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Warm and welcoming

Trending office designs focusing on transparency and collaboration are also important for employee attraction and retention.

Photograph by Tricia Shay Photography

(page 1 of 5)

From the pages of In Business magazine.

The “big corner office” used to be a coveted place reserved for only the top executive. It may still be for some, but the trends in new office design eschew the dark woodwork and heavy desks of old in favor of light, open spaces.

A recent Sapio Research Wellness Together study of 1,000 United Kingdom-based workers and facilities management experts found a strong link between the workplace environment, worker happiness, and overall business success, with 48% reporting that the office design has an impact on whether to stay with an employer. An equal percentage of respondents said they were either looking for a job currently, or planning to move on within the next 18 months.

As the workforce transitions from baby boomers to the up and comers, research is suggesting that business owners be mindful not only of salary requirements, but also of how their work spaces can help to attract and retain the best employees.

Journalist Lindsey Nolen, in her article, “Office Design Influences Retention” on, states: “To attract and retain younger talent, companies must make a focused effort to study work styles and analyze the environments that millennials prefer. In doing so, researchers often reflect on where many of these young adults have spent the last four or five years of their lives: college.”

Indeed, as they enter the business world, younger workers may be expecting the same types of perks and environments they were accustomed to in school — open spaces, natural lighting, and freedom of movement.

Design change may be generational, suggests Robin Stroebel, owner and CEO of InteriorLOGIC Inc. in Madison. “Some older employees don’t want change, necessarily, while younger workers kind of expect it. I had one client tell me that when younger candidates enter their office, their faces just drop,” she says.

For a business owner, renovations and office redesign aren’t cheap propositions, and this article isn’t proposing that it’s the only way to attract and retain young employees. But research has shown that so-called “cool” or updated offices lift spirits and make workers of all ages feel and be more productive, as well.

In fact, in America, where the average person spends over 90% of their time indoors (and another 6% in their vehicles) according to the Environmental Protection Agency, workplace design actually becomes a wellness issue.

After all, happy and healthy employees make for happy employers.

So what are the latest trends in interior office space design? And which trends have faded from glory? We asked several area designers for their thoughts and advice.

Lose the gimmicks

Linda Baxter Page, principal at Aro Eberle Architects, says one of the biggest changes in workplace interior design is the influence of the individual and the idea of providing a variety of spaces to work.

“One-size-fits-all is being replaced by individual choice and control, and workplace design is responding to this by providing multiple levels of privacy and technology.”

Meanwhile, design ideas that have run their course tend to be what Baxter Page describes as “gimmicky” things, “like slides or tree houses.”

Slides or tree houses?

“Some businesses are still building these, believe it or not,” Baxter Page comments, the theory being that by having a cool, fun space, employees won’t want to leave. “Some of that is valid,” she adds, but in hindsight, employees aren’t necessarily using those features anymore, nor are they the reason employees come to work.

“So it’s a misstep, in my opinion,” Baxter Page says, and unfortunately, copycats similarly failed.

As the marketplace and office workers mature, Baxter Page says design research is finding that workers simply want transparency and honesty. “They want to know who they’re working for, who they’re working with, and they aren’t impressed by a company that copies another’s creative space ideas.” Disney-esque features are proving to have little to do with where and how they want to work.

“What is important to them is that they know who and where their boss is, that they can see the people they work with, and that they can choose whether to work in a quiet space or a noisy place because their employer provides several options.

“Those are the things driving attention and retention,” Baxter Page states.

As for timeless design, Baxter Page says exceptional lighting will always be an important element in interior design. Decades ago, she explains, even sweatshops had operable windows because someone figured out that people performed better with good lighting and good air. “Look at the Greek Parthenon. The shadows are there for a reason!” she laughs.

In the 1970s, when suburban office parks took hold and fuel prices soared, windows became more of a liability. “I think it was a hiccup,” Baxter Page admits, “but unfortunately, it also became an inexpensive way to build and save on heating and cooling costs.”

These days, as companies flex their work requirements and allow for more remote working, can design be used as a tool to lure workers back?

Baxter Page says there’s been a bit of a shift regarding the remote worker. “Research has found that people need people.The interaction and collaboration that takes place on a one-to-one basis or in a group has proven over and over again to produce a higher degree of ingenuity and retention of knowledge.”

If remote working is allowed, businesses can encourage employees to come back with an environment that lets them do what they can’t do at home. “Your home is like your private office,” Baxter Page states. “The rest is very communal, accessible, and available when you need it. That’s a big shift.”


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