A – Z of Trends

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Our world is changing.  No, we’re not talking about the geopolitical impact of Brexit and Trump – more important things are happening in the world of the workspace. Almost daily we are alerted to new ideas – the same ideas that our readers have to be aware of when they sit down with their ever more knowledgeable  clients.

In order to illustrate the latest workplace trends we decided to use the ancient Latin script – the 26 letters of the alphabet.  We have aimed not to be too insular by focusing solely on interiors but raised our sights and looked more broadly at the workplace  from a client’s perspective. Also, note that we are looking at the relative value of the ‘trend’, not whether it’s ‘trendy’.

Productivity of workers is key to most clients; getting the most from staff whilst reducing the reasons to leave and increasing the reasons to join.  Broadly we believe that three of the key reasons people are happy at work are; when they have a degree of autonomy, when they are rewarded and recognised and, finally, when they develop as an individual.

You will see many of the 26 letters are related to these motivational factors

Additionally, it is ever more clear and accepted that there is no one blueprint for anyone workplace.  Even what appears to be an identikit professional firm will require a subtly different workplace for London to that in Leeds.

Also added to this complex matrix of the workplace is the constant shift in the age of the population, knowledge and technology.  A complex matter that everyone has a view.  Steve Gale (page 18) talks about the importance of culture in the office and how designers are increasingly expected to get that culture as they design the ‘function’.  Mark Eltringham (page 92) is on the same page but bemoans the term ‘office of the future’ and defends open plan – if it fits with the client’s culture.


A good acoustic space is about the reduction of speech intelligibility where privacy or concentrated work are required, and increasing it where communication and collaboration take place. The focus should not be on reducing noise levels, but rather manipulating the clarity of the speech signal. Products should therefore be particularly effective at speech frequencies.


With the much improved variance and manufacturing processes of LED lighting, we believe more and more offices will want to have smart, energy efficient lights fitted. Plumen, the London-based lighting firm, has created an LED Edison light bulb (WattNott) that they suggest will last 25 years. Technology and therefore choice has now turned lighting from a function to much more – and clients know it.


Connected Spaces

We see a future of Smart Rooms and furniture that connects to each other or the internet. Hot desking solutions that know pre-hand who is due to occupy the space, which sets up the desk computer or VoIP phone for that individual, or meeting rooms that link in with your calender solution so that people know at a glance that the room is booked. Visionect’s digital Joan Meeting Room Assistant is one such product we are starting to see in use.

Dual Screens

We have seen a significant increase in the use of dual screens across the board. Supply of dual screen arms has risen tremendously. Screens have become cheap enough that the benefits of worker efficiency far outweigh the relatively small additional cost. And we all agree that if you have two screens you look more important!



As the magazine goes to press we will be attending various events at Workplace Week in London. Andrew Mawson, Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA), makes an excellent point that we can put under ‘E’.  With all the changes happening in workplace over the past few years, it’s imperative that our workforce is provided with the knowledge of how they can maximise their own performance. This means everything from understanding how to use different furniture to learning how the Internet of Things can help an organisation save energy and money. As with any change, we must recognise the importance of educating the user so they too see the benefits.

Free Time

With an increase in technical businesses, flexible working hours, collaboration zones and flexible working practices, we see more businesses moving towards a similar approach to Google’s 80:20 rule, where staff can utilise 20% of their working time in developing an interest of theirs – so long as what they work on has potential to further the business. A little like taking an afternoon nap, this may not be for every workplace culture.

Relax, refresh and recharge words on office table with computer, coffee, notepad, smartphone and digital tablet


As we know, large open spaces appear to breed cooperation and creativity. Added to this, the transitory nature of some staff has led to the latest trend of actually using less space. Once the client/designer is sure less space is needed, shared rather than owned is the order of the day – hence its name, hotelling. Our belief is ‘more activity in less space’ – and this will be a key topic in most designer/client discussions over the next 12 months.


An innovation or oxymoron? Gaming in the workspace is on the increase as clients demand relaxed areas that will help staff build working relationships and foster collaboration. The ubiquitous table tennis and pool table…this is a phenomenon that will not go away. As the workplace begins to emulate the home more and more, we have seen gaming zones increase. The list of possibilities for the designer also continues to increase and now include areas for pinball machines, arcade games, X-boxes, darts and massive TVs. Beyond the belief that a workplace environment with ‘games’ is a good thing to make a company statement, it has the crucial result of bringing staff together and increasing that sense of community – the real reason for the ping pong!

Independent Workers

PeoplePerHour (website for freelancers) predicts that 50% of the UK workforce could be made up of independent workers by 2020. We think big implications for clients and therefore workspaces.

Job Function

With continuous changes in technology and expected shifts in working culture, many organisations are creating workspaces with flexibility built in. It is becoming increasingly difficult for companies to predict which job functions there will be in the next few years. Many positions didn’t exist five years ago, and companies will find it challenging to accurately predict what new staff will need. One job function that has always been central to people managment but not necssary workplace design is the HR director. This is changing and fast. We recently had the pleasure of meeting one such person who typifiies the very modern HR director: Sally Sellers. You will hear more of her amazing story as she led a team that is transforming the headquarters of BSI.

Keeping Close

We know, it doesn’t sound like a trend, but it is. On the one hand, technology has allowed us to improve our communication over vast distances and allow remote working to flourish. However, close proximity has some distinct advantages. Independent studies conducted by Ben Waber, President and CEO of Sociometric Solutions (left), found physical closeness boosts virtual communication. As the workplace has changed from offices to cubicles, open plan to collaborative spaces, the challenge has been to show productivity value, until now. The use of wearable technology (covered later) will, for some organisations, be a key tool to help prove the age old question of productivity.

Ben Waber, CEO of Humanyze, wearing one of the company's sensors. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Ben Waber, CEO of Humanyze, wearing one of the company’s sensors.


Living Walls

Whilst many of these Biophilic monsters are only seen at exhibitions or on external walls, we hear of more and more being specified. For the client the benefits include: an impressive design feature ideal for breaking the ice with a visiting client, it shows off, to some extent at least, the client’s commitment to the environment, whilst they also have great acoustic qualities and we think make workers happy.

One of the best stands at Orgatec was hosted by Haworth. Whilst they were not alone in promoting the greener office, their ‘jungle’ showed that with the right design, planting can make a difference. A number of you,  through our MixInspired events, will have heard Oliver Heath talk with great conviction about the value of Biophilic design. Research has shown the positive effect features such as plants, natural light, and views of nature have on employees. According to a Report by Human Spaces, offices with plants and natural light can increase productivity by 6% and creativity by 15%. Yet, 47% of employees work in offices with no natural light, while 55% don’t have any greenery. Understanding that wellbeing is connected to productivity has given fuel to the Biophilic design chant. A Mix Roundtable to be featured in the January issue, will ask just how successful designers have been in convincing clients that they should spend more money. Another way of immersing the team in nature is to, weather permitting, create a place outside – and simply work there!



We recently met with a Workspace Director of a Unicorn business (tech start-up that reaches $1b market value). One of his objectives was to understand which parts of the office were being used in order to plan the next stage of their development. As we are all now in agreement, the encouragement of encouraging staff to get up and move around has its benefits but just how do you monitor how well the different areas of your very expensive office are used? Our new friend ideally wanted to use individual electronic tags, usually connected to the person’s ID badge (Radio-frequency identification is one method for Automatic Identification and Data Capture). He also looked at trying to analyse workspace utilisation by placing a number of network receivers, usually under the desk, which feed back and log occupancy levels. We hope to catch up with him at one our MixInspied events in London to see how he’s getting on.


Natural Materials

The world has never been so technologically advanced and yet, perhaps as a foil, we crave the old (vintage) and natural. Railway sleepers have never been so popular – certainly not in office design. We are also seeing a greater trend towards craftmanship, through some wonderful examples of bespoke joinery and luxurious seating. As leading designers, our readers are already using natural materials, the majority of which are hopefully sourced locally, but spare a thought for the 20% of workers that have no natural elements at all, or even worse, the near half that don’t even have natural light.


Open Plan

Open plan is here to stay. There is, however, still disagreement on just how effective it is in achieving those vital level of productivity. Too much noise and distractions are regularly sited as negatives.  However, perhaps the culture, not the physical make up, is the real cause for the bad repulation of open plan. We believe that as open plan becomes ‘Open Plan 2’, we will see a true mix of environments with the subtle use of different floorings, screens and lighting all in evidence. The net result is likely to be much more subtle than just opening up the floor plan and sitting everyone at tables in the hope that collaboration
will thrive.


Having an interior designer drop a treehouse / slide / other elaborate feature in the middle of your office may sound like a fun idea but whether it actually does anything for an organisation is another matter. Designers should work with end users to make sure that people and their needs are always placed at the centre of the workplace offering. It is, after all, people who will inhabit that space and, for many, a treehouse in the building is taking things a bit too far. Also related to people is Personalisation – hot desking, once the very essence of the modern workplace, now comes with a set of limitations. Although the freedom of movement can encourage collaboration, a nomadic working style can stifle our personalities and means we can’t wholly express ourselves.

Quiet Time

A lovely trend that we are seeing more and more is the ‘coffee shop’ in the workplace. Not a Starbucks but a social area with good coffee. Opus-4 shared with us some great examples; they are seeing the merging of the best elements from the hotel, restaurant, coffee shop and university campus being recreated in the workplace. The suggestion for greater budget allocation for a social space can be challenging for any designer, but clients are getting it and seeing the value of the investment. One such end user recently told us that they created a cafe area from an underused office. The cafe space is now being used ‘all day, every day’, from the rush hour avoiders through to meetings and social gatherings. Crucially, the staff are very positive about the new development. Being realistic it will not be for everyone – but with the number of firms looking to attract talent increasing, it will be a prerequisite – good old social proofing.


This is an image is of a Radial desk – it’s on its way out, or so we thought until we met the nice people at Premier Workplace Services. A relatively new venture, they take old stuff and refashion – in this case chopping the desk in two (there’s more to it than that!). We like this for lots of reasons, not least because there is a workplace revolution going on right now, with clients spending more on new interiors and getting rid of old ones. So unlike faxes, DVDs and Tipp-Ex, there is life in the old dog.


Solar Glass

Already a hot subject in the hospitality sector, energy harvesting in the workplace will be a subject that is much more widely discussed. In tall buildings with limited roof space, the potential to generate power through photovoltaic glass panels is significant – where there is a roof, replacing tiles with solar bricks is a really exciting idea . Recovering energy from solar will help power small electrical circuits / passive wireless power modules. The cost and relative value of all solar technology will continue to improve and then we’ll see the widespread use of photovoltaics in the workplace.


Just as the benefits of lighting are becoming more readily accepted, so is texture. As with lighting, texture can set a mood. If the client wants an area of comfort and warmth, then the starkness of, say, McDonald’s is not the route. Consider the best offices you have seen recently – and texture will have probably played a part; we often associate what makes a workplace look good with the use of great textures. Clearly texture is all about balance and contrast (think of a rough textured reclaimed bench with a smooth frame). We are also seeing more and more texture in the workplace through plants, rugs, artwork, wallpaper and, especially, in furniture. One of the key trends to emerge from Orgatec.


Yes, they’re back! Many companies dabbled with Unisex ‘Superloos’ – but soon found that they came with so many of their own issues that, much like Brad and Angelina, a split was inevitable. It’s still something of an HR issue, but many a man will be happy that the traditional urinal is de rigueur once again. As will many a lady!


Virtual Reality

One trend that is really taking off both at home and at work is virtual reality (VR). Covered in the October issue of Mix, VR is used in almost every industry sector, from academic research through to design, engineering, business, the arts and entertainment. Whilst not without its limitations, in a relatively short time VR will be considered in just the same way that drones are today – something that was for the few but can now be for the many. The immediate application for many designers is presenting client designs in a different and more realistic way. Clients and designers alike are warming to this method of presentation because the chance of a misunderstanding is reduced and clients see less of a risk – and are therefore more likely to say yes.


Wearable Devices

This was touched upon in ‘monitor’ some 10 letters back, but we felt the importance demanded a little more attention.  In the past, workplace design has been based on various things such as assumptions, gut feeling and social proofing (copying others). However, once again technology is at hand to help, allowing clients and designers to analyse information more easily. In particular, wearable devices and big data analysis have created an opportunity for us to understand how employees work and interact; this in turn will be another string to the bow of the designers’ influence in workplace design.

A sociometric badge (sociometer, and usually part of the normal ID badge) is a wearable device that can assess the amount of conversation time, closeness to other people, face-to-face interaction and activity levels by using a raft of movement and voice indicators. Clients, such as Bank of America and Deloitte, cross-reference the data with information including sales, revenue and retention rates. The results are analysed to find which encounters and behaviours are making contributions to the company.

Humanyze, whose strapline is ‘People Analytics. Better performance’, is one such company in this market. They use two main sources of data: from the person’s digital communication and from the sociometer – and then analyse the results for the client. We asked how they overcome the obvious objections to wearable technology: 1. Resistance from staff that they are being ‘monitored’ and 2. Workers’ rights in countries such as France and Spain. We just hope that their sales people are better at getting back to people with requests for information!


X factor

Sorry, we could have said Xerox machines! Fax machines have all but gone, photocopiers will be next, leaving two dimensional printers standing guard, defending the rights of the paper-eating machines. Also disappearing are wires. (Wireless – sometimes it’s what you can’t see rather than what you can!). We are already seeing fewer wires (spot the person on the train with a PC and a big wire – they are becoming rarer). The very popular mobile communication company, Apple, supply wireless headsets for their new phone – and expect the next version to have wireless charging capabilities. It’s very much happening already but expect more and more furniture to have wireless charging facilities.

Whilst we are on the subject of wireless:

  1. Shared technology is already becoming popular, with wireless tables having built in touch screens.   
  2. LiFi (Light Fidelity) is a new innovation that provides an Internet connection at 100 times faster than WiFi’s current capabilities. Similar to WiFi, it uses visible light rather than radio waves. The downside for LiFi is that it cannot pass through walls and as it needs LED bulbs to act as a connector – and the lights need to be on.
  3. Expect more use of Google Chromecast in the office, allowing the user to wirelessly stream from mobile, laptop or tablet to another display.
  4. xerox-workcentre-5655

Gen Y (Millennials)

Commonly used to describe the generation of people born between the late 70’s and 2000. With a current population of 71 million, they are having a major impact, with one study suggesting that, by 2025, Millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce, with a motivation for work that is quite different to previous generations. Gen Y’s are described as being incredibly sophisticated, technology-savvy, more racially and ethnically diverse and much more segmented. In short, not many were seen celebrating Trump’s acceptance speech.



If you haven’t fallen asleep yet, well done. But you really should have a nap. As most will know, in some parts of the world, the working day pretty much comes to a halt in the early afternoon. Siestas in Spain, riposo in Italy – and a nap is also the norm in Nigeria, Mexico, Ecuador, Greece, Costa Rica and the Philippines. We are starting to see evidence that some clients (and therefore manufacturers) are taking notice. Have a look at the Daybed (right) by Morgan Furniture. As sleep is now being properly considered as an option in the workplace, so is mediation. We are told a 20-minute meditation will de-clutter your life both physically and mentally, helping you clear the mind and therefore increase both productivity and personal wellbeing.

Contribution: Active FM, Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA), BDG, BW: Workplace TP Bennett, Core Five LLP, Desso, Gensler, HLW, Kamuela, Ocee, Peldon Rose, Opus 4, MCM, Mix Research, Morgan Furniture, Perkins+Will, Spatial Office, Turner & Townsend