2019 Workplace Trend Predictions

From employee wellbeing to the debate on open offices, Work Design Magazine PublisherBob Fox, shares five workplace trend predictions he expects to see in 2019. 

Happy New Year, WDM readers! Work Design publisher, Bob Fox has again spent the month of January picking the brains of industry experts, clients, and peers while reviewing patterns in the market to round up his predictions for the biggest workplace trends in 2019. His list of five major trends include some new and some continuations that he expects will make an impact on the workplace this year. Make sure to check out his predictions from last year to see how things stack up!

We will be checking back in with more articles on this topic to see how accurate the predictions were and how/if they’re being executed in the workplace.

The Fox Architects office just received the Fitwel 3 Star Rating – Image by Ron Blunt Photography

Wellbeing

Employee wellbeing is becoming one of the important considerations in workplace planning and design. Companies are widening the tent for planning and design teams to include HR and wellness program stakeholders, and research is proving that a well workplace is a healthy workplace.

  • Recruiting and employee retention is a crucial goal for workplace design, and wellness features and consideration of environmental factors are something incoming generations of workers look for and evaluate in choosing where to work.
  • Healthier workplaces have a positive impact on the financial bottom line. Companies now realize that not only is this the right thing to do as a matter of corporate social responsibility, but it is another feature potential employees value.
  • More research studies on the correlation between the physical workplace environment and employee physical and mental health will be forthcoming and will influence how designers approach workplace design.
  • We will see more product designs that contribute to a healthier workplace as many manufacturers are investing in R&D relating wellness to product design from an ergonomic and materiality point of view.
  • There will be a significant increase in outdoor space that is available to individual workers. Not only is there a health and wellbeing benefit, but it is an attractive amenity for office and work environments.
B. Amsterdam, a leading coworking space in the Netherlands. Image courtesy of B. Amsterdam.

Coworking

Coworking continues to be a game changer in the workplace design and real estate world. Some aspects of this concept that are rolling out include:

  • Options for companies to acquire space without committing to long term leases and providing services for employees based in coworking spaces.
  • Landlords re-working space and providing spec suites with short term spaces and expanding on shared amenity spaces for building tenants.
  • Coworking providers are expanding their reach beyond shared workspace for startups and makers and are adding spaces specifically designed for enterprise clients.

WeWork (now We Company) is the largest tenant in many office markets and has expanded their services to bring brokerage, design and construction services in house. They are the leading proponent and provider of WaaS (Workplace as a Service) where the physical space and the support for workers is a package deal. Where WeWork may take up the most space (literally and figuratively) we are seeing many entrepreneurial people finding room to provide niche coworking spaces to meet local or community needs.

While the flexibility and ease of getting space is a primary reason a company may choose that option, the curated communities those entities work to provide is the most significant benefit to the workers in those spaces. Time will tell what will happen if there is an economic downturn which could seriously affect the commercial real estate market and the need for all the space that the coworking sector has consumed.

MIT’s new accelerator facility that helps create opportunities for scientific and tech breakthroughs. Image courtesy of SGA.

AI + Technology

Last year, I left technology as a standalone trend off my list, and a few people called me out on it. I had just assumed that it was a constant across a broad spectrum of tools and services. I did include Siri and Alexa. Their collected data may have been more of a prediction than a trend but now, I’m not so sure. Smart Speakers are now well integrated into many of our lives, but there are entirely new works of AI that are emerging.

Your Smart Speakers’ are listening. Data is being collected and I’m not sure if anyone really knows what they will do with all of that data. Smart Speakers’ learned response will continue to improve, and we have to accept that there will continue to be changes to the way we work as AI learns how to respond more accurately.

As the use of AI enabled technology is becoming more present in the workplace, and the changes may be far-reaching. We are not that far away from technology taking on many of our daily tasks such as scheduling meetings or producing reports. We are seeing more apps developed for use in the workplace – everything from smart space booking systems, to intercommunication platforms for finding or communicating with co-workers. As technology becomes more sophisticated, it may drastically alter what we do in the course of a workday and may impact how we design the spaces where people work.

HGA’s new office campus in Sacramento pays homage to its past while welcoming the future. Image courtesy of HGA.

Metrics

Metrics matter. The challenge is finding the parameters that work best to inform workplace design and acquisition decisions. While a square foot is still the same, how we measure space and the utilization of space has changed dramatically. How we plan, and design space will become more tailored to the unique DNA of the users. How they ultimately use the space serves to inform if the space works or needs some tweaking. Different performance measures are required for each organization – what works for one, may not work for all!

  • The Leesman Index looks at a broad range of workplace components and measures how that workplace performs.
  • Gensler has presented their Experience Index which analyzes the workplace experience.
  • Cushman Wakefield has studied how people now interact in workspaces.

The list of options to measure and evaluate workplace design and the impact of it on the workforce is expanding. Yet, there is no magic bullet that will provide the right answer universally. The user experience is now a critical factor in workplace design, and the studies all point to ways that decision-makers can make better decisions to ensure their workspace supports their business goals and aspirations. Gathering workplace performance metrics continues to be a work in progress but a trend to watch as the technology becomes more sophisticated and the tools to collect the data become more commonplace.

AIA’s open, active space. Image copyright of Eric Laignel, courtesy of CallisonRTKL.

The Open Office Debate Continues

To start this conversation, we need to provide accurate context for this hot topic.

We know that there is a lot of poorly designed office space. In all businesses, cost matters, and many companies have sought to reduce cost and maximize efficiency by shrinking the amount of space allocated for each employee. The math varies from company to company.

Back to point one: open space, if not appropriately designed, can be distracting and counterproductive, and it doesn’t work for everyone. While pushing increased collaboration and communication, many companies instituted open office workplaces without doing the proper due diligence in finding out what spatial arrangements and space requirements would work for their employees. This is where the controversy heats up!

Workplace design issues are not black and white. It’s not a question of open or closed. This is where a well-versed design and planning team can work with company stakeholders to create an effective design direction considering a company’s culture, people, and physical requirements to support the type of work.

The way the workplace is presented is too simplistic and does not convey the value or performance of well-executed workplace design. The open workplace had become such a viral issue that it’s now clickbait. Writers, editors and even professionals are applying it as a standard term to generate page views.

In summary – there are many trends that will affect workplace design this year. The conversation moving forward needs to emphasize the real value that the workplace provides for an organization. Bringing the concepts of these most relevant trends into the discussion and utilizing the resources and tools available to today’s companies will continue to move the evolution of workplace as a critical factor in business success.

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4 Comments

  • It is so easy to look for an easy solution that most organizations do not invest enough time in analysing what is the correct solution. One size does not fit all has been the operating premise that I have used since the early 70’s and it has always proven to be correct.

  • Great article! Every office should design its interiors keeping in mind the lifestyle needs of workers. These trends are mostly suitable for the young millennials, but sadly we do not encounter design concepts for the middle-aged workers. Natural lighting is increasingly being preferred by many senior workers, due to eye-sight issues and other symptoms like fatigue and headaches.

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