As more and more companies respond to evolving workplace trends, designers often must sift through buzzwords, however well-intentioned, before creating successful client spaces. From game rooms, green walls, and flexible furniture to free address spaces and open kitchens with beers on tap – modern work environments are increasingly structured around the experience of their employees. How can designers moderate these sound bites and reinforce a client’s organizational ethos amid emerging trends in the workplace?
In her talk, The Trend of Trendy Workplaces, Dyer Brown’s Ashley Dunn, AIA, shared her observations as part of Design Museum Mornings. Her advice: It is better to build a workspace around your culture rather than someone else's. “Beautiful design isn’t enough to make a workplace strategy,” Dunn says. “It can’t define your strategy, but it can support it.”
If companies want to harness their workforce potential, they need to look inward. Below, Dunn outlines her top suggestions for making the most of good workplace design:
Programming is Important: Help clients think about their workspace through the filter of their company culture – who they are, how employees work, and how they will work in the future. Design is about nuance and experience. Whether a company desires higher productivity, more interaction, innovation – or all three – every goal is different.
Encourage Engagement: It is crucial that people feel heard and have a sense of ownership, especially at work. Employees at every level have the capacity to bring brilliant ideas to the business. By engaging a cross section of your teams early on through Lean Design Tools and Exercises, designers can acquire valuable feedback that can translate into tangible workplace designs, and executive teams can get a pulse on what issues are important to their staff.
Avoid Generalities: A designer should act as a facilitator to apply design thinking principles and avoid a black & white approach. Though there can be gaps across generations (Millennial vs. Gen Z vs. Gen X) and what they desire from a workplace, future employees choose jobs based on culture, not just the free cold brew coffee in the office kitchen.
Use Trends Strategically: While working with an international ad tech client, Dyer Brown was asked to incorporate fun elements in the workplace design to encourage collaboration and maintain a positive office environment. Among many unique features, the designers installed a two-story stainless steel slide as part of the new office design, fitting both the client’s culture and wishes. However, Dunn cautions, “Something to consider, for example, is what your workplace says to others. If you want to be personable, but the primary goal of your space is to communicate a level of seriousness (if you say, develop therapies for rare childhood diseases), maybe a slide isn’t the way to convey that part of your company. This is why approaching trends in a vacuum can be dangerous.”