The Workplace in 2014: Wall-less, Mobile, and (More) Employee-Centered

Office of the Future: Interior Design Trends in 2014


The Workplace

The work environment in Canada is changing at a faster pace than ever before, and its transformation will continue as we move further into the 21st century. Globalization, technology, and the changing nature of work are some of the key drivers that will continue to shape the face of the North American workforce, prompting both managers and employees to contend to a new workforce dynamic.

Over the last 50 years, Canada’s population has nearly tripled (from 12.3 million to 32.6 million), and this growth (an average 1% per year in recent years) is expected to continue in the following decades. By 2056, Canada is expected to have 42.5 million inhabitants, meaning that professional work environments will have to accommodate a much larger pool of employees than it currently does. Secondly, the retirement of the baby boomer generation that has dominated the work landscape for the last few decades will reverberate the workplace, making room for the tech-savvy, open-minded Millennials. Since by 2025, adults ages 18 to 33 will account for 75% of the global workforce, they’re expected to set a new tone to the office environment, here are some of the changes most likely to occur:

  • Increased transparency in work management: The politically-liberal Millennials are not as gullible as the previous generations, media portrayals of politicians and CEOs prompting them to be wary of their leaders. As such, they will expect work relationships to be governed by honesty and trust, promoting an open, engaged culture and communication between employees of different levels.
  • Pay & benefits no longer decisive: A lifelong career and a gold watch at retirement are traditions of a dying era. Nowadays, the core value of a business in Millennials’ perspective is a culture that values ideas, innovation, and teamwork over pay and tenure.
  • Flexible working: The new employee-centered working environment will allow workers to have schedules that fit their lifestyle better. Many companies have already introduced part-time jobs, flexible hours, job-sharing, and working from home to give workers the ability to choose how, where, and when they work.
  • Changing perspective of work: Companies are now paying more attention to the needs of their staff and work environment, thinking of ways to get the most out of them. They’ve started investing in fun and fresh settings that mix business with pleasure and allow employees to regard work more as a fun activity than as a chore or obligation. The once serious and professional work environment is now described using words such as ‘collaborative,’ ‘fun,’ and ‘innovative.’

The overhaul of the workplace has already started: following are some of the most significant office design trends for 2014.

Bringing Down the Office Walls

Open Office Workspace

The physical workplace will no longer be about furniture and real estate, it will have more to do with how people interact with each other, the technologies that allow them to communicate more efficiently, and how the work environment promotes creativity and innovation.

The transformation started with the tearing down of dividers between offices and people. For nearly 60 percent of US employees, cubicles have been replaced by open-office floor plans, with fewer walls and shared working spaces, establishing a setting designed to foster collaboration and strengthen work relationships. For a significant percentage of people who now work in an open-office environment, the lack of walls has increased speed and accuracy of work tremendously. Being encouraged to talk to one another and exchange ideas triggers fruitful and unexpected collaborations between people who would’ve otherwise been bunkered down in their cubicles.

Also, since the open workplace promotes an ethical and collaborative culture where transparency is valued most, there is a lower chance for employees to violate the policies and procedures of their organization. Visible detection of misconduct has reduced inappropriate conversation and behavior for 64% of the companies who have responded to an Ethisphere & Jones Lang LaSalle survey, with more than one-fifth confirming that openness and sharing have reduced the number of misconduct complaints. The vast majority of companies surveyed (more than 80%) believed that open-office plans have generally made employees more polite, considerate of each other, less aggressive, more interested in learning from one another, and more collaborative.

Overall, workers in an open workspace are more likely to collaborate, learn, and socialize with their co-workers, in turn making their jobs appear more rewarding and seeing themselves as higher performing.

Mobility & Ergonomics

Mobility & Ergonomic Furniture

In the past, most jobs required prolonged standing and moving: assembly-line workers, machine operators, and restaurant servers had to stand for more than 12 hours a day, having barely enough time to catch their breath or rest their muscles. Even today, standing for a long time is designed into jobs in many industries, including retail, health care, food preparation & serving, teaching, mail carrying, and several others. But for the largest part, the American working class is now sitting down to perform all work-related tasks, and that’s not necessarily a modern-day benefit.

The Problem with Sitting

Sitting is bad for your health, and that’s a nice way to put it. One of the largest ongoing studies in healthy ageing (interviewing over 250,000 people) has shown that adults who sit down for 11 hours or more every day are 40 percent more likely to die in the next three years than those who sit for less than four hours per day. Before it kills you, however, prolonged sitting can damage your heart, mess up your kidneys, affect your mental health, make you fat, and even give you cancer. Regardless, of sex, age, and weight, sitting for long periods puts you at a much higher risk for disease and death.

And the worst part is, scientists aren’t able to explain the link between prolonged sitting and all these health hazards. One possibility is that sitting for long periods of time causes muscles to burn less fat, decreases the flow of blood to vital organs, and slows the body’s metabolism. Another theory attempting to explain why sitting leads to an increased risk for colon, endometrial, and breast cancers is that, while excess insulin promotes cell growth, sitting inhibits the natural antioxidants that would normally control cell-damaging and cancer-causing free radicals. There is also evidence that performing fewer weight-bearing activities, such as walking or exercising, causes the bones in the hip and lower body areas to grow thicker and denser, triggering osteoporosis and other bone disorders.

Ergonomics to the Rescue

Ergonomic Chairs

Although nothing beats standing up and moving around the office to stretch your muscles, ergonomic office furniture can significantly lower the stress applied to your body by an awkward posture. Understanding and properly implementing the principles of office ergonomics is essential to creating work environments that are not only driving performance, but are also safe and supportive of workers’ happiness.

There’s no other piece of furniture that will specifically impact your productivity and overall health in the long-run than the office chair. A well-designed ergonomic chair should allow height adjustment to prevent feet from hanging in the air, come with armrests to support the back and take pressure off the shoulders, and provide lumbar support that will sustain the natural curve of the spine. Seat width and depth, head rest, swivel, and seat material should also be considered as important features when selecting an office chair.

Other ways to promote good posture and well-being in the office include adjustable standing computer workstations, monitor arms, footrests, split keyboards, document holders, and wrist rests, all specifically designed to enhance workers’ abilities and help them overcome their limitations. Investing in ergonomic office furnishings is well worth it in the long run, considering it can reduce pain and workplace injury, improve morale, increase productivity, and facilitate task performance.

No More Clutter in Office Life

Office Space Planning

Just like guests feel uneasy in a dirty house, employees are appalled by an overly cluttered office. More than that, desks suffocated with files and paper supplies may easily obscure an employee’s creativity and drain him/her of energy.

According to a survey from Office Max, almost 90 percent of employees feel that unorganized office clutter has a negative impact on their mood and work performance. 77 percent said it affects their productivity, 65 percent felt clutter impacts their emotional state, while nearly half (53%) confessed they have no motivation when sitting at a cluttered office. The sight of endless piles of files and documents stressed out 40 percent of those surveyed, who reported a decrease in their overall level of happiness.

On the other hand, when sitting at a neat and clean desk, workers are able to better perform their job duties and concentrate on their tasks easier. Uncluttering can increase productivity and profitability, can keep confidential files secure, reduce stress and workplace accidents, and improve effectiveness. Steps to de-cluttering the workplace, whether it’s about one-person office or a large corporation, may have significant beneficial effects on employees’ morale. Some of them include:

– Dividing the workspace into zones with specific destinations
– Keeping only necessaries at arm’s length
– Sorting things in drawers
– Tidying things up regularly

Merging the Indoors with the Outdoors

Office Interior Design
We typically think of air pollution as occurring outdoors, when in reality, office air can be up to five times more polluted the air outside the office building. Adding a touch of green will not only improve the general decor, but also purify the air and increase overall work performance in the office. Plants such as ferns, cacti, palms, bamboo, ficus trees, and umbrella plants are natural air cleaners and mood lifters, having tremendous benefits for the office morale, including:

– Filtering airborne particles and absorbing volatile pollutants
– Stimulating the mind and increasing alertness, while decreasing appetite
– Improving mood and emotional outlook
– Reducing indoor ozone that irritates the throat and causes chest pressure

In a study conducted by researchers from the Surrey and Washington State Universities, it was shown that participants who worked in offices where plants were present were 12 percent more productive and less stressed than those who worked in environments without greenery. Another study concluded that a greener workplace was able to attract, retain, and motivate key talent, an imperative in today-s competitive business landscape. Research also showed that plants enable employees to focus more and increase their work performance by reducing office noise by 5 decibels.

Painting Your Path to Success

Office Furniture Procurement

A key factor in determining the mood of employees and the tone of business is the color of the walls. Time and again, psychologists have proven that a certain color choice, as well as its saturation and intensity, can affect the emotional state, concentration, and level of performance of people everywhere.

Warm colors such as red, yellow, and orange will boost a room’s energy and cheerfulness, encouraging collaboration and driving social interaction. These are the colors that stimulate people physically, increasing their appetite and heart rate, especially if the colors are highly saturated and bright. Red is also the color of action, promoting ambition and determination.

Cool colors (blue, purple, and green) are typically soothing and tend to create a relaxing, comforting, and calming atmosphere. While employees working in a blue-painted room may not be physically stimulated by the work environment to take action, they will be stimulated mentally, being able to concentrate and perform better. Green is also calming, balancing, and reassuring, perfect for those working with numbers, such as accountants and financial analysts.

But color is both scientific and personal. Every individual has his own connection with color, so it’s best to find out what are the preferences of a larger group of employees before settling for one. Choosing the right colors for your walls will not only spark your workers’ creativity and analytical thinking, but also impress your clients and increase their level of trust.

Throwing away the corporate office rule book, companies are getting more creative by the day, turning drab offices into relaxing lounges and exchanging the seriousness of the traditional workplace for fun and inspiring designs that promote a culture of creativity and innovation. In 2014, adhering to these trends is essential to attracting and retaining key talent that will drive profit and sales. Are you doing what’s best for your business?

About the Author Lynne Lemieux

Lynne Lemieux, Founder and President of Alliance Interiors Inc., has devoted more than 20 years of experience developing and implementing growth opportunities for some of Canada's leading office furniture dealers. Her ability to provide clients with inspiring and versatile interior solutions for both business and home office environments has garnered her title of Aboriginal Business Woman of the Year in the city of Toronto for 2012. In her spare time, Lynne takes an active interest in politics, public speaking, and philanthropy, but also enjoys gardening, interior decorating, cooking, yoga, and traveling.

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