Three design trends defining the way we work

Changes in technology, employee demographics and cultural norms are driving new directions in office design. We look at how three major trends – the internet of things, the increasing value of experience and the importance of diversity – are all redefining the world of work.

Trend-1-Fondazione Agnelli CRA 1_Thermal bubble

From the smart phone in our pockets and the fitness tracker on our wrist to the coffee machine in our kitchen, we now live in a world of connected devices. A Goldman Sachs report suggests that the internet of things has the potential to connect 28 billion “things” to the internet by 2020, ranging from bracelets to cars. Embedded with sensors, these objects are designed with the ability to collect, store and analyse data and can be controlled remotely.

The technology has huge implications across a range of workplaces too. “I am very interested in the ability of digital technologies to enhance my flexibility as a working individual,” says Malcolm Garrett, creative director of Images&Co. “The work environment is changing and the internet of things is going to affect this.”

With its potential to enhance both collaboration and efficiency, the IoT potentially empowers both employees and employers to do their jobs better. Examples include Cisco’s iRobot Ava 500, a high-definition video collaboration robot that is designed to allow remote workers to attend meetings “on site”. Then there is The Edge, the “smart office” of professional services firm Deloitte in Amsterdam. Aside from using data to fine tune its energy efficiency, the The Edge works with apps to smooth workers lives the whole day through including allocating them parking spaces, pouring coffee to personal preference or finding the workspace to suit a particular employee.

The recent redesign of cultural institute the Agnelli Foundation in Turin, Italy, demonstrates the internet of things in action too. New interiors by designers Carlo Ratti offer a workplace that naturally learns about and is synchronised to its users’ needs. The century-old building has relaunched as not only the headquarters of the Agnelli Foundation, but also a co-working space and a café.

It has been equipped with IoT sensors that monitor different sets of data, including occupancy levels, temperature, CO2 concentration, and the status of meeting rooms. The building management system responds in real-time by adjusting lighting, heating, air-conditioning, and room booking.

The people working there can set their preferred temperature via a smart phone app and a thermal bubble follows them throughout the building. When an occupant leaves a given space, the room returns naturally to “standby mode”. “The Agnelli Foundation project aims at transferring the bottom-up approach of these mobile apps to the workplace, fostering creativity and productivity in the office and creating new communities at the intersection of physical space and digital information,” according to Carlo Ratti, director of the Senseable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and founder of Carlo Ratti Associati.

The greater value of experience


Today’s population stresses the greater value of experience in all areas of their life and work is no exception. With real estate at a premium, organisations need office design that provides multi-functionality of use but in order to attract and retain talent they need environments that respond holistically to the worker and give them an inspirational experience.

“Although home-working is so easy with technology now there is still a big pull to a physical coming together of people and designing that to be an interesting, provocative, inspirational place where you achieve more than simply work by becoming creative,” says Clive Grinyer, process improvement director for Premier Banking, Barclays. “I think that combination of design and technology is becoming really exciting and we will all benefit from a greater enjoyment of work, greater learning experiences and rapid and more creative outputs while at work.”

Balancing buzz with quiet zones is central to a contemporary workplace. Rotterdam-based architects MVRDV’s recent redesign of its own office looks to a family home for creative inspiration. It has areas dedicated to dining, lounging and socialising in tandem with a focus on more traditional “work spaces” and conference rooms.

Warm and engaging features include multi-coloured meeting rooms, a verdant chandelier covered in plants, an oversized dining table and stairs that double as a seating area. “The expanding MVRDV family needed a new house; so this is exactly what we tried to capture.

Everything that the home requires, a living room, a dining room, a sofa for the whole house to sit together,” says co-founder Jacob van Rijs. “This was also a chance to capture how we work and function as an office, then tailor-make new spaces that would boost our working methods and output; efficient spaces that enhance the collaborative ways in which we work.”

We see this kind of design rationale echo-ed in the recent UK Workplace Survey 2016 from international architecture firm Gensler. Workers are more likely to be innovative if they have access to a range of spaces supporting different working styles, according to the report. This includes private, semi-private and open-plan environments.

Diversity of Talent

Sodexo panel group
Sodexo panel group

The workforce of the future will be designed to be different. The growing emphasis on people is a macro-trend changing the way we work and within that a focus on a diverse staff is rising to the fore. The reason for this shift? An organisation made up of people of different ages and gender from different racial, educational, social backgrounds makes good business sense.

“Diversity in and of itself will help us work faster, smarter and deliver better outcomes,” says Phil Gilbert, head of IBM Design. “I think the biggest change we are going to see over the next five to ten years is a greater diversity of skill set and people type working together from the outset to discover and then solve problems. I think that will lead to break-through designs.”

Seeking out talent with different thinking and problem solving backgrounds becomes central for any organisation delivering creative outputs in the future then and is a strategy wholeheartedly embraced by brands across sectors. Not only can diversity guard against the perils of groupthink but, through more innovative outputs in terms of decision-making, it can lead to competitive advantage. US think tank The Center for Talent Innovation asserts in a recent report that diversity is necessary in order to win in today’s global marketplace.

“Diversity isn’t just a legal requirement, it is the key to a running a successful business,” agrees Meg Horsburgh, head of diversity and inclusion at hospitality brand Sodexo UK and Ireland. “’Diversity and Inclusion’ is an inherent part of our culture which helps drive global growth and innovation.”


In the tech sector, where white and male employees have traditionally dominated, Apple’s stated belief that ‘new ideas come from diverse ways of seeing things’ similarly gives it a foundation to hire from a broader talent pool.

“[Recruiting staff from] areas such as neuroscience, consumer psychology, data analysis and machine learning is becoming an emerging area of interest for brands [looking] to gain a competitive advantage,” says Duane Holland, creative strategy director at agency DH Ready. “Creating a culture of innovation largely depends on welcoming a diversity in thought, perspective and skill.”

This is the premise behind Agency 2030, an ongoing collaborative academic study between UCL and DH Ready, which looks at how creative brands and agencies will have a very different make-up of talent in future. Roles discussed include “Cognitive Influencers” working on the next level of influence marketing through to “Experience Biologists” who will give a viewpoint on how to make the overall customer experience more in-tune with our brains.

Comments (1)
  • Selina Brennan 4th October 2016 at 11:24 am

    Love that Air BnB used design based principles to scald.Ultimately everything can be influenced and enhanced by everything though 🙂