Furniture’s Role in Workspace Well-Being

The Kimmerle Group outlines 5 ways that modern office design and furniture can improve employee health and well-being.

Onyx Equities, LLC 650 From Road, Paramus, NJ
New amenity spaces will include a lobby space with live green walls installed throughout the five-level vertical atrium, a brand-new state of the art café, a conference center with multiple training rooms and lounge seating/waiting areas, and a recreation room located in the lower level. All renovations are tenant focused with a comprehensive theme of creating flexible and variable work environments.

2021 brings a desire for normalcy, a need to reclaim a sense of freedom, and, more than ever, the longing for human contact. At the start of the pandemic, we celebrated the remarkable efficiency with which we transitioned to remote working. The majority of us tried various virtual meeting platforms and navigated how to connect without being in the same physical space. Through this, we even wondered if we could do away with our traditional office spaces. For those of us whose careers are dependent upon workplace design or for those of us who are just yearning to sit with our colleagues, the good news is that offices are here to stay!

Through challenge and change, we find growth. We foresee shifts in how we view our work environments. We can also anticipate a demand for spaces that are more considerate of employee well-being and wellness in general.  Below are five key concepts we can expect to dominate the furniture and design trends for the coming year.

1. Encouraging connectivity

According to Eric Mosely, author of Making Work Human, working from home during the pandemic was initially successful largely due to the organizational community that was previously established in the office. Organizational community is the product of connectivity and communication.

When a company’s staff is engaged with one another, culture and identity are developed and maintained. Connectivity is a direct function of the workspace design. When working remotely, we lose the contact that occurs organically within the office space. To this end, we can expect to see space planning that continues to encourage people to connect in formal and informal spaces. We will see renewed emphasis on gathering spaces like coffee bars, conference areas that integrate virtual meeting platforms, and space plans that direct traffic flow to highlight these locations.

A national insurance company headquarters, 305 Madison Avenue, Morristown, NJ
Development of a means to open up buried windowless spaces is a unique feature of this repositioned headquarters project. This central conference center located below the structure’s main entry drive was enlivened with a pyramid skylight to allow natural light into these former basement spaces. Part of $45.0 mil gut renovation and rebuild of a 1970s era headquarters, this now new and state of the art 225,000 sf headquarters facility incorporates many attractive workplace features.

2. Emphasizing green and outdoor spaces

During the warmer months of the pandemic, we saw that being outside allowed us to gather with less concern for viral spread. Even before COVID-19, design trends centered around access to natural light to help alleviate sensory deprivation and encourage creativity.

Beyond space planning to optimize window locations, we can expect to see an increased focus on the development of outdoor meeting areas and workstations. Formerly, outdoor spaces were planned around lunchtime or breaktime activities. Now we are now seeing companies and property owners engage in projects which create spaces for employees and tenants to conduct meetings outdoors.

Biophilic design elements will also help promote a connection with the natural world and create a balanced work environment when the weather does not permit us to utilize outdoor spaces. Biophilic concepts include green walls with plants, use of natural materials like wood, indoor water features, and lighting that mimics daylight. 

3. Providing flexible schedules

Hybrid schedules are now seen as desirable from both an employer’s and employee’s perspective. Using the support of furniture and technology will help to make more fluid schedules manageable.

Assigned desks might longer make sense, so there may be increase use of hoteling or flexible workstations. This also argues that the need for spacious workstations will go away. When workstations are used by more than one person on a rotating basis, in theory, the number of workstations can be decreased, resulting in office space that can be reimagined for other purposes, or even downsized.

Through the reimagining process, companies will likely add areas where employees can collaborate to accommodate the driving force for time spent in the office which is connecting with our colleagues. If this need is adequately addressed, they might decide to reduce the size of their office space and ultimately find savings in their monthly expenditures.

Technology such as desk booking systems and meeting room schedulers will become a necessity when managing a flexible work environment. Technology can also continue to provide a communications experience and bridge the gap when all staff is not in the office.

SCYNEXIS, Inc. 101 Hudson, Jersey City, NJ
A large and inviting common area off the main lobby is central to the entire office for gatherings, meetings, working sessions, lunches and dinners. The space is big enough to host multiple activities but also sized so that it works for events and full staff town halls. Variable meeting and gathering spaces provide opportunities for team building and employee alignment with a company’s central mission.

4. Offering a variety of workstations types

Personality, job function, and physical traits all contribute to employee’s needs and desires as it relates to their workstation preferences. Giving people some control over their workspace with furnishings that adjust to their workstyle and ergonomic requirements is a way to minimize stress, according to Haworth’s article.

Before the pandemic we saw an increase in the use of adjustable height desks. We expect this to continue and ultimately become a standard. We have also seen an increase in personal storage at workstations. This added comfort provides a secure location for the end-user to store personal belongings, and it also allows them to clear their desks at the end of each day to allow for adequate cleaning. Some organizations have even gone as far as offering different types of workstation within one space. They stem from traditional cubicles to open bench-like stations or communal tables, and employees can select their preference on a daily basis.

5. Creating a home-like atmosphere in the workplace

Over the past two years we experienced the introduction of ‘resimercial’ design. Resimercial is a term coined to describe the trend that combines the use of residential and commercial designs. This style brings aspects of home into the contemporary workspace.

As we begin to re-occupy office spaces, we will still see sterile safety elements such as polycarbonate surrounds, added signage stating distance and mask protocols, hand sanitizing stations, and desks which are free of any personal elements. For many, the transition back will be exciting, but the change of routine and the uncertainty surrounding safety can be a little anxiety inducing. Creating softer and more inviting spaces where people can connect, if even at a distance, will be important now more than ever. The addition of features like “living room” breakout areas can help to blur the lines between home and office. With these elements we create environments that feel welcoming, foster creativity, and ultimately reduce stress.

As we move forward in the new year, we will see greater investment in products that support workplace wellness and work-life balance. These concepts were already trending before the pandemic, but they were often on the “wish-list,” and were usually the first things to be value-engineered. With a newfound appreciation for our health, well-being and desire for human contact, we can expect that these elements to be viewed as necessities and they will be incorporated in spaces for years to come.

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