03/05/2020 • 6 min read

7 Workplace Design Trends

Why they matter and how materials help you bring them to life

by Haworth, Inc.

Corporate environments are evolving to accommodate changing organizational cultures, shifting demographics—and a boatload of new and varied workstyles that go along with all those changes. Offices are becoming more and more diversified, with workplace design focusing on people and the relationship they have with their workspace. It’s a human-centric approach that keeps people comfortable, engaged, and inspired, while embodying the personality of a company’s brand and culture.

In the latest trends, we’re seeing workplace designs that celebrate the human experience and nurture well-being, as well as some that strike a compelling balance of two seemingly different aesthetics. Here are seven of those top trends, why they’re important, and how you can use materials, finishes, and colors to reflect them.

1. The Rise of Women
In the United States, 40% of businesses are owned by women, generating $1.8 trillion in revenue per year. In fact, the number of women in business ownership and leadership positions at work is increasing at a remarkable rate.

We’re seeing this rise of women in the workplace reflected in design through thoughtful, inspiring spaces, with elements that celebrate diversity and empower people. Furnishings comfortably accommodate a wider range of individual sizes and shapes. The colors and materials are less about traditional femininity and more about natural beauty and authenticity, creating spaces with an easy confidence about them. Flowing curves and soft textural fabrics invite everyone in to share experiences and collaborate.  

2. Workplace Zen
Spaces that support a holistic state of well-being are top of mind for today’s organizations. The benefits are nearly endless. Physically healthy people and those who feel happy at work take less time away and tend to perform better. Creating a comfortable, soothing environment that allows people control over their space is a good place to start.

Zen workspaces are created though simplicity and balance, which tend to reduce stress while encouraging creativity and innovation. When people don’t have to think too much about their surroundings, they are free to work the way that’s most comfortable for them, and they can concentrate their energy on developing new ideas or completing complex tasks. Minimalistic Zen designs are flexible, streamlined, and clutter-free to reduce distractions and promote focus. Natural materials and muted, neutral colors represent earth, water, and sky, soothing the senses. Spaces feature access to daylight, spots for introspection or meditation, aromatherapy experiences, and even the ambient sounds of a babbling brook, ocean waves, or melodic birdsong.

3. Urban Playful
Spaces that not only support, but also encourage creativity and innovation are in high demand. Research has shown that play is not only essential in childhood development, but also in honing all kinds of skills and abilities in adults. Psychiatrist, author of the book Play, and founder of the National Institute for Play, Stuart Brown, MD agrees. He says that “when employees have the opportunity to play, they actually increase their productivity, engagement, and morale.”

Creating a playful work atmosphere that encourages people to discover, learn, try new things, and share with others builds opportunities to innovate. “Urban Playful” environments can simply be described as “fun”—with bold textures and colors, clean lines, and artful designs that stimulate creative thinking. Reminiscent of the best parts of childhood, these multi-use spaces are full of whimsy, movement, and energy to let imagination and innovation run wild.

4. Resimercial
While this balance of home and office may not be a new idea, the rise of social spaces and the evolution of the open-plan office are bringing it to the forefront of future workplace design. People work best in spaces that make them feel comfortable. Allowing them to choose from a variety of casual settings creates a vibe that feels more like home, your neighborhood café, or a quiet reading library.

When well-planned and executed, resimercial design brings casual ease to commercial settings to create inspiring spaces where people can work socially or find a quiet spot away from the hubbub. Furnishings with rounded edges and soft curves make people feel at home. Tufting and textured materials like velvet, felt, and wool in warm, neutral colors draw people in, while customization allows an organization’s culture and personality to shine through.  

5. Old to New
With the growing nostalgia for days gone by, companies are setting up shop in restored and repurposed urban buildings. This “adaptive reuse” speaks volumes about an organization’s values and culture. It says, “We’re in this for the long-haul. We value durability, sustainability, diversity, and the beauty of all three. We don’t just throw things away, and we appreciate innovative reuse ideas.” And, the workforce is loving it—especially Millennials who most desire employers whose values match their own, according to a blog article by Nina McQueen, LinkedIn’s Vice President & Chief People Officer.

The "Old to New" workplace design trend takes the spaces inside these adapted commercial buildings and creates a nostalgic look and feel with vintage furnishings. Pieces come from, and are inspired by, mid-century modern, art deco, and other prominent design movements of the past. Recycled, repurposed, and reused elements bring a rustic character to spaces, while satisfying a desire for zero waste. And, retro-influenced materials, textures, and colorways add a familiar, comforting warmth that welcomes all.  

6. Need for Nature
People have an innate desire for connection with nature, known as biophilia. Research shows that being outside can be energizing, enhance mood, and improve overall well-being. One study found that walking in nature can also boost creative problem-solving skills by 60%, making outside working spots highly beneficial for creativity.

Organizations are capitalizing on the power of biophilic design, which combines indoors and out. With advancing mobile technology and vast Wi-Fi improvements, businesses are taking advantage of unused exterior real estate to create inviting work and social spaces for employees. Bare rooftops, patios, and lawn spaces are being transformed into parklike settings with outdoor lounge furnishings where people can work, play, or restore in the open air. Inside, large windows offer abundant daylight that highlights warm woods, plentiful greenery, and even water features. All the colors of the forest and earth are used to help people connect to nature when they can’t get outside.  

7. Modern Heritage
Companies built from the ground up usually have a unique story to tell about their beliefs, values, and roots. Whether they’ve been around five years or 105 years, they tend to have a true appreciation for history and tradition that’s ingrained in their brand and culture. These companies understand what’s valuable from the past—craftsmanship, for example—and they use it to bring something innovative to the table.

The same is true for the work environments within these organizations—and it’s often what draws in prospective employees seeking authenticity. Building on a company’s brand heritage, history, and tradition combine with modern design to create spaces that feel grounded, comfortable, and inviting. Raw materials come together in new ways through time-honored artisanship and handmade pieces. Warm woods, soft earth-toned leathers, and a variety of rustic metal elements provide flexibility to customize designs for an old-world feel, a more industrial vibe, or anywhere in between.

Download our Trends: Surface Materials Inspiration Guide to see and share these trend palettes with colleagues, cohorts, and customers.

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