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What’s Next for the Workplace? A Focus on Employee Needs

Workplaces are evolving beyond the "open office" movement, with more employers focusing on adaptable, efficient spaces that promote worker wellness. Here's a rundown of the latest in workplace trends.

The space you work in now may not look anything like the one you started out in. Cubicles have likely given way to open floor plans, couches may have replaced conference rooms, and part of your team probably works offsite. What’s ahead for the spaces we work in every day?

Research shows that a focus on flexibility and employee health is on the rise. Read on to learn about how these workplace trends will unfold.

A Space for Every Type of Work

“Open offices,” or spaces with few walls and wide-open desk areas, are popular now for boosting collaboration. And they do enhance teamwork — a recent Staples Workplace Survey notes that employees in these spaces are more likely to describe their teams as collaborative. But the open-office concept can also be distracting for coworkers who need quiet.

Workplaces are increasingly finding a middle ground, adopting a hybrid, something-for-everyone layout. Picture soundproof, phone booth-style, and partially enclosed areas with couches and chairs for small group meetings. To round out the options, glass walls in these hybrid offices will enclose individual and smaller group spaces to combine an open feel with space for focused work.

Green, But With an Employee-Centric Twist

Thirty-eight percent of commercial offices in the largest U.S. markets are now certified as “green” or “efficient,” according to real estate company CRBE. In 2005, only 5 percent were.

That upswing is likely to continue, as companies look to reap cost savings through energy efficiency. As this trend evolves, the focus will be on the employee benefits of going green.

Research from Harvard and the State University of New York found that individuals who work in green-certified buildings experience better sleep quality and higher cognitive testing scores. Nature-inspired — or “biophilic” — workplace design helps employees stay alert and productive. Office environments that feature plants, more natural light and design elements made from natural materials can boost employees’ productivity and focus.

Offices Will Support Part-Time Workers

Just 32 percent of U.S. employees now spend all their working hours at the office, according to the Staples Workplace Survey. Many companies are working to strike the right balance between flexible arrangements and the need for teams to be together.

The happy medium may be part-time remote work, since the number of these arrangements is increasing. Workplaces will need to adapt to ensure productivity for staffers who are not in the office every day.

This can mean making some design shifts to accommodate a more flexible workforce, such as unassigned seating or some open desks, and moveable walls to create or close off meeting places. Charging stations and empty cabinets for these employees to store their belongings for the day are also a good idea.

Employee Well-Being as Part of Office Design

Staffers increasingly see a close link between wellness and the workplace. In fact, 80 percent of the people polled by Staples said their employers have a responsibility to help keep them physically and mentally well.

In response, some employers are retooling office spaces with a wellness focus. More than 100 million square feet of office space have been awarded the WELL Building Standard certification, which takes lighting, air quality, comfort and other wellness factors into account.

On a smaller scale, businesses are designing offices to provide some relief from stress and support for healthy living. These offices may include a “wellness room” — a secluded area with comfortable furniture where staffers can decompress for a few minutes during the workday. Small gyms with compact fitness equipment allow employees to unwind with a quick workout. Kitchens stocked with nutritious snacks and drinks can help support a healthy lifestyle.

As these trends come to life, plan for even small workplace changes that help support your team. The driver of these changes may be employee needs, but the result will be a happier and more productive workforce.