Office design: How not to choose fads over functionality

Office design: How not to choose fads over functionality

Design trends, Office design, Office design trends, Office Interiors, Workplace

New-age workplaces are radically changing and replacing the cookie-cutter mould that had defined conventional office design so far.

Businesses are increasingly realising the significance of investing in workplace design, and the impact it has on productivity. With the offices of tech giants, such as Google and Apple, being used as mood boards the world over, designers are trying to recreate similar “cool” work environments. However, there’s always the risk of playing on gimmick and letting form override functionality.


In the last few years, there has been a visible shift away from a concentrated cluster of workstations to less formal areas that let individuals choose where and how they work. “The shift towards sit to stand workstations has been pretty profound,” says Oliver Baxter, insights programme manager at American brand Herman Miller. “There’s also a demand for simpler task seating, more non-task multi-application seating supporting many different working environments, as well as interior space division through furniture, not walls.”

This transition from formal to informal set-up is a reflection of the way we work now with boundaries between, work, live and play blurring. More activity-based working areas are being incorporated into the design scheme, which feature a combination of open, private, team and break-out spaces. People can choose where and how they work depending on the task and their preference, leading to higher productivity. The Cocoon Lounge by Boss Design (pictured, left), for instance, provides an informal setting for both, break-out sessions, as well as solo ideation.

It is being expected that most employees will no longer need to have assigned desks, and there will be alternatively, a greater focus on the work environment. Requirments such as personal storage will lead to centralised locker systems.

Award-winning interior architect, Sneha Divias, says: “With the workplace evolving, creating dynamic and flexible spaces is becoming ever important. We see an increase in interchangeable workplaces which will support different ways of working collaboratively that impact the office layout.”

Landscrapers is a new term coined to describe the new office spaces of companies such as Apple and Amazon. The campus-like workspaces of these companies span over massive areas, rather than skyscrapers which tend to spatially alienate departments and limit collaboration.

In keeping with the innovative mandate of most companies today, this creates a greater sense of community and emphasises company culture. However, this trend may not work in densely populated cities where space is at a premium.


Physical well-being is being practiced in most office environments, especially when it comes to the choice of furniture. “Over the last few years, we have seen a shift away from high-density uniform clusters of dedicated workstations to a much less formal office environment,” says Baxter. “Now, individuals can choose where and how they work with much more postural change supported throughout the office; they can choose if they want to sit or stand, accommodated by products such as Atlas Office Landscape (pictured, left).”

Using latest technologies, leading office furniture makers such as Steelcase, Herman Miller and Haworth are designing products that are heavily based on ergonomic principles (far left, Mirra 2, Herman Miller) . Innovative tools such as anthropometry – the science of measuring body dimensions for a given population – ensures that products can be tailored to suit various body sizes.


To better understand the unique needs of a company and how its real estate works in their favour, there is a greater need to research the ways that a company functions. Different companies work on different levels of planning schedules. For those that experience a high level of activity and need quick evaluation of their space utilisation, data analytics is the go-to solution, which provides real-time data on frequency, duration of use, as well as the concentration of people in any given area. Making sense of these figures at different stages in a company can help . It leads to surprising twists and turns, such as redefining performance levels while also suggesting solutions for unused resources to increase efficiency. There are now programmes to support a range of work styles that includes making and thinking.

There are now many services and devices that collect and analyse data about office use. From sensors under the desktops to employee wearables, the office is becoming more connected and influencing how workplaces are designed.


Better workplace lighting (both natural daylight and artificial light) has been linked to a 15% increase in productivity. Studies have shown that a workspace with ample daylight and windows, as well as opportunities for active and passive contact with nature, sensory change and an access to outdoor areas, all have a positive impact on people’s well-being.

“The modern office demands quality, technologically advanced and efficient lighting solutions,” says Sarah Ahmad on behalf of lighting company Acoulite. “Lighting professionals emphasise on supplying lights that complement the office design and enforce positive responses from its employees. Organisations need lighting that is glare- and fatigue-free.” One of the most researched topics recently is the studying of human circadian rhythm, which considers the optimum levels of stimulating and relaxing situations throughout the day. “Lighting, which is in line with circadian rhythm, helps to eliminate lethargies, jet lags, inefficiency while promoting productivity, better moods, consistency in performance and faster cognitive processing,” says Ahmad.


With most workplaces adopting the modern open-plan design, there is also a considerable increase in the sound levels. “While open plan office spaces are a great way for employees to collaborate and share thoughts and ideas, the acoustics of any workplace need to be well thought out as part of the initial design concept to prevent disruption in workflow,” says interior designer Maja Kozel, who designed the Knowledge Without Borders library in Sharjah (pictured, right) . “As a spatial designer, we think it’s important to implement various silent spaces for people to isolate and focus along with solutions for acoustics such as sound-absorbing ceilings, wall absorbers and sound-absorbing screens into every project.”


Firms are even designing fitness corners in their offices, such as the one pictured above in the newly-unveiled offices of Wilson Associates in Dubai Design District.

Dubai-based architect Ana Margherida D’Castro says: “We always let well-being inform our design, which ultimately leads to employee satisfaction, retention, and creativity. Therefore, we study the psychology of colors thoroughly and the effects of implementing natural light as they are directly related to the wellness of the workers, in order to create a lively workplace that promotes productivity.” The World Health Organization predicts by 2020 mental health disorders and cardiovascular diseases will be the two prime types of illnesses in workers. In addition, it’s a widely known fact that lack of exercise – in particular, long periods of sitting are harmful for health in general . Further, millennials, who comprise an increasing proportion of the workforce (50% by 2020) may actively choose to work for organisations that demonstrate commitment to well-being.

When well-being principles are factored into design, people are surrounded by it while they work within the space, making it impossible not to receive the benefits of better psychological and physical health.

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