A View Towards the Workplace of 2024: IIDA Members Forecast an Office Designed for Enhanced Wellness

The following article was a submission from a team representing IIDA in the May 2020 CoreNet Global Hackathon: COVID-19 Virtual Ideation Experience. The team included commercial interior designers and educators from across the country, as well as staff from IIDA Headquarters. 

The CoreNet Global Hackathon brought together over 1,000 participants from the corporate real estate and design communities to reflect on and develop collective solutions for immediate and future response to the COVID-19 crisis in the workplace. The discussions provide a roadmap for the commercial interior design and real estate industries, to support their clients in returning to a post-COVID-19 workplace.

Authors: Team lead: John Czarnecki, Hon. IIDA, Deputy Director and Senior Vice President, IIDA, Ryan Ben, Student Engagement & Advancement Manager, IIDA, Jane Hallinan, IIDA, Interior Designer, Perkins Eastman, Paul LaBrant, IIDA, Associate Principal, STG Design, Jon Otis, IIDA, Principal, Object Agency; Professor, Pratt Institute, Sandra Tripp, IIDA, Principal, Huntsman Architectural Group, Alissa Wehmueller, IIDA, Principal, Helix Architecture + Design


How will a new workplace be designed for human wellness in 2024, a time (hopefully) well after the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic impact and a time (again, hopefully) of U.S. economic recovery? That is the premise that frames this team’s discussion on the future of the workplace. 

As designers—not healthcare or economic experts—we chose to take the long view to a time that may be more settled. In the current moment, in May 2020, responses are largely speculative and based on great uncertainty. This seemingly dystopian time, with COVID-19 remaining and causing economic upheaval, will likely last many months and perhaps well into the next year. As humans, we need to look optimistically ahead towards the more distant future. That is with the understanding that we will have endured, adapted, and learned from a time of both global pandemic and difficult financial conditions for many individuals and businesses. 

One lasting impact of this moment is a heightened consciousness of human wellness in interiors. As designers, we believe that the best design is always sustainable and has wellness in mind—it’s not an additive aspect. With that assumption, how will a new workplace be designed as the innovation hub of an organization, with human wellness at the forefront, in 2024?

Human Behavior and Culture

Before we discuss design and real estate issues within an office, we’ll focus on people. In a post-pandemic world, we believe a heightened awareness of personal responsibility, agency, and necessary mutual trust will drive many decisions in our lives and workplaces. Flexibility will be key, and smart employers will communicate this in action and policy with employees allowed to continue to work remotely when feasible. Employees who do come to the office will have increased personal agency over scheduled work hours. Remote work, flexible hours, and work during non-peak hours are also issues of social equity for all.

For a time, the future workplace will be reflective of the trauma of the pandemic and the economic conditions it has created. To combat this lasting impact, savvy companies will design their offices to reflect stability, safety, and confidence, emphasizing teams and encouraging all forms of collaboration, both digital and in person.

For the employee in such a company, this will engender a higher level of mutual trust and commitment. Individuals will be more mindful of their personal space and cleanliness and the impact that they have on others. Like a thoughtful gym member, employees will be tasked with leaving their desks, meeting rooms, and communal spaces as clean as they found them, wiping down surfaces as they wrap up their time in a space. Rather than relying solely on an evening cleaning service, all office occupants will have shared responsibility for cleanliness and sanitation throughout the day.

Density 

Overall square footage per employee decreased in recent decades, driven largely by economic and regional commercial real estate conditions as well as a company’s functional need. While a return-to-work-during-pandemic time in 2020 may require workplaces to limit capacity for a while, we look ahead to a post-pandemic future: Economic pressures for tighter density will likely continue, especially in dense urban cities like New York. With tighter budgets, companies will largely not have the luxury to expend more square footage per employee. The question is: how flexible is the space?

While we do not envision that the amount of square footage per employee will change drastically between now and a post-pandemic time, how designers program and plan a workplace interior will continue to evolve. The impact of forced remote working in 2020—and the resulting regularization of flexibility to work remotely—will encourage organizations to re-evaluate how they allocate real estate, increasing the shift from square footage for individual use to increased square footage for collaborative, shared spaces. Coming to the office to actively collaborate will be a more purposeful decision that will require a different tool kit of policies for a number of companies.

New spaces and adjacencies in a future post-pandemic workplace.

Enhanced Entry Sequence

For new or renovated workplaces where square footage allows, we anticipate the design of an enhanced transitional entry sequence. Analogies: a mudroom in one’s own home where shoes and coats are taken off, or a gym where one changes clothes in a locker room prior to entering the active gym floor area. In an office, an enhanced entry might have ample closets or even lockers for coats, bags, and a change of shoes so that staff can enter the work area without bringing those items far beyond the office entrance. This can also be a place to check temperatures of employees and visitors and, ideally, a well-designed hand-washing station is incorporated here.

Open Collaboration Area

In the past decade, the amount of casual seating has increased as a percentage of both an interior’s square footage and of a project’s budget. That will likely continue. As the workforce will be increasingly accustomed to working anywhere with portable technology, soft seating will remain appealing as both a change of pace from a desk as well as for comfort, aesthetics, and casual small meetings. How does the design of this area, with communal tables, soft seating, and shared spaces, change? 

An open collaboration area will have extended benefit as a strategic buffer zone—seemingly breathing space—designed to be more integrated between desking areas. Touchdown areas for employees needing places to briefly work between meetings, flexible furniture that can be moved and reconfigured to meet changing needs, and stand-up conference areas for quick gatherings will all become regular features. Furniture with easily cleanable finishes/upholsteries will be key. The communal, standing table, which has risen to prominence in the workplace, will be restricted in the immediate near future. But, in a post-pandemic era, human nature will bring us to again gather at communal tables.

Workplace Desking

The open office is not dead. But what changes? While we may see some impulsive overcorrection reactions in the 2020 time of pandemic to build partitions and regress to cubicle-like workstations, these are not long-term solutions for quality workplaces. Cheap, quick fixes are just that, and will not endure. Evidence-based savvy design principles will lead to systematic changes through research that can affect both short-term needs and long-term functionality, without sacrificing good design aesthetics.

The design of furniture components will likely adapt into revised configurations that respect distancing where square footage allows for it and supports various workplace activities. Open workstations and benching will, very likely, continue in the long-term future, and the amount of space between individuals may be increased, again, where square footage allows. Modularity and flexibility will more regularly inform design and engineering of any systematic modifications. The process must include concerted research and development investigating material suitability, resiliency, and maintenance. 

Hoteling and Shared Desking

Hoteling and shared desking—agile workplace seating—will not go away, and may become more prevalent due to a more flexible workforce splitting time between the office and home, and overall real estate density issues. Shared desking will continue in the long-term, coupled with the lasting pandemic impact of heightened personal responsibility for cleanliness after leaving a desk or table. 

Phone/Huddle Rooms

The need for privacy does not go away, but the quick turnaround of people using this small space will adjust. These areas will be outfitted to host small/individual video conferencing, connecting via one’s laptop, tablet, or phone.

Conference Rooms

Although conference room size will not largely change, capacity may be somewhat reduced compared to the current norm. Meetings will more regularly be a blend of in-person attendees with others conferenced-in remotely. In the room, comfortable distancing will potentially remain as conference etiquette, with chairs spaced between three and four feet apart. With the camera becoming more important, additional seating will be to one side of the room opposite the main presentation/monitor/camera wall. Furniture will be flexible to be configured for the needs of the meeting. Rooms will more regularly have integrated sound and video with touchless voice-activated features. The norm of back-to-back meetings in conference room scheduling will be staggered with 15-to-30-minute intervals to allow for cleaning and increased air circulation.

Technology

Technology in the workplace continues to advance, of course. The future office will see continued advances, with integrated video technology becoming more regularized. The reasons are many: Because the workforce will include a greater blend of those within an office and those working remotely, and because we have become far more accustomed to video-conferenced meetings. With cues from healthcare interiors, workplaces may also include more touchless door openings as well.

Kitchens and Break Areas

In recent years, the employee kitchen and break area has increased in square footage and has become more open and connected to the workplace as a social hub for both casual conversations as well as nourishment. This space has become an important workplace amenity, signaling to employees that wellness is important to the company. In the short-term, while the pandemic is still with us, companies may restrict the use of these office kitchen areas. But, as we look long-term to a post-pandemic future, we foresee that the desire to have the kitchen as a place for food, drink, and conversation will absolutely continue. Great scrutiny will be placed on the kitchen’s footprint and placement adjacent to the workspaces, though, and attention will be placed on easily cleanable surfaces, pressure-latch opening drawers and cabinets that can be opened without considerable touch, and perhaps two sinks—one designated solely for hand washing. To enhance wellness, healthy choices in foods and beverages will be conscientiously selected. Overall, while potentially dormant or restricted in the immediate future, the kitchen will be an increasingly important amenity and social aspect of the office.

Indoor Air Quality and the Outdoor Workplace

In a building’s design, the quality of air ventilation and filtration systems will be scrutinized more commonly. Premium indoor air quality will be paramount in all new construction, with an increasing desire to provide for individual control of airflow. Building owners will also be pressured to improve existing building systems when possible. Air quality will be viewed increasingly as a human right and equity issue, not solely a checkmark for certification achievements. Designers will also maximize daylight and views, and create connections to nature through materials, plants, and select artwork. With that in mind, our desire to spend time outdoors will drive an investment in functional, comfortable, and accessible outdoor spaces wherever climate and real estate allow. 

Lead photo by: Garrett Rowland. All images courtesy of Huntsman Architectural Group.

For more discourse on the future of design and workplace design, watch IIDA’s Collective D(esign): Episode 6 | The Changing Landscape of Workplace Design, and register for Episode 9 | Design Responds: Community Support and Innovation.

Collective (D)esign: The Changing Landscape of Workplace Design

In response to our rapidly changing world, IIDA brings you a design-focused dialogue on the effects of a global crisis. Watch the sixth webinar in the series today. 

What will the workplace of the future look like?

Watch IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO Cheryl S. Durst, Hon FIIDA, and a panel of design experts discuss the changing landscape of workplace design as they examine health and wellness concerns, shifting floorplans and floorplates, collaborative spaces, workplace arrangement, remote working, and shifting culture. This thoughtful group shares their insight in an open dialogue on adaptability and new possibilities for creative expression in the workplace.

This webinar is registered for 1 IDCEC HSW CEU. To learn how to earn your CEU credit, visit IIDA.org for more information.

Watch all the webinars in the series here.

Panelists:

  • Adam Farmerie, Partner, AvroKO, New York
  • James Lee, Director of Design, Hospitality, LEO A DALY, Los Angeles
  • Margaret McMahon, Senior Vice President and Global Director, Wimberly Interiors, New York
  • Meg Prendergast, IIDA, Principal, The Gettys Group, Chicago

The next webinar in the series, Product Design and Manufacturing: Change and Adaptability, will take place on May 7, 2020, 1:30-2:30 p.m. Central. Register today.

Collaboration and Communication: Key Takeaways from the 2019 Industry Roundtable

The 2019 IIDA Industry Roundtable, held in January in Chicago, culminated in a lively, facilitated discussion with designers and industry representatives on the topic of communication best practices. Drawing on a few of the hot topics from the broader Industry Roundtable conversation, including learnability, flexibility, and artificial intelligence, the following are key takeaways and excerpts of the discussion.

Of-the-Moment Versus Enduring

With the transference of “fast fashion” consumer expectations into our own industry, clients are questioning why furniture needs to last 20 years. While designers work hard to educate clients about responsible product specification and the advantages of well-made, warrantied furniture designed specifically for the workplace, this wisdom can sometimes fall on deaf ears. Designers are navigating this challenge by specifying a balance of timeless and timely product in interiors—but often feel conflicted in so doing. Here are some key thoughts from designers on the topic:

“The ‘fast-fashion’ product model doesn’t stand up, but there is a market for it, unfortunately. It’s more of a startup mentality: How long is something going to last relative to things needing to change?”

“We are responsible for considering the embodied energy of the products we are huge consumers of. A very finite life span isn’t helping the world. Products that are flexible, reconfigurable, and that offer multiple solutions will become more important.”

“In Scandinavia, companies make furniture with parts that disconnect and can be sent back for reupholstery. In fact, the government mandates buying furniture that can be updated. Will our country one day move in that direction?”

“In the environments we are creating, we treat some furniture elements as more permanent and infrastructural, and specify others that can be changed out in response to needs or trends.”

The 2019 IIDA Industry Roundtable brought together a multi-disciplinary roster of designers, manufacturers, and marketing executives to look at the future of work through the lenses of people, place, and practice.

Teach, Don’t Preach

Look beyond box lunches, 15-minute cookie breaks, and PowerPoint presentations when creating CEUs and education materials targeted at younger designers. Or any-age designer, for that matter:

“Ditch the PowerPoint and create video stories that seduce and inspire emotions—stories that showcase the beauty, simplicity, and sustainability of your design in simple ways.”

“It’s a myth that millennials only want two- to three-minute sound bites. If the information is pertinent and I’m engaged, I can sit rapt for an hour.”

“Consider restructuring how you’re putting together and synthesizing information. Tech rewired out brains: Once I get a point, I don’t want to hear it for 10 more minutes; I got it!

“I read recently that brands are not telling their stories in a linear manner because of their customers’ experience on the internet. The example given outlined that people don’t just watch one video or read one blog post but jump to various channels when exploring a brand or product.”

Feel-good Furniture

As technology automates the design process and frees up time for more conceptual thinking, practitioners are recasting themselves as “creators of emotional experience.” Manufacturers can support this phenomenon by promoting their product’ experiential side:

“Our premise is about elevating the human experience; we lead with that in every presentation and external communication vehicle. A client talk starts with a discussion about the ability of space to elevate the human experience—and to do the opposite if it’s not carefully calibrated and catered to the intended end user. Space is not a resource or a consumable or an overhead expense; it’s a strategic tool that can influence how we feel.”

“The workplace has done a 180-degree turn, customized to the DNA of the company. It doesn’t matter what we as designers think; it’s about how we are crafting an experience for this client specifically. That’s a shift in our critical thinking.”

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Who will populate the world of work in 2030, and what will matter most? We tackled that and more at this year’s Roundtable.

Corporate Culture Trumps Cool Café

Millennials are more interested in a transparent, communicative, and egalitarian office culture than they are in gimmicky furniture or amenities:

“I don’t need beanbag chairs; I want to work at a place with a leadership team that is reflective of the industry and the broader populace.”

“At my firm, we don’t have amenity spaces—but we do have an open door policy. I’d rather have a good office environment and easy access to leadership than a fancy cafeteria.”

Emotions are the New Ergonomics

Yesterday, it was all about height-adjustability; today, designers and their clients want products that promote mindfulness and support emotional well-being. Furniture that’s responsive, context-aware, and environment-adaptive will play a starring role in the future:

“Could our furniture be collecting different kinds of data than just occupancy and movement? For instance, information about a user’s state of mind?”

“The psychology of space and neurological considerations will become more primary to how we design interiors. Systems will be able to ‘read’ who we are—and what our needs are—based on smarter architectural infrastructures.”

“Several emerging technologies in the smart building arena—including smart materials, displays, and surfaces—have the potential to fundamentally alter our approach to the design of workspaces.”

Words to Live and Work By

In what was a very buzzword-heavy conversation, the following terms were mentioned repeatedly in reference to the design of furniture and product; take them to heart:

  • Acoustics
  • Adaptability
  • Choice
  • Comfort
  • Connectivity
  • Control
  • Convenience
  • Community
  • Cozy
  • Distraction
  • Flexibility
  • Focus
  • Head’s down
  • Mindfulness
  • Modularity
  • Privacy
  • Residential blur
  • Transparency
  • User-centrism
  • Variety
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Humans are hard-wired for social connection; community is as essential to our survival as food and shelter, and designers are ultimately “in the business of creating community.” -Cheryl S. Durst, Hon FIIDA, IIDA Executive Vice President/CEO

2019 IIDA Roundtable Participants included:

INDUSTRY EXPERTS AND SPONSORS

Jennifer Ruckel, 3Form

Mark Shannon, Ind. IIDA, Crossville Inc.

Julia Ryan, ESI

Michelle Boolton, Assoc. IIDA, Gunlocke

Anjell Karibian, Haworth

Alan Almasy, Ind. IIDA, Herman Miller

Meg Bruce Conway, Humanscale

John Newland, Ind. IIDA, ICF

Roby Isaac, Mannington Commercial

Jackie Dettmar, Ind. IIDA, Mohawk Group

John Stephens, Ind. IIDA, Shaw Contract

Catherine Minervini, Ind. IIDA, Sunbrella / Glen Raven

Jennifer Busch, Hon. IIDA, Teknion

Adrian Parra, Ind. IIDA, Vitra

Teresa Humphrey, Ind. IIDA, Wilsonart

FROM IIDA

Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA

John Czarnecki, Hon. IIDA, Assoc. AIA

DESIGN EXPERTS AND IIDA INTERNATIONAL BOARD OF DIRECTORS

President

Gabrielle Bullock, IIDA, FAIA, NOMA Principal, Perkins+Will

President-Elect

Susana Covarrubias, IIDA, Gensler

Vice Presidents

Edwin Beltran, IIDA, NBBJ

Annie Chu, IIDA, FAIA, Chu + Gooding Architects

Jeff Fenwick, Ind. IIDA, Tarkett

James Kerrigan, IIDA, Jacobs

Angie Lee, IIDA, AIA, FXCollaborative

Marlene M. Liriano, FIIDA, IA Interior Architects

Jon Otis, IIDA, O|A Object Agency

Doug Shapiro, Ind. IIDA, OFS

Sascha Wagner, FIIDA, AIA, Huntsman Architectural Group

Members at Large

Christine Dumich, Gensler

Mike Johnson II, IIDA, AIA, Perkins+Will

Kelie Mayfield, IIDA, MaRS

Patricia Rotondo, IIDA, Antunovich Associates

Smita Sahoo, IIDA, bKL Architecture LLC

Neil Schneider, Assoc. IIDA, IA Interior Architects


Learn more about the IIDA Industry Roundtable, an invaluable “brain trust” session for manufacturers and a quality opportunity for designers to exchange dialogue on issues addressing the built environment.

IIDA Headquarters to Host Designers and Architects Talk

I am excited to welcome the design and architecture community of Chicago to the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) headquarters this spring for a superb series of talks.

IIDA, together with AIA Chicago in a first-ever collaboration, will present a series of Wednesday evening talks called “Designers and Architects Talk: A Series About Design and its Impact on Client Success,” that will address commercial interior architecture and design. Both architects and commercial interior designers will learn from the provocative discussions about projects, firm leadership, and design strategy.

March 20 – McDonald’s Headquarters: Impact on a Company, a City, and a Neighborhood

Speakers are Tish Kruse, principal, IA Interior Architects; Primo Orpilla, FIIDA, principal, Studio O+A; Scott Phillips, director of workplace management, McDonald’s; Neil Schneider, Assoc. IIDA, principal IA Interior Architects; and Grant Uhlir, FAIA, co-regional managing principal, Gensler. I will be moderating.

April 17 – New, Bold, and Entrepreneurial: Design Firms Changing the Face of Chicago

Speakers are Jason Hall, principal, Charlie Greene Studio; Ami Kahalekulu, partner, Twofold Studio; Sarah Kuchar, IIDA, creative director, Sarah Kuchar Studio; and Deon Lucas, AIA, NOMA, director, Beehyyve, E.G. Woode. The moderator is Chicago-based architect and AIA national board member Peter Exley, FAIA.

May 22 – Women Leading Hospitality Design in Chicago

Karen Herold, principal, Studio K; Jackie Koo, AIA, IIDA, principal, KOO; Laurie Miller, AIA, principal, Anderson/Miller; Meg Prendergast, principal, Gettys Group; and Patricia Rotondo, Assoc. AIA, IIDA, senior principal, Antunovich Associates. IIDA EVP/CEO Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA, will be the moderator.

Ticket sales have begun for all sessions, and advance purchase is necessary to reserve a seat. Members of IIDA or AIA have a special ticket price of $10/session or $25 for a seat to all three sessions. The public is welcome at $20 per session. Student members of IIDA, AIAS, or AIA Chicago are free.

Sessions allow for 1 IDCEC-approved CEU for interior designers and 1 AIA-approved LU for architects.

Order your tickets now.

Thank you to Host Sponsor Corporate Concepts, Inc., and Champion Sponsors: Bernhardt Design, Mohawk Group, Mortarr, Patcraft, Shaw Contract, Steelcase, Tarkett, and Wilkhahn.