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A to Z of trends: A-M

Discussing trends in 2019 has arguably never been as poignant, as the workplace sector has rarely been at a more interesting point. Here’s our round up of the trends that made the workplace in 2019.


13 min read

Discussing trends in 2019 has arguably never been as poignant, as the workplace sector has rarely been at a more interesting point. The lowest unemployment in a long time has focused the minds of business leaders to create a giant workspace. Sectors are merging, with workplace looking like hospitality and so on giving designers and manufacturers the opportunity to deal with economic ups and downs and allowing teams to broaden their knowledge. Technology remains a constant and hugely broad subject understood by imagined by many. The awareness of physical and mental wellbeing has never had a bigger profile, and like most subjects that catch the broader public interest it has already been misunderstood and manipulated – however the downside of people becoming stressed because they think they are stressed is outweighed by the fact that wellbeing has become real.

Finally, the changing age of the population is an immensely complex subject – not just for the workplace – and certainly shouldn’t be confined to discussing Millennials.

Our annual A-Z of trends may contain elements that are far from new to you or even a little short on detail (you can do further research of course) but we hope you may find at least one spark of interest and, importantly, will be comforted by the fact that our sector is very much alive, bustling and ready to engage – not a bad sign of health.

A – Agility

Workplace agility stems from this ability to work quickly, seamlessly and cohesively. As more and more employees begin to work from home or on the road, company productivity shouldn’t suffer. And whilst the focus has always been on flexible hours or hot desking, the conversation is now shifting from agile workplace to one of agile culture; which is, in essence, a workplace environment where people feel empowered to make decisions. Adopting an agile culture takes strategy and a vision. It shouldn’t be reduced to investing in the right video conferencing technology, but rather about moulding the whole workspace environment to people’s needs.

Our recent move to our new HQ in east London has given us, as designers, an unparalleled opportunity to transform our ways of working in a way that is relevant to our people, now and in the future. As part of the design process, we researched and tested a number of furniture solutions that would suit our needs. Unable to find a solution that truly reflected the way we work, we joined forces with Fantoni to collaborate on ATELIER; a modular, flexible and adaptable workspace furniture that’s given our people the freedom to choose the best place to work and make the space their own. Agile culture is a mindset. Space and technology plays a part, but it’s not what matters most – it’s about adopting a new way of thinking and, in turn, adopting new behaviours. And furniture can certainly play a big role in this.

Philippe Paré, Principal, Managing Director, Gensler

B – Balance

The trend of incorporating wellbeing into our working lives is showing no signs of slowing down – and rightly so. Modern life is busy. Personal life is busy. We’re all ‘very’ busy. Our always-connected status blurs the boundary between office time and playtime.

As a result, striking a work/life balance has never been so meaningful. As designers, how can we assist? First and foremost, we have direct access to key decision makers at client briefings. We can influence how clients can create great places to work and, in doing so, can make sure our environments provide a balanced design response. We have the responsibility to shake up the way our clients perceive working environments as well as exploring ways to improve the lives of their employees.

When we collect briefs from our clients, it’s never a tick-box exercise about accommodation schedules, but instead focused on people and their typical routine, ensuring users’ working days are balanced with a variety of spaces, amenities, functionality and uses. We can’t dictate how people operate their lives, but we can certainly assist in ensuring that their day is productive enough to allow them to have a life outside of work.

Clients can’t rest on their laurels either; the theoretical scales always need re-adjusting to ensure order is balanced. In other words, spaces and clients need to be flexible too, adapting to the needs of the business and their users.

With work and life becoming so merged, we all strive for the perfect balance.

Howard Powsney, Director, Aytch

C – Culture

50% of the top 500 global companies have increased their productivity with the expansion of global culture. It is no wonder that maximising on this cultural shift is at the top of global priorities; the question remains, however, what is the affect of this expansion on society and its human considerations? The measure of progress in a world driven by artificial intelligence, data and digital design is not self-evident.

If we assume that, as a society, we still benefit from the collective learning of Greek philosophy, roman engineering and renaissance discoveries, we may ask how future societies will benefit from our current culture and its productivity.

If we agree on culture being the common achievement of society, we may also agree that wealth is an important part of that culture. If, however, the negative impact of the productivity of that wealth outweighs the benefits, it will fail to serve the on-going growth of society.

If the outcome is that future cultures are based solely on the need to make the earth inhabitable, one questions whether this is progress. Reflecting on this is an invitation to re-evaluate our definition of wealth and how we proceed in our current approach.

Marco Serra, Global Chief Architect, Novartis

Marco Sierra, Novartis

D – Divergent Creativity

As we shift away from ‘incremental productivity’, where it is about things being faster, better and cheaper, a new model is emerging. ‘Divergent creativity’ leverages ideation and co-creation to drive to more game-changing ideas that break through boundaries. The ‘sage on the stage’, empowered by PowerPoint, is replaced with the ‘democratisation’ of meeting, where everyone is able to contribute, leading to inclusive ideation and speed of innovation.

Convergent thinking is linear, which often involves going through a list of steps to obtain a single answer. Divergent thinking is underpinned by exploring different directions from an initial problem statement to generate many possible ideas. Divergent thinking helps to generate ideas and identify a wide range of potential solutions.

Divergent thinking is important for critical analysis. Ignoring or dismissing opposing views only leads to ‘group think’ and further fuels silos and mindless conflict. F. Scott Fitzgerald once noted, ‘The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function’. The ability to break down silos and be more mindful of others’ thoughts and ideas can lead to the evolution of an idea and true innovation.

Kay Sargent, Senior Principal, Director of WorkPlace, HOK

Kay Sargent, HOK

E – Enhanced Workplace

Gone are the days of formal cubicles, uninspiring reception areas and even less inspiring canteen lunches. These days, at The Furniture Practice, we’re finding that workplace projects share more similarities with the hospitality industry than the traditional office block.

As working solutions become more flexible, so does the concept of the workspace itself, expanding beyond mere practicality to instead reflect the creativity, philosophy and concept of the business it houses. Functionality, though still very important, is more prettily wrapped: interiors are taking on more considered colour palettes, materials and fabrics are becoming softer and more tactile, while furnishings are more focused on design and experience.

Employers are beginning to understand that work quality isn’t always a direct reflection of the hours spent at a desk, either. People need to feel inspired to be both productive and creative and professionals are now demanding the freedom to work in ways that best suit their needs. Home, work and leisure spaces are now less defined thanks to the fact that technology advancement allows us to work from anywhere, so from state-of-the-art on-site gyms to multi-functional social spaces, the workplace is evolving to reflect the changing culture of work itself. Not only an effective form of organic marketing for potential clients, these enhanced workspaces are great for staff retention too: smart businesses understand that employees want a more holistic approach to balancing work and life and are seeking out employers who can provide this through the best workplace possible.

Jennifer Dunn, Head of TFP Manchester, The Furniture Practice

Jennifer Dunn, The Furniture Practice

F – Flexibility

When, where and how we work is changing. Timewise found that a staggering 87% of people want to work flexibly. Working flexibly, whether through working compressed hours, working a couple of days from home or using agile workspaces to work in the best environment for the task in hand, can bring many benefits to employees and, by default, to the organisation.

There has been an explosion of brilliantly and beautifully designed flexible workspaces. But we need to think carefully about how we support and manage people working in them. For flexible workspaces to deliver benefits to wellbeing and productivity, a number of things need to happen: people need to be measured on their outputs, rather than time spent at their desk; managers need the skills, time and resources to manage people working at different times and in different locations and, as people increasingly work flexibly from home, workplaces will need more informal spaces for colleagues to make connections. We are currently working with people from across professions involved in workspace and work culture to find out what makes flexibility work.

Jo Yarker, Senior Lecturer, Birkbeck, University of London

G – Gender Inclusivity

Diversity and inclusion are hot topics in any workplace, but for many companies it’s all talk and no action. This is staggering, especially given how important an accepting culture is for colleague attraction, retention and productivity.

The challenge, however, is creating a culture that is genuinely inclusive, where everyone feels welcome and truly comfortable in their own skin.

As designers, we can play a key role in this, so it’s important that we design workplaces that go beyond the traditional office, to meet a wider range of employee needs.

For example, we can acknowledge people’s religious beliefs by including prayer and contemplation rooms, or respect gender identity with gender-neutral toilets. Elsewhere, we can look at mothering rooms to support women returning to work, or provide breakout areas and rest spaces to help colleagues manage their mental health. Examples like this act as visual and practical reminders of our commitment to supporting colleagues.

Of course, this works best when designers are working alongside other teams, all focused on promoting diversity and inclusion. Genuine engagement from leaders is essential for success, and this is something we’ve seen first-hand at Bupa.

Leaders who promote strategies that bring out the best in people, or recognise and reward without bias, act as a solid a role model to the organisation. Of course, it’s not just leadership that should be adopting this outlook – it’s something we can all do.

By working together, and supporting our people-focused strategies with sensitive and thoughtful design, we can create a workplace where everyone’s happy and comfortable in being themselves.

Karen Broadbent, Business Change Manager, Bupa

Karen Broadbent, Bupa

H – Humanise

The clash of the digital revolution and the human condition is a constant debate. How do we humanise the office, how do we enable people to thrive at work? We are entering into a discussion that is not just about pay or privilege, location or building flexibility or carbon counting. Our focus with many of our clients has been more holistic – whilst we still want the efficient and the cost effective, we also want to develop buildings and spaces with identity through real human values. The trend to create a sense of place is on course via increased psychological understanding. Our knowledge of sensory factors and good design relationships is improving, while our clients’ awareness of good cultural values with matching management procedures is high on the agenda.

Our design solutions are increasingly human-centric and client responses are increasingly philanthropic. To humanise is to successfully provide a workplace environment that is connected with the human spirit, making workers cosy and comfortable in surroundings that invoke an inner sense of contentment and wellbeing.

It seems to me that good design, centred on real and tangible human values, is a trend that we cannot ignore. Actually, it shouldn’t be a trend – it should always be a beginning.

Steve Dickson, Senior Associate, FaulknerBrowns Architects

Steve Brown, FaulknerBrowns Architects

I – IT Revolution

In our working lives we are increasingly connected to different tools and data sources to enable us to be more productive. Connectivity happens at multiple levels. We are connected to each other via intranets, the internet, e-mail, messaging apps like What’s App and LinkedIn. In the latter case, this is often with people we have not met and who may be on the other side of the world.

Our buildings are ever more connected, harvesting data from BMS systems, sensors, cameras and IOT devices. This data can be connected and analysed automatically using AI to yield new insights and to help us drive more efficiency in our buildings and workplaces. Work has become more mobile, with connectivity enabling us to operate as we move around, with the connected car (and soon the self-driving car or helicopter) being the latest place for us to be immersed in the digital world, even as we move between meetings, or between home and our workplace.

The end result is that the quality of our workplace experience and of our personal productivity is directly related to the level of connectivity within and between these spheres.

Trevor Miles, Smarter Buildings Consulting Lead, IBM Global Business Services

Trevor Miles, Smarter Buildings Consulting Lead, IBM Global Business Services

J – Juxtaposition

The juxtaposition of old meeting new has long been a go-to theme in the building design world. Whether it’s a subtle nod to a building’s rich heritage or preserving the original features of a site when carrying out extensive renovations, marrying the past with a building’s exciting future is often the perfect way to create a unique, fresh look.

And, as the competition to attract – and retain – the best talent continues to soar, creating bespoke, sought-after workspaces has never been more important. This doesn’t mean simply adding a couple of beanbags to create an office lounge area or introducing a lone hot desk; instead, it’s about viewing a building as a whole and considering what makes it stand out from the crowd. What is its personality? What makes it different to its neighbours? And, importantly, why should people want to work there?

This year, we kicked off a major refurbishment programme, focusing on selected buildings across our North West portfolio. The £50m Pioneer scheme will see many of our landmark sites transformed and given major overhauls, taking inspiration from each building’s surroundings, its customers and, of course, its heritage. By paying tribute to its individual character – whether that be through a 1920s-style living room in reception or creating a living wall to reflect neighbouring gardens – businesses can be confident that their environment will play a key role in their future growth.

Ciara Keeling, CEO, Bruntwood Works

Ciara Keeling, Bruntwood Works

K – Kindness

With the state of the world as it is, the concept of kindness has become far more valuable to us in all facets of daily life – and this includes the workplace. Creating spaces that foster teamworking and encourage collaboration is key, as well as incorporating environmentally friendly materials, products that can be easily recycled and sustainable design solutions. Biophilia has been a huge trend over the past few years and, at its core, is the idea of bringing the outside in, to calm and care for the mind and body. The concept of wellness in the workplace – being kinder to employees – has become so important to the attraction and retention of talent that it is definitely here to stay. We have also seen businesses investing significantly in on-site facilities such as yoga studios, roof gardens and cycle hubs to ensure they are supporting a healthy work/life balance – but things are already moving on. Corporate kindness is now stretching further than the workforce and workplace; it’s all about being kind to the environment as well. Commercial decisions are now being consciously made to show kindness to the planet and an awareness of a company’s carbon footprint. Rationalising real estate, procuring sustainable resources, recycling, re-using and investing in products that are manufactured in a more sustainable way are practices that are becoming far more widespread, and this trend looks set to continue in 2020.

Charles Bramwell, Product Designer, Sixteen3

Charles Bramwell, Sixteen3

L – Locality

As homogenous high streets and big business loom, we increasingly hone our designs to draw out what is unique about localities, and strive to support home-grown entrepreneurs. Our design concepts always start with location – the heritage, industries and character of a particular neighbourhood – as well as the history of the building or site itself. Meaningful connections with community engender a sense of pride and belonging, and support the growth of neighbourhoods. This applies to the tenant base of a workplace, as well as the wider community in which it sits.

At The Department Store, a former retail destination turned design studio in Brixton, we created areas of display to showcase work undertaken within the building, as well as providing public event and social spaces for the local creative community. Bespoke desks were provided by south London joinery company, Opus Magnum, and a series of patterns were commissioned from Brixton-based designer, Eley Kishimoto, to be used in various applications.

For The People’s Mission Hall in Whitechapel – x+why’s purpose-driven workspace – the former Salvation HQ inspired a concept based around social action and the arts to offer multiple gathering spaces for the sharing of ideas. Artworks are sourced from local creatives on a rotating basis, and decorative objects within the space were curated from east London markets.

We believe that, for a workspace to flourish in its community, it should tap into the character and essence of its locality.

James Halliday, Associate, Squire & Partners

James Halliday, Associate, Squire & Partners

M – Memorable Experience

We see a growing trend in the workplace for more flexible, multi-purpose areas that are specifically designed to promote interaction and social connection, with breakout zones and third spaces that encourage collaboration between teams, idea sharing and social interaction.

Café culture now permeates the workplace and translates to higher productivity, collaboration and increased creativity. Embracing this culture in the workplace, particularly by creating a dedicated space for employees to take a break, have a coffee and grab a bite to eat, is a great way of encouraging interaction and conversation between employees and, by providing a first-class experience in-house, encourages staff to stay on site in the workplace community.

It’s all about creating a really memorable experience that helps to attract and retain the best talent, as employees now expect their workplace to cater for, and enhance, their working day with hospitality-inspired spaces that create a sense of community, help promote health and wellness and improve staff morale and engagement.

Simon Bracken, Managing Director, Scanomat UK & Ireland

Simon Bracken, Managing Director, Scanomat UK & Ireland


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