Design Directions For The Office

Change has been a constant since 2020, and solid trends are emerging for the office workplace.

Compiled from Gensler
From the February 2022 Issue

Over the past two years, office design and operations have changed at a rapid pace. Facilities professionals and stakeholders in workplace settings are keenly aware that employee needs have changed due to multiple challenges, including a fundamental shift in where and how many people are working in the office. Remote work has ramped up at an unprecedented rate, and this is heavily influencing return-to-office plans. However, research from multiple sources shows that organizations and employees around the world want an in-person office experience and they are seeking creative approaches to making the multi-faceted office facility “work” for employees and employers alike.

Office Design
Building upon the prior success of their 4WTC headquarters and requiring more space, Hudson River Trading and Gensler collaborated for the amenity-rich, hospitality-driven employee experience they’re known for. (Photo provided by Gensler © Garrett Rowland)

Global architecture, design and planning firm Gensler recently released its 2022 Design Forecast, which includes insights on the current and future state of office design. The Forecast explores design holistically for multiple topics with a focus on cities, the workplace, health and wellness, lifestyle design, and building repurposing. Highlighted here are overall design trends, followed by observations and forecasts for those who own, plan and operate offices and commercial real estate. We’re focusing on professional services firms and associations here, but the report includes a look at a total of 28 industries and office forecasts. (See link to download at end of this article).

As Gensler states, “This is an opportunity to rethink the physical workplace to offer a unique and fulfilling experience that can attract people, whether that’s through new technologies or new types of space.” Read on for these insights from Gensler:

In 2022, Look At These Trends

Before looking at design forecast for office spaces in two industry sectors (professional services and associations), here are five key metatrends impacting the work sector, and how design is responding:

1. The workplace must become a compelling destination. We’re seeing a shift to the new role of the workplace as a “destination”—creating experiences employees can’t get working remotely. Top performing companies understand power of physical workplace for people to thrive, as well as drive creativity and innovation.

2. Experimentation, prototypes, and learning are the new normal. We’re entering a phase of experimentation, piloting, and learning. The new workspaces must be driven by purpose and research to dig in and figure out what is working, what is not working, and analyze outcomes. A key piece of successful piloting is to test and measure.

3. The new workplace ecosystem will include third spaces. Today’s workers want an ecosystem of places to work both in and out of the office. Third places and coworking spaces are increasingly preferred for a variety of work activities. Developers and landlords should create spaces such as working lobbies or outdoor workspaces.

4. The workplace will play a critical role in fostering equity and inclusion. Companies should extend equity beyond race, gender, and generations to create equitable work experiences for employees who are working in-person and remotely to create a culture of inclusivity and belonging.

5. Investments in health and well-being will deliver value for employees. Employers should focus not only on enhancing physical health through biophilia and wellness design, but also building personal and professional relationships for mental well-being.

Professional Services Firms

For professional services firms, the pandemic has opened up key areas of change: mobility, choice and variety of spaces in the office, and health and well-being. By building upon these core principles and focusing on the employee experience, management advisory and legal firms can attract the best talent and deliver great experiences for a diverse, multigenerational workforce.

Diversity and well-being will continue to prioritize inclusive design. A broad definition of inclusive design embraces cultural diversity, as well as the mental and physical well-being of all employees. To attract and retain diverse talent, professional services firms should create an empowered work experience based on choice and flexibility that is inclusive. Gender-neutral restrooms, mothers’ rooms, and other spaces are increasingly common to accommodate diverse needs.

The future legal office should support collaboration and social gathering. To attract and keep talent, the legal industry must think of the office as a destination—or a type of work club. Spaces that promote knowledge sharing, mentorship and coaching, meetings, and collaboration will be the hallmarks of the new law office.

Reframing the office as a destination will remain an industry driver. As the primary purpose of the workspace shifts to accommodate more collaboration, mentoring, and impromptu social gathering, professional services firms will continue to experiment with amenities. Team rooms, food service areas, work-focused lounges, informal meeting areas, and outdoor connections will continue to be part of the mix.

Operating in beta mode is a worthwhile investment. As clients reexamine their portfolios, being in “beta mode” will become part of real estate thinking. Testing ideas by launching pilot programs can be low-risk, high-reward solutions that enable clients and designers to experiment and then pivot. By embracing new technologies and ways of working, professional services firms can better understand staff needs, find new ways of building and promoting firm culture, and test drive new concepts.

Office Design
At LinkedIn in Omaha, NE, the tech company’s campus creates an inviting, inclusive space for employees to connect with global teams. (Photo provided by Gensler © Jason O’Rear)

Office Design
For its Miami office, Gensler designed a workspace that invites employees to retreat, reflect, and create. The design began with a question: How do we do our best work? (Photo provided by Gensler © 2021 Devon Banks Photography)

Foundations, Associations, And Organizations

In many ways, associations, nonprofits, and likeminded organizations feel socioeconomic changes most acutely because they are so closely embedded in their local communities. These local ties inspire a greater sense of responsibility for the relationships with their community and for the well-being of their employees. Organizations will continue to leverage their real estate to further their mission, support their members, and encourage citizenship in the community.

Virtual programming leads to expanded opportunities, locally and globally. Connecting to membership and the broader community, convening spaces cast a larger net, create equitable experiences, and foster a deeper connection through increased programming, events, and organizational awareness. A new perspective has evolved, centered around funding opportunities and outreach. This perspective also strengthens the organization’s mission, while fostering connection to the surrounding communities.

As the workplace becomes more diverse, wellness must be integrated into a variety of spaces. The future of work involves people being more nomadic as they seek out diverse environments in which to work — quiet corners, meeting rooms, social hubs, and restorative outdoor experiences, which can encourage daily movement, and inspire and delight. This reflective period has led organizations to an integration of health and wellness in all aspects of the workplace, and with more ardent conversations around resilience.

Data and metrics will drive real estate decisions. There is a deepening need for data and metrics to understand what like-minded organizations are doing to better support their teams and communities in order to drive decisions around their space needs. Organizations continue to use real estate to embody the organization’s mission and serve its membership in new and innovative ways, establishing the office as a social hub with shared purpose and a connection to the mission.

Self reflection and recentering leads to higher relevance and purpose. As advocates and leaders in diversity, equity, and inclusiveness, organizations lead with human experience and continue to quantify impact and increase focus on action by creating a range of DEI policy and design considerations leading to accountability, agency, and a fuller embodiment of their mission.

Gensler is global architecture, design, and planning firm with 50 locations across Asia, Europe, Australia, the Middle East, and the Americas. Founded in 1965, the firm serves more than 3,500 active clients in virtually every industry. The Design Forecast 2022 document is available for download here.

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