5 Unconventional Office Design Features that Make All the Difference

While the coveted corner office is still alive and well in many sectors, there’s a growing emphasis on more agile office design, especially in industries that thrive on collaboration and innovation.

But the open office floor plan is a bit of a bust, for many reasons. So what’s next for office space, and how can spaces be intentionally created to give employees what they want?

Let’s look at five specifics ways to create an office atmosphere where employees thrive.

  1. The rise of the privacy zone

While some die-hard extroverts may disagree, the majority of office workers hate the lack of privacy created by modern open office design.

 Alison Green is the creator of the work advice site Ask a Manager, and she often fields questions on the topic of office design.

“The problems with open offices aren’t limited to the noise and inability to focus,” Green writes in Slate. “Open offices make it extremely difficult to have the sort of private conversations that are often necessary at work.”

She cites a startling example of one woman who, although she claims she likes many aspects of working in an open office, resorted to crawling under her desk to join a conference call.

Complaints around lack of privacy are rampant, as this infographic from SHRM demonstrates:

Realistically though, we aren’t going back to private offices or cubicle farms in the foreseeable future. Instead, we are seeing a rise in privacy zones, dedicated to the introvert in all of us. These are being used for private work or for small meetings where conversation can be low key.

“For example, the most frequently used space in our San Francisco office is a room that can accommodate four people on a desk-height, L-shaped bench on a round table,” writes Melissa Pesci, VP at interior design firm HGA. “Quite often, this is used for two- to three-person meetings and phone calls.”

  1. Natural cozy spaces to collaborate

In addition to privacy, some brands are creating a more natural setting to encourage well-being and ease, incorporating what’s often called biophilic design.

“I wanted to create spaces that bring people together,” says Supermetrics CEO Mikael Thuneberg on their stunning new office space in Helsinki, which draws on Scandinavian design aesthetic, with a focus on bringing the outdoors in, and vice versa.

“Mikael wanted a space that is cozy and home-like, opposed to office-like,” adds Roosa Riski, founder of Mint & More, the Helsinki creative design agency that partnered with Supermetrics on the project.

To achieve the right ambiance, they used natural elements throughout, from the plush grass-like green carpeting to the wire mesh clouds floating above the genuine light wood desks and see-through hanging chairs.

Image courtesy of Supermetrics

Space is carefully curated to both offer privacy when needed and create overlap zones where collaboration is natural and comfortable.

  1. Sensory balance to ease the distraction

The constant distractions in the open office are often cited as reason enough to ditch the idea. Researchers in Canada have documented the disruptive effects of distraction on the recall of words, visual processing, and cognitive function. You’ve probably experienced this yourself, trying to perform a simple task on your computer when someone is looking over your shoulder waiting for an answer.

One antidote is to create sensory balance to counteract the impacts of these distractions.

“Add touches from home by using different textures and patterns to the workplace like pillows, plants, rugs, vases, books, and sculptures,” recommends Jennifer Stukenberg in Biz Journals. “Introduce calming colors with wall paint or add interesting accent lighting.” She also recommends wood touches and designated “no-phone” zones for quiet work.

  1. Sit, stand or bounce

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld was well-known for opting to stand at work. His preferences launched some great satire at the time, and also jump-started a trend in sit, stand, and even bounce options.

Image source: Wikipedia Commons

There’s conflicting evidence whether standing at work offers actual health benefits, but there’s enough supporting evidence to suggest that companies consider giving employees more options in how they perch during the workday.  

  1. Dedicated wellness spaces

As companies take a more intentional approach to wellness, recharge rooms are becoming increasingly popular.

“These are more than a simple café or chair grouping in a convenient place for conversation between colleagues or that morning java that gets the juices flowing. They're rooms where employees can take a few minutes of downtime to zone out, relax, stretch, nap, or even meditate,” writes Jeff Pochepan, president of office design resource StrongProject, in Inc.

“While some companies consider space dedicated to naptime or even an on-site masseuse a luxury, more and more are becoming aware of the mental and physical benefits of providing employees room to relax,” he continues.

These recharge spaces can take many forms – space to unroll a yoga mat, game rooms to burn off excess energy, even a sauna, such as the one Supermetrics’s space offers its team.

These spaces create electronic-free zones where employees can intentionally unplug, like Soundcloud’s “chill zone” in their Berlin office space.

Image source: ScoopWhoop

“With a number of breakout spaces, a small library, and a game room, the place offers a lot of perks to its employees,” writes Divya Chauhan in ScoopWhoop. It also has a wood-burning fireplace area that has been demarcated as a tech-free zone.”

The office of the future is taking shape now

These modern office trends speak to the growing awareness that people are at the heart of any business, and accommodating what makes them happy, safe and well is good for business. Whether you’re working in human relations, or just looking to make a career move, recognizing these trends will help you spot an office designed around the humans that work there.

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