12 Days of Trends: The Physical Environment Works For Everyone

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Melissa Marsh
Melissa Marsh
I am a passionate practitioner of Workplace Strategy and a leader in Change Management services. I have defined a career in workplace innovation by constantly seeking to explore ways to embed social and organizational design within real estate strategy, architecture, workplace design and master planning projects around the world. Across North America and Europe, I have had the great fortune of working with clients on the forefront of leveraging workplace to inform corporate culture and employee experience. Where appropriate this has included delivering alternative workplace solutions, and integration of physical and virtual work practices. I enjoy sharing knowledge and experience through teaching in both executive education and academic settings. I have contributed to courses for CoreNet, spearheaded international learning and technology initiatives, and lectured at UVA, Cornell and MIT's Sloan School of Management. I began my career following the completion of a Masters of Architecture thesis entitled Design for Achieving Strategic Business Objectives, supervised by DEGW founder Frank Duffy and Professor Diane Burton.

We’re counting down to 2020 by sharing 12 days of emerging workplace trends! Learn what trends our top global contributors are most excited to see evolve in the new year. 

Bonus Trend: The digitally enabled workplace serves up an ever-wider range of spaces and experiences to suit our cognitive diversity and stimulate our senses.

The coworking-driven consumerization of workplace has created new opportunities to support diversity—not just through policy, but through the physical environment. As coworking practices have spread to more traditional workplaces, people have become increasingly able to choose their spaces. New technologies that power the flexible office also enable providers to learn more about what people want from their spaces and respond more quickly—even instantly. Taken together, these shifts herald a new era in which the design of the workplace itself can welcome and support a wider range of preferences.

Our collective understanding of the meaning of diversity—and its benefits—has evolved. Approaches that emphasize only demographics leave out important ways in which people are unique. Upbringing, personality, and sensory acuity all impact how someone experiences a space. Cognitive and neuro-diversity—differences in how people think and process information—must also be considered if a workplace is truly going to support everyone. 

Each person was born with a bespoke sensory system that defines how they interact with the world and the kinds of environments they prefer, so spaces are more likely to welcome and support a wide range of occupants when they provide a wide range of multisensory experiences. For instance, a workplace might provide a lounge with bean bag chairs and subdued lighting as an alternative to a more traditionally-furnished space. In work areas, it may make sense to offer both traditional desks and flexible desks or remote capabilities. When complemented by a philosophy that has autonomy at its root, such as Activity-Based Working (ABW), this empowers people to choose the environment that suits their needs at any given moment.

Just as a city feels dead if it is all the same—lacking variety, history, and choice—interior architecture suffers when it is overly uniform. The good news is that spaces don’t all have to be the same. Companies that want to offer their people great spaces are drawing inspiration from a range of non-office environments, including retail stores, schools, hotels and restaurants, all of which share a service orientation with the coworking-inspired multisensory office. Coworking-led experimentation offers a way to quickly iterate and understand people’s preferences

Technology is key: a digital layer, mostly from occupants using mobile devices to control their environment, has made it possible to gather data and customize the workplace in ways that did not exist just a few years ago. The future includes a conference room that welcomes you when you enter and adjusts the lighting to suit your preferences. It has a desk that isn’t just sit-stand, but that reminds you to change position because it’s connected to your FitBit.

Some of these changes have been on the horizon for some time. What is new is that we can now deliver diversity of space affordably and at scale. It’s time to create environments that support each of their occupants as individuals, providing a better workplace experience for all.

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