Your Perfect Modern Office Design, Revealed In 5 Questions

by Elizabeth Dukes on November 26, 2018

Every so often, your workplace design needs a refresh. Sometimes you just need to add some new elements, like new furniture or more inspiring artwork. In a case like that, there might be an employee survey or a casual conversation asking for input.

But when it’s time for some big updates—like redoing the entire office layout—you’re going to need more than just a survey.

To ensure you make the best decisions regarding your modern office design, here are five key questions to consider first.

Who Are Your Employees?

Every member of your workforce has a unique personality, different motivations and a different approach to his or her work. For instance, some employees need a quiet environment to concentrate, while others thrive in more collaborative settings. Assuming you have an even mix of introverts and extroverts, an entirely open office may be too distracting for at least half your workforce.

There are generational differences too. Millennials generally tend to like a more collaborative and flexible workplace, although there are several trends both millennials and Baby Boomers should embrace. It’s important to consider your workforce as a whole and how employees typically interact when considering any new workplace design.

Before you update your interior design, think about how each department uses the space. Maybe the marketing team is always talking to one another throughout the day, having impromptu meetings to strategize. The sales team likely keeps to themselves, primarily taking one-on-one calls. The product team is somewhere in between — usually bouncing ideas off each other but just as often working with their heads down and earbuds in.

These unique workstyles will guide you as you decide how many collaborative, quiet and hybrid spaces to have in your office. The key is to move toward an agile work environment—one you can easily adjust as your workplace grows.

Modern Office Design: What Impression Do You Want to Give?

It’s not just your employees who will see and interact with your workplace. Current clients, prospects, partners, vendors and interviewees will all be visiting your office. And each one will form an opinion about your company within seconds of walking through the door. It starts from the moment they check in. Are they greeted by someone who directs them, or left to find their way on their own? Will they see a modern office, or one that looks like it’s stuck in the 70s (complete with shag carpeting)?

Think about what impression you want to give. Do you want to be known as innovative or traditional? Creative or conservative? Your workplace is a tangible representation of your brand. It shows your employees and visitors what you value and how you regard the work you do. Make sure your workplace design aligns with your organization’s mission and positively (and accurately) reflects your brand.

What Are Your Workplace Priorities?

What do you want to accomplish with your workplace design? Boosting productivity is undoubtedly at the top of the list. But what are your other goals? For instance:

  • Do you want to increase energy efficiency? Then you’ll need to install intelligent technology like smart lighting systems.
  • Do you want to encourage new ideas? Then you’ll need to make sure the employees who are mentally stimulated in groups have the space to collaborate and the employees who find inspiration in solo work have a place to brainstorm on their own.
  • Do you want to improve the employee experience? Then you’ll need to implement employee experience solutions and design a modern office that incorporates technologies like digital signage and wayfinding kiosks.

How you define these priorities will be a major influencer on whether you have a high-touch workplace, a high-tech workplace or a combination of both.

What Are Your Practical Requirements and Spatial Restrictions?

It’s certainly admirable to have a grand, cutting-edge office design on paper. But you need to be confident any changes will make logistical sense. Form should follow function, not the other way around.

Of course you’ll take into account structural aspects like the location of doors and windows. But what about outlets, lights and wireless routers? A clean, modern office looks instantly dated when you add several feet of extension cords.

You also need to keep in mind the future needs of the company. Your design should be scalable — both ways. Company growth can look very different in terms of personnel and space needs. A modern office needs to be able to accommodate future growth but also acknowledge that the way employees work is changing.

For instance, a recent survey found more than 70 percent of employees work from home at least once a week. If you have a remote work policy or plan to add one in the near future, you’ll have fewer people in the office on any given day. In that case, it might make sense to move toward a reservation-based seating model rather than sticking with assigned seats. This can improve space utilization and help you avoid spending too much on real estate costs as you grow.

Where Does Your Office Design Fall on the Harvard Business Review Collaboration and Quiet Index?

In 2016, Harvard Business Review (HBR) published its Collaboration and Quiet index, which describes seven attributes that are critical to any modern office.

As the name suggests, these attributes can help workplace leaders achieve the right balance between collaborative meeting spaces and quiet office space.

Seven Attributes of A Modern Office

  • Location – The degree to which the space is accessible by all
  • Enclosure – The degree to which space is enclosed by walls, doors or a ceiling
  • Exposure – The degree to which the space offers visual or acoustic privacy
  • Technology – The degree to which the space is equipped with the right tools
  • Temporarily – The degree to which the space invites lingering
  • Perspective – The direction in which the space focuses the user’s attention
  • Size – The usable square footage of the space

HBR’s continuum is a great tool for matching an employee’s desired way of working with a physical workspace. On a more macro level, it can show you what kinds of spaces and meeting rooms should be part of your workplace design and which are unnecessary. Using the Collaboration and Quiet index is a good example of taking a human-centered approach to modern office design.

The most important part of any office design strategy is not to bite off more than you can chew. It’s always easier (and less expensive) to roll back small changes that didn’t work out than undoing something major, like rebuilding walls that have been knocked down.

To see some examples of how leading global companies achieved an ideal modern office design, check out our eBook, Building the Workplace of the Future.


Elizabeth Dukes

Elizabeth Dukes' pieces highlight the valuable role of the real estate and facility managers play in their organizations. Prior to iOFFICE, Elizabeth was in sales for large facility and office service outsourcing firm.

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