Office design has transitioned from the playful character of the dotcom years to a more serious demeanour with the 2010s seeing a shift towards a new direction.

Though many workplaces continue with the Google model of fun office design, the shift away from this aesthetic represents a re-acknowledgement of work as a place for ‘serious’ endeavour. However, that doesn’t mean design has become more conservative, or that concepts about work-life balance and ‘fun at work’ have been completely rejected; they have simply been incorporated into a new style of commercial office design that aims to boost employee engagement by creating collaborative spaces and private workspaces, bringing the outdoors in for a healthier environment, and adopting ergonomic furniture to improve employee wellness.

Employee engagement is increasingly being prioritised by company managements to recruit and retain the best from a shrinking talent pool. Increased employee engagement also helps companies deliver a better bottom line by up to 20 percent. The role of office design in this effort is also being recognised with vibrant and comfortable workplaces offering employees a sense of ownership and more likely to inspire higher engagement.

Criterion Industries explores some of the office design innovations in the 2010s that are helping to boost this important metric.

Bringing the outside, inside

Office design trends in this decade focus on increasing contact between employees inside the office and nature outside. Contemporary office construction maximises natural light with the use of windows and skylights. Potted plants placed throughout the office and entire walls of greenery are some of the techniques employed to bring nature into the workspace and boost a sense of health and focus.

Balancing collaborative and private workspaces

The open office design is a proven model for effective workplace collaboration; however, several studies have shown that it can also interfere with the employee’s ability to concentrate on specific tasks, leaving them to struggle with a lack of privacy in their workspace. This workplace model not only impacts the employee’s performance levels in tasks that require focus and concentration but can also result in disengagement and lowered productivity.

Contemporary office design trends have responded to this problem by creating more balance and variety in office spaces, with a blend of private and collaborative areas to encourage both forms of work. Employees can move between open spaces for group discussions and enclosed offices or meeting rooms for quieter, more focussed work.

Ergonomic human-friendly design

Given the amount of time spent by employees at the workplace, there is growing awareness about the concepts of ergonomic design, and their proven success in minimising the impact of sedentary jobs on the body. Offices are increasingly adopting innovations such as ergonomic chairs through to standing desks that eliminate sitting altogether. There has also been a growing movement towards encouraging general health practices in the workplace, from providing healthy snacks to introducing group activities such as employee walking challenges.

Employee ownership of office space

Employees are more likely to be engaged when they feel a sense of identification with and ownership of their space. Some companies promote this with a strong sense of corporate culture that bolsters their unique identity and encourages involvement from employees. The Etsy office, for instance, features a quirky decor (including a mural wall painted on by past and current workers) and monthly crafting nights for their employees. Google encourages engagement by incorporating employee ideas in the design of their own workspace, which has resulted in interesting innovations such as a pub-like meeting room in Dublin, a sidewalk cafe in Istanbul, and even diner booths in place of traditional meeting rooms.