This Sensible Workplace Senses You

Five Principles for Rethinking the Office Right Now

May 27, 2015

Partner, NBBJ


When Fast Company asked NBBJ to contribute to its “Future of Work” series, our design and research team thought about the features that make employees happier, healthier and more productive. We identified five key considerations that should be implemented into workplaces in the not-too-distant future: motion, technology, nature, mobility (of both people and amenities); and choice.


1. Motion

The need: physical activity is great for the body, but it is especially important for cognitive performance. Research shows that people who perform walking meetings are more alert, focused and innovative than people who sit in traditional conference rooms.

The solution: The office of the future will provide easy access to ramps, stairs, exercise equipment and maps that suggest routes for walking meetings (a.). Offices will include bike paths that allow cyclists to ride directly from the street to their desk (b.). Ramps are also good for the elderly and disabled, allowing them to ascend and descend without the need of stairs. In addition, ramps will better connect employees between floors; by removing the psychological barrier of being on different levels, they address companies’ common complaint that employees do not interact enough and do not have enough physical or visual connections between floors (c.). Progressive employers will totally eliminate car parking in favor of 100% parking for bikes and scooters. Expect juice bars, bike repair shops and locker rooms to be better incorporated into the workplace.


2. Technology

The need: Environmental factors such as daylight, temperature and sound have a remarkable effect on memory, comprehension and even mood.

The solution: The office of the future will integrate customized sounds into common spaces like lobbies, cafes and walkways to stimulate activity, conversation and emotion. Unique sounds might be played to celebrate the first snowfall of the year or peak stock performance. In addition to sound, mobile technology will be better utilized in offices. Employees will be able to use their smartphone to see which parts of buildings are in use or vacant, or to understand current noise levels, sunlight exposure and temperature. Shades and other elements will also be adjustable via phone, giving office workers more control over their environment (d.).


3. Nature

The need: Workers are more productive and focused when viewing nature or interacting with it physically.

The solution: The office of the future will better integrate indoors and outdoors, with daylight entering from both sides of narrow floors as well as filtering down from the ceiling (e.). Expect to see buildings that fold into preexisting landscapes (f.), as well as workplace environments filled with hundreds of plant species and regulating temperature and humidity to ensure a comfortable environment for employees and their guests. At the same time, research shows that, per capita, people are more innovative and environmentally efficient in cities than in suburbs. The future of the office will prioritize urban environments and how they connect to the natural world.


4. Mobility (Buildings and People)

The need: Work takes place everywhere, anywhere on a corporate campus — if it even happens on campus at all.

The solution: Buildings are no longer static assets. Advancements in plug-and-play modular architecture allow buildings to expand, contract, move and even be deconstructed as necessary. Amenities like conference rooms will come to employees vertically or horizontally (g.), rather than employees needing to find them. These kinetic amenities remedy a common problem in office design: over-utilized spaces in some areas of a building and underutilized spaces in others. They also reduce real estate costs by increasing broad-based utilization. There will also be a focus on mobility of people: fewer desks, but more “third places” to get work done.


5. Choice

The need: Say goodbye to the tired argument of open vs. closed offices. What workers really want is choice. There is no one-size-fits-all office: depending on personality, job function and even mood, employees have different needs.

The solution: the office of the future will accommodate choice, with spaces that are bright and dark, quiet and loud, comfortable and uncomfortable, inside and outside. The office of the future may include phase-change materials (h.), which alter the look and feel of a building throughout the day. For example, exterior and interior panels can be developed to change color depending on the angle of the sun and the outside temperature. By responding to variations that the human body senses throughout the day — especially daylight and temperature — these materials enable the built environment to provide choices in tune with our bodies’ natural responses, in a visibly dynamic and thought-provoking manner. Finally, superstructures could be built over offices that move throughout the day (i.), giving employees variety and delight as the building changes each hour.


All images courtesy NBBJ.

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