Office Design Evolution

Designing for people and their experience is essential today more than ever before

Today’s cubicle was born in the 1960s as the number of office jobs grew exponentially. This shift led to the design of the “Action Office”—designed to improve efficiency, bring down physical barriers to communication, and provide a highly designed and collaborative work space. These new office environments were quite costly and arrived on the scene at a time when there was a greater divide between management and employees than exists today. While these early cubes were cost prohibitive, the idea of a flexible, open office environment quickly evolved into what we know today as the “cubicle.” Love it or hate it, many of us have spent many hours working in one

As we progressed into the 80s, the design of office space and furniture began to change to ensure technology was accessible and easily incorporated in the “modern” office environment. Since the early years of cubicles and the onset of desktop computers, technology has advanced far faster than could have been foreseen and out-paced the design of the “modern,” open office environment.

Today, many offices have a mix of spaces—from private offices to cubicles each of which has plenty of access to technology—and the concept of the open office is highly debated. Some evidence points to improved communication and efficiency. On the other hand, there are studies that show these environments have a negative impact on office culture due to the various generations at work today (from Baby Boomers to Millennials) and their workplace setting needs and desires.

For a while, we thought technology was the answer. It shaped how we worked, how we communicated, and it even shaped our environments (office and home). As we relied more and more on this technology and it became mobile, we began to pull away from personal connections—just ask a teenager to call someone rather than texting. Now, we are shifting once again and realizing the value of connection and our relationships with others. This desire to connect and develop relationships has expanded to a desire for an office that is focused on people and culture.

The next generation of workers has placed a value on experience rather than possessions. They  want to travel and create memories that will last a lifetime rather than buy things like art or knick-knacks or even homes. Since we spend nearly 50% of our time at work, new workers are expecting their work space to be an experience, too. This doesn’t mean we have to add a zip-line or set up a gaming center. It does, however, mean that we need to provide them with opportunities to connect with their coworkers, to grow and experience different aspects of their career, and provide an environment that encourages communication and relationships.

When it comes to designing a great office environment for today’s employees, it is important to spend quality time with those most connected to the space to learn more about their work flow, preferences , communication styles, collaboration needs, personalities, and desires. By spending this time studying an organization’s current office and the “work-arounds” they have implemented to address these needs, we have found that we are better equipped to design an office environment that reflects the needs of the team, management, communication style, and culture. While planning and designing for growth, flexibility, and cost are still very important; however, being cognizant and considerate of the people that spend their time in these spaces is also important and can have the largest impact on engagement, productivity, and overall job satisfaction.

Office design trends come and go as do our desires for an “ideal” work space, however, designing for the people who spend their time in those environments remains key to a developing a successful design solution. We have shaped how we design and interact with our clients, and their teams, around the simple idea of relationships (people, place, experience, and culture).