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Upping the Appeal of the Office

It’s been a challenge for offices to adapt over the past two years, so it comes as no surprise design has also shifted with the times, writes Sally Lindsay.

30 May 2023

There is no doubt Covid-19 has dramatically changed the way office design is viewed.

Many companies have had to find innovative ways to ensure workplace safety remains a top priority, while maintaining high levels of productivity and efficiency and promoting a much-needed sense of employee well-being.

It has been a challenge for many offices to adapt to the numerous changes over the past two years, so it comes as no surprise that top office design trends have also shifted with the times.

Many offices are finding that a renewed focus on flexibility, comfortable surroundings, sustainability, and digital technology is better for productivity and the bottom line.

Workplace interior design consultant Cachet Group has created several successful and comfortable "resimercial" suites for a range of owners.

A combination of “residential” and “commercial,” resimercial design brings aspects of home into the contemporary workspace. By combining the residential and commercial components together, it makes a work environment where employees can be comfortable and happy. The goal is to recreate a workplace which inspires workers to be more creative and productive at the office.

This trend has gained momentum lately; the design celebrates commercial quality, residential-inspired features over the stale and stereotypical feel of corporate furnishings. It brings a homey feel to the layout and furnishing style, usually with the introduction of residential furniture as a starting point, and gradually light fittings, paintings, fabrics etc.

Smart design rules

Cachet Group design lead Sarah-Jane Sullivan says the company’s objective is to create leasable tenancies that fit a wide pool of tenants, often a business employing 15-30 people.

Cachet’s design and construct teams apply pragmatic space planning to accommodate a tenant’s size while allowing for flexibility to make minor changes when their business grows. “It helps office owners/landlords to increase the tenant’s lease term,” says Sullivan.

“A suite is about smart design incorporating the build aspect, which creates cost efficiencies for the asset owner, increases the market value of the space and creates a leasable and practical space.”

During Cachet’s design process for suites the aim is to create a commercial office that mimics a residential and hospitality environment, says Sullivan. “It is a look many people have become used to during the Covid lockdowns.” The design includes elements, such as timber finishes, natural materials, soft furnishings and greenery to create a memorable and meaningful space.

This is showcased in Cachet’s recent work at 125 Queen Street and AON Centre. The 125 Queen Street floor was vacant for more than five years and had a challenging floorplate creating limited lighting in many areas.

To combat this Cachet Group split the floor’s five original suites into three to allow for a better ratio of meeting and workspaces, breakout areas and waiting space a tenant needs while making use of the views in each suite. These suites were successfully leased; two of them before completion of the build.

Sullivan says during these challenging times tenants want to encourage their staff back into the office, but many unfortunately do not have the capital to invest in better designed space. “This has become a market gap and it is where office asset owners/landlords can take advantage of creating spaces that entice tenants to move and remain in the building for several years.”

Other office design experts say there are key trends revolutionising the office environment.

The ever-changing workforce

It’s official: cubicle farms and rigid partitions are out. Modern design elements are beginning to feature more dynamic spaces that can be easily adapted to fit the needs of an ever-changing workforce.

Since many people have spent at least part of the past two years in social isolation, the best way to foster more collaboration and teamwork amongst employees is to ensure that space is versatile enough to accommodate a variety of interactions with colleagues.

Add pods to your office space

As many businesses adopted an open concept office design, flexible workspaces and “pod” style layouts became more popular. In the times of social distancing, they proved to be especially useful, but even in post-pandemic office environments they are good for adding an element of privacy to open space.

When employees are in the office they often seek out safe and confidential places to work in. As remote workers return to the office and the number of employees in the workforce continues to fluctuate, employees may find themselves without a sense of belonging in their office. This is where pods come in.

Many of these pods feature small private spaces with enough room to work alone or with a small group, as well as soft seating and outlets for laptop charging. Some pods are even soundproof so employees can hold meetings and talk to each other in a convenient, secure way.

Incorporate more flexible furniture

If pods are unsuitable for your office space, consider adding furniture that can easily adjust to the needs of your workplace. Rather than large tables and fixed chairs, opt for smaller tables and chairs with wheels that can be pushed together during times of collaboration, and then pulled apart later for independent work.

This workplace design is incredibly popular in small office spaces in the post-pandemic era as most employees are more conscious about health and safety in their office environments. This flexible office design not only allows staff to feel safe and comfortable in their offices but also modifies their space for ideal levels of productivity.

Social environment

More offices are adding couches and armchairs with throw pillows to their lobbies and office spaces to create a sense of home in the work environment. Not only can these fixtures provide an appealing place for relaxation, they are also versatile and will suit any open space in the building.

If it suits the office and brand, adding coffee tables and beer fridges can be considered alongside new comfortable furniture. Whether it’s a lobby for waiting clients or breakout rooms for employees, these features can create a social environment no-one can resist.

Create more natural light

Exposure to daylight has been scientifically proven to increase our well-being and mood. It also brightens rooms and makes the office feel bigger and more spacious. So it goes without saying that adding more natural light to a building can benefit office environments.

Sometimes, it’s as simple as moving furniture away from windows to allow more sunshine to illuminate the space. However, in commercial spaces with fewer opportunities to embrace the daylight, the illusion of natural light can be created with well-placed mirrors or a warm colour scheme.

No matter what works best, adding more natural light is key to a more comfortable, homey office environment that will boost productivity and morale.

Contactless technology

Investing in automated light switches and taps in a new office space was already a key feature of modern office design before the pandemic, but now this technology has become essential for health and safety. Wherever possible, make sure there are a limited number of surfaces that employees and customers need to touch to interact with the office.

Reconnecting with nature

Many offices are starting to use plants more generously because of their positive effects on employee well-being.

The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace, a 2021 study, found that workers in offices with natural elements, such as greenery and sunlight, achieve 6 per cent more productivity; 15 per cent more creativity and 15 per cent higher levels of well-being.

There are many benefits to adding green walls to office space. Indoor plants are scientifically proven to improve air quality and circulation, especially in small spaces, which makes them perfect for offices.

Not only will they boost well-being and inspire creativity and productivity, they may also reduce noise in open office spaces. This will lead to less headache and fatigue amongst employees, and make them feel more relaxed in their workplace.

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