From the Design Quarterly: Workplace trends—for today and tomorrow—are smart and flexible

December 31, 2019 Angie Lee

Technology, generational preference, and an embrace of change will define how the office of tomorrow looks and operates


The one constant in the workplace is change. Almost a hundred years ago, the world of work was shifting radically as Americans became city dwellers, automobile owners, and office workers. Today, we’re amid another dramatic upheaval in work. A new generation of workers who have grown up with digital technology—using computers online for their entire adult lives—are stepping into the working world and a new set of expectations and preferences is emerging and reshaping the office.

Technology is pushing innovation in the workplace. But its consequences are still emerging—making it worthwhile to periodically evaluate the trends shaping the new office.


Flexibility for a workplace that’s always evolving

Designing a future-ready and flexible facility is more important than ever in this time of change. The office must be designed to be flexible so that it can change for daily and weekly needs with built-in adaptability over the long term. Increasingly, we need to be aware that things change in unpredictable ways and the influence of technology, for example, doesn’t resolve as it first presents.

For example, not long ago it seemed that desktop computers and monitors were going away, replaced by laptops and tablets. But massive monitors are emerging as the preference. Despite the availability of small portable technology, big screens are in.


Abiomed in Danvers, Massachusetts.


Culture and data-driven design

There have been many articles published recently on the pros and cons of open workspace. The only point of clarity from that raging debate is that open office isn’t for everyone. It’s important to understand what organizations do, how their employees like to work, and what makes them happy doing it.

More than ever, observation and research of the workplace on site must inform our design innovations so that the workplace ultimately reflects the client’s culture and supports its business strategy. Design must strike a delicate balance between incorporating existing culture while embracing new ways of working. Furthermore, how we educate our clients to best use their spaces (otherwise known as change management) is critical in matching culture and new workplace.



Branding throughout the office, not just the entryway and lobby, is emerging as a key aspect of office design. That’s because today’s audience for branding can be both internal and external. Every client has a past, present, and future, as well as heritage, culture, and values. As design professionals they look to us to help create a space and brand that reflects their narrative best.

In our tech-enabled era, experiencing the brand itself takes an increasingly important role in reflecting culture, mission, and morale, giving people reasons to want to come into the office every day and to connect their individual work to a greater purpose.


Xero in Denver, Colorado.


Lobbies as multipurpose and showcase spaces

Where can a firm host a Thursday happy hour or a massive annual holiday party with its clients? The lobby!

Once a little used, transitory void, the lobby has reemerged as a showcase space for many companies. We’re designing the lobby as “gathering space” that can be flexible workspace for visitors, guests, and staff, then switch to event, all-hands meeting, or party space as needed.


_q_tweetable:Design must strike a delicate balance between incorporating existing culture while embracing new ways of working._q_

Homelike and hospitality-inspired options

The tech industry and its open, collaborative offices changed the way we look at offices. But it’s the emergence of the homelike and hospitality-inspired elements of workplace that are defining design today. A big part of this shift relates to offering a variety of options in seating and work style, ranging from formal and informal collaborative to focused and heads-down and private meeting space.


Wellness and fitness

Healthy food options, natural light and air quality, spaces that allow for movement, even standing desks are all part of a new standard in office design that, when employed wisely in design, creates places that enhance our well-being. As we design with the welfare of end users in mind, we help reiterate that the company is looking out for their office users’ best interests. If the users are set up to live their best and healthiest lives, then that will be reflected in their productivity, which allows the company to flourish.


Bulfinch in Needham, Massachusetts.


War for talent

New generations entering the workplace want to work for innovative companies. They want flexibility. They want to tap into digital culture for inspiration. They want the opportunity to keep learning. They want a company that reflects their values and provides a space that reflects the way they live.

Thus, designed spaces must have the mix of amenities, aesthetics, flexible spaces, light, and air that help employers compete for the best, brightest, and most selective talent. In many cases, the quality of the office environment and its ability to attract talent can be directly connected to corporate success and innovation.

It’s all about the people!


Smart buildings, smart office

What’s next? The smart office and building. Smart spaces will connect to users through seamless tech and apps—everything from room reservations to audio-video conferencing, desk and room reservations, climate control and lighting, elevator access and security will be intelligent and personalized for the user.

But smart building benefits go beyond the individual employee. On the owner and employer side, detailed data on building and room use allows for better decision making about investment and office design going forward. And that means continuous evolution and improvement in design and operation. And when design automation connects into smart-building infrastructure, the possibilities for the future of workplace are unlimited.

Now that makes for an interesting future.

About the Author

Angie Lee

For 30 years, Angie Lee has led teams to deliver workplace strategy and headquarters design solutions that align with client business objectives and functional requirements. With a focus on delivering office environments, Angie tunes in to trends that affect the workplace, change management best practices, and a multigenerational workforce.

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THE STANTEC DESIGN QUARTERLY: Thoughts, Trends, Innovation