports the employee’s state of mind in order to maximize the time they spend working in a state of flow (“in the zone” or being completely immersed in a key activity).

People who share a safe, collaborative environment (e.g. dinner table, living room), tend to establish a cohesion that allows for better communication, another example where enhanced productivity is not the perceived intention, but rather a subsequent result of successful design.

young-business-people-playing-table-tennis-in-their-office-picture-id495698192 (1)

4) Competition for talent:

Workplace design is now a major non-monetary benefit and tool used to recruit top talent.  Assuming the space is designed for ideal talent, the space can also serve as a tool to quickly identify and weed out employees that don’t mesh well with company culture.  That may seem harsh and even discriminatory to some, but it makes a big difference to cut the poor performers out sooner than later.  Bad employees can also drive out the good ones.  Here’s a good article from Inc. that goes into more detail.

Don’t want to invest in an expensive office lease for your employees?  Lease out co-working space with WeWork, Regus, Industrious, or PlexPod just to name a few.  Here’s a link to more.

Similar to my dietary epiphany, companies are starting to realize that workplace is not as simple as walls and desks anymore.  Everything must have a purpose.  As companies continue to compete for market share, top talent and brand recognition, workplace design will become a major indicator of a firm’s potential for success/failure.  We’ve also become aware of issues that stem from a “traditional workplace,” and now we have an opportunity moving forward to improve our lives and the lives of other employees by giving them a place to thrive.

Thanks for reading!

If you like what I’ve written, please share with your friends and colleagues!


  1. https://workforceinstitute.org/2018-global-workplace-trends/
  2. https://www.gensler.com/the-future-of-workplace
  3. https://www.forbes.com/sites/shamahyder/2017/11/16/the-future-of-workplace-design-the-fetch-model/#5961ac0a48d3
  4. https://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2017/11/01/10-workplace-trends-youll-see-in-2018/#55831eb54bf2
  5. http://www.businessinsider.com/photos-an-inside-look-at-the-coolest-workplaces-of-the-future-2017-10
  6. http://fortune.com/2017/05/17/ruder-finn-ceo-workplace-of-the-future/
  7. http://www.sbfi.com/workplace-design-trends-2018#sthash.tFfU4qD1.dpbs
  8. https://workdesign.com/2018/02/2018-workplace-trend-predictions/
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