How Your Miserable Open Office Might Change This Year

Will 2015 be the year that we finally rethink open office layouts? Here are the workspace trends we’re watching this year.

How Your Miserable Open Office Might Change This Year
[Photo: Flickr user Ran Yaniv Hartstein]

2015 may be your year.

Open concept office floor plans have characterized modern offices for the past several years. But dissatisfaction with these wide open spaces, along with advances in technology that have brought about changes in how and where we can work and concerns about employee health, has caused many forward-looking companies to head back to the drawing board to make their office design more reflective of modern working styles.

“The open office plan was sort of a knee-jerk anecdote to those closed offices that were the workplace of the past, but now we’re finding a happy medium,” says Kassin Laverty, Founder and Executive Director of Interior Design Fair, a San Francisco-based design company that has spearheaded the design of national and global offices including Tradeshift, a company that was recently recognized as the coolest office space to open up in San Francisco in 2014.

Some of the most common office design trends in 2015 will include:

The workplace as a home away from home

“Workspaces are becoming more casual,” says Laverty. Rather than stiff leather chairs, formal desks and closed doors, today’s workplaces are incorporating breakout areas, or zones, of clustered comfy couches, hammocks or bean bag chairs, giving employees an opportunity to create “experiences” that energize and inspire them. Employees are encouraged to escape their desk and set up shop wherever they feel most at ease. “The focus is on comfort,” says Laverty. “Employers want employees to stay as long as they feel like so they’ll be the best version of themselves,” says Laverty.

Collaborative spaces

These working pods also encourage employees to collaborate outside the boundaries of meeting rooms and interact with individuals in other departments that they may normally never have a reason to interact with. Lounge seating and playful gathering spaces that promote socialization will increasingly become the norm, even outside of Silicon Valley tech companies.


A balance between public and private

While office spaces are becoming more collaborative, there’s still a need for private areas to have a phone conversation or a closed-door meeting. Laverty says more and more companies are mixing up their space design–incorporating open desks and impromptu break areas as well as small meeting spaces, phone rooms, and conference rooms to support the various types of work that are required in a given day.

A breakdown of barriers

You can thank the open office movement for changing the hierarchy of working relationships. No longer do CEOs and senior management view the corner office as a luxury. Instead, more and more CEOs are moving to the floor, encouraging collaboration and a sense of community. Sharing the floor allows management to stay involved, know what’s going on and participate in a more meaningful way.

A focus on employee health

We’ve all heard the news: sitting is the new smoking. In addition to back and neck pain associated with sitting at our computer desks all day, research has proven that our sedentary lifestyle takes a toll on our health, increasing our risk of obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. In response to the chair’s threat on our lives, more and more workplaces are encouraging people to move throughout their day. Desk alternatives including standing desks have risen in popularity. Fast Company web producer Cia Bernales’s article about her switch to a standing desk was one of the most popular reads in 2014, and many tech companies including Google and Facebook now use standing desks, arguing standing promotes greater productivity. FF Venture Capital announced in 2014 that furnishing their meeting rooms with standing desks led to greater creativity and a freer flow of ideas. Other chair substitutes including bosu balls and to a lesser extent, treadmill desks, are also expected to be popular in the coming years.

But furniture alternatives aren’t the only way companies are promoting physical health through office design. Laverty sees many offices adding bicycle storage and spaces for squeezing in a quick workout or stretch while at work.

About the author

Lisa Evans is a freelance writer from Toronto who covers topics related to mental and physical health. She strives to help readers make small changes to their daily habits that have a profound and lasting impact on their productivity and overall job satisfaction.