Workplace Design: Four Trends

Workplace Design
(Photo: Francis Cauffman)

By Anne Cosgrove
From the May/June 2016 Issue

It is said that a good manager provides the tools that help those around them do the work they need to do effectively and efficiently. Increasingly, this tenet applies to the role of facility management leaders who are immersed in providing a beneficial physical environment for the employees in their organizations. While furnishings, lighting, HVAC, and other elements that make a safe and comfortable workplace has always been part of the facility manager’s job, this responsibility has taken on another level. As more organizations recognize the impact of their facilities on employee recruitment and retention, brand image, and, real estate and operational costs, leadership is focused on whether these spaces are maximized in this role.

Ed Nolan, senior vice president, workplace strategy at JLL, “We are seeing a shift that I’d characterize as ‘membership’, rather than ‘ownership’. In traditional settings, for instance, an employee has an assigned space. There is ownership of that space, and aside from custodial services to that space the employee is who maintains it. Historically, this individual space has been perhaps 70-80% of a company’s footprint. Now, imagine a world as a facility management leader where less than half the space is ‘owned’, and more of the footprint is shared.”

In this membership scenario, facility management becomes responsible for more space within an office.

1. Facility Reflects The Organization

Companies have long promoted their brand within their physical environments. Logos in a lobby, product and service displays, and items showcasing an organization’s history are among the traditional approaches. Today, sustainability initiatives, health and wellness programs, and facilities themselves are also among the tools companies focus on to attract and retain employees and customers alike.

For instance, sustainability initiatives are often shared with employees to not only showcase actions the organization is taking, but also to encourage employees to help further those goals.

One way to embody sustainability is through furniture choices, such as those that carry one or more of the green certifications found in the industry. Remanufactured furniture is another avenue to sustainable furnishings. Using this approach, facility managers can choose workstations with the remanufacturer to have those items remade to desired configurations and finishes. Through this process, the service provider disassembles, inspects, repairs, and reassembles furniture to like-new condition.

US Assure, a property and casualty insurance provider in Jacksonville, FL, utilized remanufacturing to furnish 44,000 square feet of new office space. The firm worked with Davies Office, an Albany, NY company that provides remanufacturing services, to help it create a workspace that was functional and modern.

Said US Assure senior vice president, Ryan Schwartz, “We were looking for a partner who could help us transform our business. We found it in Davies. They support the way we want to work, and allow us to single-source smart, more sustainable solutions.”

2. Flexible Furniture And Spaces

Creating a workplace that provides the maximum number of people the maximum opportunity to work productively and comfortably involves a multilayer approach. At the facility level, providing different types of spaces is an increasingly utilized. These could include individual workstations, two person phone rooms, four person conference (huddle) rooms, and larger conference rooms, as well as open seating areas for impromptu meetings and purposefully planned cafés.

Workplace Design

At JLL’s company headquarters in Chicago’s Aon Center, Chuck Kelly, senior director of office services for the firm, is overseeing a complete renovation. The project, which involves 200,000 square feet on six floors and 1,500 employees, is scheduled for completion in spring 2017. The first phase—a two floor revamp—was finished in April 2016.

“In the new space, we’re transforming from an environment in which there were basically two physical environments in which to work, a workstation or a conference room,” Kelly explains. “There were complaints about not having enough conference rooms. The reality was there were plenty, but many times there were two person meetings conducted in a 10 person conference room.”

The redesign of JLL’s headquarters (a leased space planned to accommodate headcount through 2018) reduces the number of personal workstations, while adding more “unassigned private space.” Kelly notes significant inclusion of two person phone rooms and four person huddle rooms in the project. “We actually tripled the amount of that space, versus the old space. We’ve combined those with soft seating, cafés with banquettes, and more typical workstations.”

Kelly adds, “By utilizing all of those aspects of the new space, we’ve found already in the five weeks since the first phase opened that we have a lot more people coming into the office [versus working off-site].”

This flexibility and personalization applies to the furniture chosen for these spaces. For individual workstations, sit-stand desks have been gaining more attention as a relatively simple way to accommodate individual comfort while also encouraging movement.

VARIDESK, a maker of height adjustable desks that are placed on top of existing desks, are an offering on the market aimed at ease of installation and affordability. Jason McCann, CEO of the Coppell, TX company, has observed there are several reasons his facility customers have interest in a sit-stand option. “It’s about increasing productivity, retaining and recruiting employees, and fostering wellness,” he says. “People work differently, and this is a solution that works for everybody.”

For the JLL office in Chicago, height adjustable desks were chosen for all workstations. On this decision, Kelly says, “There is a lot of data that says sitting all day is just not healthy. It can also promote engagement between employees. Meanwhile, the desks provide flexibility, and that’s certainly something we think is key in designing work places whether for ourselves or for our clients.”

He continues, “Overall, it’s less about choosing furniture and more about having a holistic strategy in place that gives employees the tools and assets they need in order to be productive.”

3. Amenities And Alternative Space

The view of the facility management has expanded to items that historically may have been simple maintenance concerns. Coffee and water consumption, for instance, demanded attention in regard to cleaning or service contracts. Notes Kelly, “In the past, if an facility manager thought about a café, the concern was probably how to keep the coffee pots clean. Now, the thought is, ‘what kind of coffee are we serving, and should we have a barista serving that coffee?’”

Workplace Design
For larger break and beverage areas, offering a range of seating such as booths, benches, and bars are critical to accommodate work. (Photo: Mars Drinks)

Companies might focus on making the facility a destination and a place that people want to be. A recent global study by Mars Drinks across six1 countries found that 90% of people believe that this kind of place—vibrant, thriving, and alive with potential—was critically important. In addition, the survey demonstrated that 67-80% of people believe that workplace beverages are critical to successful engagement, collaboration, well-being, and productivity.

Tracy Brower, Ph.D., global vice president of workplace vitality at Mars Drinks, shares that her company partnered with two of the largest design associations in the world, conducting charrettes and deep-dive working sessions2 in order to identify the elements of the space and the facility that are most important to this workplace beverage experience. Here is a brief overview of the findings.

  • Accommodate shorter and longer stays.
  • Serve both groups and individuals. A large number of people who work individually in coffee areas (30-42%), while between 58-70%3 work in groups in these spaces.
  • Provide for both contemplative and collaborative work.
  • Make it a destination. Design experts report that work cafés are the number one area where customers are investing. They are using the work café as a draw for both staff and guests. These spaces can also showcase company brand and values.
  • Ensure it’s convenient and accessible. While the best offices have at least one destination space, they also have pantries or break areas for a quick coffee break.
  • Offer quality and variety. Mars Drinks’ research4 also suggests that all generations, and particularly Millennials (78%), demand good quality coffee and specialty drinks.

4. Cross Department Collaboration

With facility management decisions extending beyond simply furnishing a space, it can be useful to forge or strengthen relationships with relevant departments in the organization. Introducing a beverage bar or operating a concierge style front desk are amenities often under the purview of human resources departments. Overseeing wellness programs, which can include ergonomic furniture, is also a traditionally HR function.

Workplace Design
Reception areas for visitors can also serve as collaborative spaces for employees. (Photo: JLL)

Much like the FM/IT interactions brought on by building automation—and now Internet of Things technology, to create and operate a successful workplace today requires at least some collaboration with HR and even marketing departments. Speaking on the JLL headquarters project, Kelly says, “We’ve spent a lot of time working with our marketing colleagues as we designed this space, to discuss what they wanted in the space.”

A common thread to these trends is an emphasis on people. Workplace design is recognized for its role in the comfort and performance of occupants. Engaging with employees on how the workplace can best support them is a good place to start. n


  1. Conducted in June 2015 with 3,815 people in U.S., Canada, UK, Germany, France, and China.
  2. Held in November and December 2015.
  3. Research conducted on behalf of Mars Drinks in coffee shops and corporate work cafés during October through December 2015.
  4. Survey conducted on behalf of Mars Drinks with 4,000 people in multiple industries, functions, and generations across North America in October 2015.

Cosgrove is editor-in-chief of Facility Executive and can be reached via e-mail at

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  1. This is an excellent and very current article reflecting what is really happening in the world of planning for the use of spaces.

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