IIDA Design Watch: What Will the Workplace Become?

Work as we know it has shifted. With evolving demographics, immersive technology, globalization, and the blur between our personal and professional lives, what endures and what doesn’t? IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA, LEED AP, shares her insights on the top topics in workplace design today, the challenges designers face with an ever-changing workforce, and the workplace as the next level of education.

Mobility and Privacy Are King

What does it mean when we give employees choice in the workplace? Does it mean giving them height adjustable desks and control of their lighting? Yes, and then some. Workplace mobility – the notion of having multiple spaces to do work – is increasingly in demand and employers are taking notice by asking themselves how can they reinforce the idea that you can do your work anywhere in the workplace. The answer: “It’s your seat plus,” says Cheryl. “Your seat is your home base – that’s where you keep your stuff, that’s where you can have your own library – but work can happen literally anywhere in that zone that we call the workplace.”

And then there’s privacy, which is less about the open office versus closed office debate and more about acknowledging all the different ways we work in the course of a day. The number one complaint in the workplace right now is interruptions. What do we need to equip people with so that they’re able to get their work done with little to no interruption? Privacy in the workplace acknowledges that employees want – and sometimes require – a specific type of space to do their work. It doesn’t necessarily mean that every single area needs a private office, says Cheryl, but it recognizes functions such as HR, finance, and accounting – departments that handle sensitive material.

Designers as Managers of Change, Examples of Context

Every time a client relocates offices, designers are faced with the challenge of fitting more people into a shrinking space in the best way possible. “Design is the result of a real estate event,” says Cheryl, and having tough conversations with clients who too often get caught up in the now and not in the future, while painful, are crucial. With an office relocation, not only are designers designing for what the space will look like now and in the next three to five years, they are designing for what the business might look like.

Another challenge designers face is how to stay competitive in the field. For Cheryl, being “visually cognizant, culturally cognizant, [and] globally cognizant” is key to staying relevant. This means everything from reading the latest literature, learning about organizational behavior and cultural anthropology, and being aware of the shifts and changes in other industries and vertical markets such as retail, healthcare, residential, and hospitality. “People live and breathe in context.”

The Future of the Workplace

At the rate the workplace is going, its design will not speak solely on functionality and brand, but also credibility. The workplace of the future will become a place of education and professional development. Think: apprenticeship. For example, companies known for excellent customer service will attract people who seek to expand their skills in that area. “You are going to be choosing your workplace based on what you want to learn from them,” says Cheryl. “We’ll be attracted to places not only by the work that we’ll do but by the expertise we’ll acquire while there.”


IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA, LEED AP, and members of the IIDA International Board of Directors will be in Orgatec for a discussion on the nature of work. “People. Place. Performance. Defining Global Workplace Culture” will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 26. Learn more about the panel.

Featured image: the Newell Rubbermaid Design Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan, also the Best of Competition Winner of the 43rd annual IIDA Interior Design Competition.

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