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The smart office you want to live in

Google first showed us offices could be fun. But between the playground slides and the ping-pong tables, the tech giant’s interior can be a little daunting for those not accustomed to a fun-filled office space.

Fortunately, office design has matured. Research and tech are now coming together to make intelligent, beautiful, surprising and comforting office spaces that boost productivity, while keeping people happy and healthy. It’s the office you actually look forward to visiting. Less campus, more comfortable.

We take a look at some of the most popular office design trends.

Trend 1: Design for healthy movement

Office work is fundamentally unhealthy. It’s sedentary and the spaces are notoriously poorly ventilated. Design for healthy movement promotes human activity and air flow. Both have a huge influence on productivity.

The World Green Building Council’s (WGBC) 2014 report on Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Officesmakes a strong case for investing in better air flow with research suggesting that good indoor air quality can boost productivity by up to 11 per cent.

Stairs, flexible work stations and smart stand-up spaces can also boost efficiency and well-being. They accomplish this by giving people the freedom to move about, encouraging socialization and providing the option to work from a quiet corner of the office. Diversity and choice are key when it comes to positive work environments.

Take for example, Facebook’s sprawling office in Menlo Park, California, which boasts the largest open floor plan in the world. This freedom for the staff to move about and keep active is also complemented by a 3.6-hectare rooftop park.

Trend 2: Think like home

Think about your home. Your morning coffee in the sunroom. Your book in bed. Your late nights in the study. Your Netflix binge while glued to the couch. You’re doing different things in different places, and each space is designed to make you most comfortable while doing it. That’s the future of office design.

“This is particularly evident in European workplaces where designers are combining elements of residential architecture and home comforts, predominantly through the use of textiles, with functional office solutions to create relaxed commercial spaces,” says RIBA Journal.

Airbnb has taken this ‘residential inspired’ approach to the next level by designing its San Francisco HQ meeting spaces after its various residential listings.

Ambient computing has a role to play in residential-styled offices too. Deloitte University Press put it succinctly: “Companies are exploring the IoT [internet of things], but some only vaguely understand its full potential. To realise that potential, organisations should look beyond physical ‘things’ and the role of sensors, machines and other devices as signals and actuators.”

Businesses can embrace ambient computing by designing spaces that perfect lighting, air temperature and airflow through sensors and signals. Comfortable people work better. It’s that simple.

Trend 3: Be inspired by nature

Nature-inspired commercial design goes hand-in-hand with emerging residential influences. Textures, lights and colours that help reproduce an outdoor setting can sooth urban employee stress.

Airbnb Tokyo extensively researched what its staff wanted before starting its latest office redesign. “In response to employee feedback, nature was heavily incorporated into the new design to create a peaceful working space where employees can escape the chaotic urban environment of the local area in Shinjuku,” says the Australian Design Review.

The WGBC’s 2014 report also pointed to several studies showing productivity was connected to proximity to windows, especially where views offered a connection to nature.

Trend 4: Design for healthy employees

The physical health of employees is taking center stage in commercial design. The communal work table, height-adjustable desk, lounge space, breakout space, stairs and more flexible working spaces are all designed to get people moving.

But designing for employee health lends itself to healthier social spaces too. Moreover, open break rooms, cafes and foyers that allow for casual conversation when people cross paths can boost the social capital of your office space. These chance encounters help take talk offline and inspire cross-team collaboration and break down the walls of the traditionally siloed department.

Take LinkedIn’s New York office, for example, where the employees can use a number of communal areas for socializing and open-spaced meeting areas. This is designed to not only keep workers engaged, but also to encourage teamwork and interaction.

Even making just a few of these workplace changes could ultimately make a big difference to the productivity and morale of your team.