Companies looking to interior design options that foster healthy employees, higher productivity

COURTESY: HENNEBERY EDDY ARCHITECTS - For its downtown Portland offices, Hennebery Eddy Architects tapped ceiling, furniture and floor strategies to help balance an open floor plan.

Employee health and well-being — and therefore higher productivity — are playing a greater role in interior design trends for workspaces ranging from public academic institutions to private corporate offices. And while the open-space plan isn't going away entirely, it is being modified to accommodate people's need for some privacy and quiet places to concentrate at work.

Ashley Nored, NCIDQ, LEED AP, an associate interior designer with Hennebery Eddy Architects, said that within the last year or so she has seen clients shift from wanting entirely open office plans to creating a few areas for quiet, individual work or group-oriented spaces for meetings and other collaborative work. These areas are strategically placed throughout the office to prevent a feeling of homogeny, she said.

"Another big trend, especially here in the Pacific Northwest, is using local talent in terms of craftsmanship," including producers of furniture, cabinets and countertops, artists and others who provide unique items that create a sense of character. "What we've always held near and dear to our heart is creating spaces that reflect the region," Nored said.

The shift away from entirely open office space is, in large part, because of acoustic concerns for many companies. Interior designers are being charged with providing unique solutions by using ceilings, furniture and walls to balance acoustics, among other strategies.

"A trend over the last several years and one that is hopefully not going away is that companies are realizing the importance of a healthy workspace, and acoustics is a big part of that," Nored said. "More companies are looking at the WELL Building Standard and the Fitwel standard, which go beyond LEED and are more focused on the human health aspect."

Alex Zimmer, LEED AP, NCIDQ, director of interior design for Soderstrom Architects, said glass phone and meeting rooms and private glazed offices are a few of the ways that the acoustics issue can be addressed in open workspaces. Shared work stations, activity-based group spaces, and break-out spaces continue to be essential interior elements for many companies.

"Moving forward, we are seeing those elements evolving. Rather than seeing the introduction of brand-new components, companies are striving to integrate their culture and values into the space in various ways," he said. "These ways include the implementation of hand-crafted components, moss walls, and nature-inspired graphics in fractal and geometric patterns."

Alan Gerencer, LEED AP, a principal at ZGF Architects, noted that interior design trends vary based on the company and industry, and very few companies are embracing the "extremes" of workplace design. As examples, he doesn't typically see companies integrating 100 percent agile seating or 100 percent assigned seating, and few clients want either entirely open space or all closed offices.

COURTESY: HENNEBERY EDDY - Open floor plans for company offices often create acoustics issues for employees, with interior designers usually handed the task of addressing the challenges.  Solutions may include features such as glass-walled phone and meeting rooms and private glazed offices.

An exception to that was Expensify. The tech company hired ZGF to renovate the First National Bank building downtown into office space with no workstations and 100 percent agile seating. Gerencer said the objective was to provide options, including seating at different scales that provide variances in light and access to daylight, levels of privacy, views and activity, and space that allows employees to sit, stand, perch or lie down.

"Most corporate design projects are a variation, but the common thread is flexibility. This can be flexibility in space or equipment, such as a variety of spaces to work, or the ability to change your workstation to fit a particular need that day," he said. "Flexible designs can also promote community and create opportunities for teamwork. Implementing design ideas that allow

casual meetings, one-on-one engagements and group gatherings can help employees cultivate relationships with one another. These opportunities for teamwork are

becoming paramount for design, as the

individual workstation is no longer

where some of the most important work happens."

Gerencer said brand is another significant driver in interior design. Employees want to experience their company's culture, and authentic brand experiences can help employees feel more connected to their workplace. The physical expression of a common mission within the work environment can boost pride and lead to higher productivity.

"As with most design drivers, there are extremes on either end of the scale, but subtle elegance is usually the most successful approach," he said. "The addition of new amenities is also emerging as a serious design consideration for many businesses to compete for employees. In some sectors, we are seeing an amenity warfare with a high priority being placed on amenity spaces as the competition increases to attract and retain top talent."

Gerencer pointed out that designing high-performance workplaces is a trend that is growing to encompass far more than sustainability in terms of long-lasting materials and finishes.

"Designers are looking at all aspects of design to increase health and improve the user experience," he said. "This can include features like circadian lighting to match the body's natural rhythms, or biophilic design strategies to evoke a greater connection to nature. The broader picture of high-performance design is creating environments that employees want to go to every day, versus have to."

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