The design of workplace interiors has seen a steady evolution over the last few years. From whimsical ball pits and slides to curated and thoughtful expressions of a company’s culture and brand, trends have come and gone. However, one evolution with staying power is the use of hospitality design principles to create “the anti-office,” a counterpoint to the traditional workplace. As the workplace moves beyond the traditional nine-to-five, variety, comfort, and the curation of a work “experience,” i.e., various environments and amenities, plus a corporate culture that fits, have become increasingly important in developing and maintaining an engaged workforce.
Variety and Choice
Gone are the days of both the cubicle farm and the entirely open office. Today’s most successful workplaces afford the opportunity to switch up one’s setting as the day progresses and as the task requires. Much like a hotel lobby or bar furnishes visitors with options, workplaces are providing staff with a variety of work settings, allowing for heads-down focused work, collaboration, or socialization, as needed.
These affordances vary to accommodate employees’ working styles and personalities as well—what works for sales and marketing may not work for engineering. Understanding everyone’s needs and establishing the appropriate settings allow for both individuals and teams to do their best work and increase their productivity.
By providing a workplace landscape that offers choice instead of being prescriptive, users actively participate in the environment, as well as the company culture. These affordances also offer users a sense of control over their work environment; whether or not they choose to use them is up to them.
In addition to variety, creating comfortable and welcoming settings is also a key principle of hospitality design. For this reason, it’s said we get our best ideas on vacation. Being taken care of and getting out of the work mind-set allow one to get into the proper headspace, to be our most innovative and creative selves. As the line between work and play continues to blur, the ability to get into that headspace when not on vacation becomes more and more important.
Amenities: The Extras
While amenities are nothing new in workplace interiors, it is their thoughtful curation that has changed. From practical technology bars where employees can have their devices fixed and updated to peripheral music rooms that let workers escape for a bit, these amenities provide not only working devices and other essential functions to get the job done but also opportunities for creativity beyond the requirements of the job, as well as for building community in alliance with the corporate culture.
In an effort to attract tenants, building ownership has taken notice of the importance of amenities; increasingly, some have devoted entire floors in their building to breakout space. In addition to large conference areas for board meetings and town halls, they are also adding fully equipped café spaces, outdoor areas, fitness centers, and game rooms. Some buildings go so far as to offer a tailored program of events for their tenants.
One might argue that in an increasingly virtual world, being able to engage in the physical world has real value. The active involvement of all five senses is key to connecting the user with the workplace. From tactile walls that engage our sense of touch to the smell of expertly crafted food wafting from the cafeteria to multiple, customized musical soundtracks playing in different areas of the workplace, these individual moments create a connection between the workers and their environment.
Tailoring and Discovery
Uniqueness and authenticity are cornerstones of hospitality design, and workplace interiors have taken notice of this. Instead of office spaces that aspire to match a bland corporate norm, it has become increasingly common for each location to express the local culture. Through layered designs unconstrained by strict brand guidelines, designers are creating environments that are genuine reflections of people and place. These come in many forms: from custom murals by local artists and curated art installations to interactive and pop-up exhibits.
Similar to a hotel, each office design strives to express the corporate brand, tailoring its environment to its clientele. Workplace designers must get to know their client in order to create a space that is a direct reflection of the culture. One size does not fit all. No longer is it enough to understand the functional and programmatic requirements of a space. The discovery process must get the heart of “Why do they do what they do?” When real estate costs are still one of the biggest expenditures for a business, understanding why people come into the office is critical to creating a tailored design solution to align with the company’s culture and personality.
Why It Matters
As companies compete for the best and brightest, attention is increasingly being placed on the workplace, not only for the reasons of real estate but for its overall impact on success. People are a business’s most valuable asset; therefore, the workplace has become an important tool in the recruitment and retention of talent. Allowing autonomy and freedom of choice, providing meaningful extras, and creating genuine experiences that engage the physical world lead to a more motivated and engaged workforce, which in turn leads to improved overall health and success for the company.
About the Author
Jessica Butler is the interiors team lead at FORGE, a full-service architecture and design firm based in San Francisco.
Ward Village [rendering provided by Woods Bagot - used as article teaser image]