HANSA’s parent, Uniland, manages over seven million square feet of property throughout Western New York. As director of Planning and Design at Uniland, I routinely help businesses construct or redesign office space. That means my team and I stay on top of design trends, knowing how important they are to productivity, job satisfaction and company success. This was especially important as we created our new HANSA coworking facility in downtown Buffalo, New York. Here are some trends that will make HANSA a hub for successful entrepreneurs and professionals:
As companies embrace research that links mental and physical health to employee performance, office planners are now expected to incorporate health and wellness into their workplace designs(1).
Healthy employees mean lower absenteeism and higher productivity. According to a recent article in Work Design (2), companies that invest in redesigned layouts have seen “a huge impact on their employees, from improvements in individuals’ moods and productivity, to increased collaboration and a sense of belonging.”
That’s why our HANSA workspace has been designed to make users feel welcome and comfortable (3). This includes “Recharge Rooms” (tech-free areas where people can read, meditate or gather their thoughts) and “Mothers’ Rooms” (with refrigerators, chairs and supplies for new moms who need privacy and comfort). Many Uniland properties also include workout rooms, walking tracks and bike paths to give employees cardio-aerobic options. Even downtown offices, where square footage is limited, are finding ways to offer these benefits. The mezzanine at HANSA, for example, will allow for walking meetings.
“They need to feel like they’re not in a cave,” explains Uniland Architectural Interior Designer Mary Hazlett. “Things that make them feel comfortable are the key to establishing a truly enjoyable and productive environment.”
Embracing organic colors and natural light, we’re making workspace more welcoming. People especially want natural light, so access to windows is highly valued. At HANSA, we took advantage of the building’s existing skylights to bring natural light all the way down to the first floor by adding a mezzanine-style second floor. We also added multiple large windows to flood the former storage warehouse with light.
Not long ago, Corporate America embraced open floor plans. Down with private offices! Death to doors and walls! “Experts” professed the benefits of increased employee interaction, collaboration and idea generation. However, recent studies from the likes of the Harvard Business School (4) have shown that too much openness may be not so great after all, and the pendulum is swinging back.
Instead, we’re seeing the virtues of flexibility. Our team traveled to many markets — Austin, Chicago, Columbus, New York City, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. — to study recent commercial development successes. We saw an emphasis on flexible, adjustable floor plans, allowing spaces to convert like Optimus Prime: common areas that can become training rooms, yoga studios or event spaces. Rooms that can transition from a one-person office to a four-person suite. These efficient, overlapping uses mean companies can adjust on the fly instead of slowing their business for construction. We’ve included many of these features in our HANSA designs.
Beyond adaptable space, there are the financial realities of all businesses. Some tenants will be growing; others may be downsizing. We need to help them change as they evolve, and be cost-effective.
Flexibility is also embraced by employees who are happy when they’re not chained to a desk or placed in a seating chart like they’re back in third grade. They’re grown-ups — professionals who can recognize that a little privacy and minimal chatter is required some days, depending on the tasks at hand. Giving them the freedom and respect to make those decisions boosts performance and satisfaction — and that drives the camaraderie and idea generation that business leaders crave.
3. SEAMLESS TECHNOLOGY
With laptops, tablets and smartphones, work can be performed almost anywhere — and offices must be designed with this in mind. We’re well beyond reliable wireless here; there’s an A.I.-inspired shift occurring, where systems respond to voice commands or recognize when employees enter a room or “zone” and automatically adjust to their preferences! As with smart watches, workers welcome alerts that let you know when you’ve been sitting or standing too long. (5, 6)
Designers also have to include an abundance of power outlets, charging stations, video conferencing, online reservation systems, whiteboards and smartboards, so that everyone’s ready to go when they walk in the door. Employees don’t want to waste the first 10 minutes of a meeting any more than bosses do.
Technology design also influences acoustics. We bring in acoustic consultants on projects such as HANSA for sound abatement, to control reverberation and ensure speech privacy. We also incorporate white noise systems in our facilities and design ceilings in conference rooms to improve sound quality.
Companies are offering employees satellite offices and sites closer to their next meeting, home, family or childcare. Employees are tired of wasting time in traffic or on trains. They want to be close to things they frequent: gyms, grocery stores, restaurants and entertainment. They appreciate employers who make their lives easier.
Developers are also offering more amenities. Cafés, lunch stands, workout rooms and patios are all valued by employees. Workspace options are also appreciated, from shared spaces and private nooks to funky couches and comfy chairs. We also include private areas for important meetings and phone booths for personal conversations in many of our designs.
Of course, inclusivity is at the heart of all we do, making sure our facilities are accessible and ADA compliant. In fact, Uniland is a leader in Universal Design, creating environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without adaptation or specialization.
5. STAYING TRUE TO BUFFALO
Despite the trends we see elsewhere, it’s just as important to understand ourselves. There are some things that make Buffalo unique — and those distinctions must be embraced.
One is our transportation. For Western New Yorkers who love their cars, we chose the HANSA site because of its proximity to major traveling routes, on-street parking and eight parking lots within walking distance. There are also multiple Metro Rail and Metro Bus stops nearby, promoting sustainable modes of travel.
Another is our weather. We embrace our four seasons. We have a patio to take in fresh air and sunshine and a generous vestibule to kick off the snow from our boots and coats when winter arrives. Cycling is growing in popularity among commuters, so we offer indoor bike racks to protect them from the elements, along with changing rooms and showers for those who’d like to freshen up before work.
Then there’s our age. Buffalo is one of the nation’s oldest cities, and this rich history gives us advantages over other parts of the U.S. Thus, the trend to preserve our architecture and rehab existing spaces will continue. People love to see a once-forgotten building or district given new life and purpose. Throughout the 2020s, we’ll see increased partnerships with preservationists and planners as we embrace our history and help Buffalo’s resurgence permeate other areas.
READY FOR WHAT’S NEXT?
The bottom-line is, design trends are exactly that: trends. They’re “movements” within our industry, driven by the ever-changing technologies, best practices and personal preferences in our society. This means we need to not only stay on top of our industry’s news, but also remain nimble, so that we can evolve and bring these strategic opportunities to our clients, to add to their success.
About the Author:
Kevin Kirk, R.A., leads Uniland’s in-house team of architectural and interior designers and space planners. He’s responsible for developing building design concepts, coordinating site master plans, and creating construction documents. With more than 20 years of experience, his dedication has led to many happy customers.
(1) “Commercial Design Trends to Watch Out For In 2020,” Entrepreneur.com, Dec. 16, 2019
(2) “How a Healthy Workspace Can Transform Your Office Culture,” WorkDesign.com, Jan. 30, 2020
(3) “How Your Office Space Impacts Employee Well-Being,” Forbes.com, Jan. 24, 2019
(4) “The Impact of the ‘Open’ Workspace on Human Collaboration,” Ethan S. Bernstein & Stephen Turban, Harvard Business School, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, July 2018
(4) “5 Hottest Office Trends in 2019,” Inc.com, Sept. 10, 2019
(6) “3 ways the ‘smart office’ will change the future of work,” ZDNet, March 2018