The concept of what an ideal work environment looks and feels like has continually shifted to meet the demands and desires of occupants. “Mad Men”-era office workers remember the days when ashtrays, bulky mimeograph and copy machines, and “typing pools” were staples in office buildings. Over the decades, smokers have been banished to 200 feet from entryways, office equipment has been replaced by web-based apps, and workspaces have transformed from cubicles to open, flexible workspaces.
Office space trends reflect a balance of function, comfort, and profitability. They also occur as a reaction to market forces and even world events such as the pandemic. The COVID pandemic of 2019-21 changed everything when workers (and companies) realized the ease, productivity, and profitability of working from home. To get office workers to come back to work, employers have had to offer even more flexibility and creativity.
While there are different types of office buildings, a broad variety of uses, and even geographical forces in place, there are some common themes occurring in office space trends. This article explores seven trends that are reshaping the CRE sector to keep office spaces in sync with use.
1. We Space vs. Me Space
In the past, office designs frequently isolated employees in separate cubicles. This was followed by a transition to open floor plans — “we spaces” — which were believed to better facilitate collaborative workspaces. Presently, however, a more balanced approach is emerging. Interactive shared areas promote collaboration, while quiet workspaces — “me spaces” — support autonomous tasks and focus time. This trend recognizes the significance of both work modes and aims to establish a balanced coexistence between them, especially as workers return from pandemic isolation.
2. Indoor Air Quality
The post-pandemic world has cast a spotlight on indoor air quality, compelling property managers and commercial property developers to prioritize the creation of healthier environments. Clean air and proper ventilation have transitioned from being implicit to explicit selling points. Enhanced HVAC systems, air purification technologies, and eco-friendly building materials are no longer mere add-ons but rather integral components of enticing office spaces.
3. Making Work More Homelike
With the rise of remote work, people developed a newfound appreciation for the comfort and flexibility of their homes. Commercial property owners have responded by blurring the line between home and office, creating spaces that feel more homelike. Cozy lounges, relaxed breakout areas, and thoughtful decor mimic the comforts of home while maintaining a productive work environment. NBBJ, an architecture and design firm, exemplifies this trend by incorporating elements that are reminiscent of a comfortable living room instead of a corporate office.
4. Continuing Emphasis on Natural Light
The pursuit of natural light is a consistent trend in design, and that extends into the world of office design. Sun-drenched spaces not only reduce reliance on artificial lighting but also positively impact employees' mood and well-being. This provides financial benefits for property owners, increases sustainability, and an improved environment for occupants. Large windows, skylights, and strategically placed mirrors are embraced as essential elements in creating vibrant, inspiring workspaces.
5. Biophilic Design
Biophilia design, which emphasizes the incorporation of nature into indoor spaces, has gained traction as a means to enhance productivity and well-being. Offices are incorporating elements like indoor plants, green walls, and natural colors and textures to evoke a connection with the outdoors. The calming presence of nature not only adds aesthetic appeal but also gives occupants a sense of tranquility. Biophilic design has also been shown to be good for mental health, well-being, and even focus.
6. Smaller But Better Offices
The size of an office was once widely considered a direct reflection of its value — and the occupant’s status. In fact, having sprawling offices or campuses was thought of as a hallmark of success. This thinking, however, is no longer the case as the shift towards smaller, more purposeful spaces has gained momentum. These compact yet premium offices are designed for optimal efficiency, fostering a sense of intimacy and community. With the addition of meaningful amenities within a carefully curated environment, smaller offices can offer a more enriching experience than their larger counterparts.
7. Demand for Proptech Rises
The convergence of real estate and technology, known as proptech, is reshaping the CRE landscape. From smart building systems that optimize energy consumption to tenant experience platforms that facilitate seamless communication, technology is becoming central to both property management and occupant satisfaction. The demand for proptech solutions is set to explode in upcoming years, driven by the desire to enhance profitability and increase sustainability.
Workplace Trends Equal Opportunities in CRE
In an era marked by rapid change and dynamic work preferences, the CRE industry is poised for a transformative journey. These trends exemplify the industry's adaptability and responsiveness to the evolving needs of occupants and the market. They also show that the CRE sector is not just an observer of change, but contributes to driving it. By embracing innovation, wellness, and sustainability, CRE professionals are shaping spaces that facilitate productivity, well-being, and community.
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