Building the best workplace experience for your people is the driving force behind this year’s workplace design trends.

There’s no doubt about it; a sea change in workplace design trends is coming. After decades of bland, disconnected, tech-first offices, many companies now believe that sparking innovation requires welcoming, humanized spaces. And there’s plenty of evidence to back that belief!

In the coming year, nearly 30% of American employees will work remotely for at least part of the week. Many workers appreciate the flexibility that virtual connectivity offers them, but there are many hidden drawbacks. For starters, remote workers are forced to rely more heavily on screens and devices than their in-office counterparts, creating feelings of disconnection among team members. Some off-site workers find that boundaries between work and personal time become blurry, and when employees feel overburdened or overwhelmed, the risk of burn-out increases. Working remotely has many advantages, but its main disadvantage is the toll it can take on employee morale.

Another workplace design trend that’s now showing its dark side is increased automation of processes. Automation often results in more efficient workflow and reduced costs, freeing up employees to focus on more creative or strategic tasks. But just like remote work, it’s got some drawbacks. Recent polls have shown that 48% of American workers believe that new workplace technology has done more harm than good. Employees need to feel valued for their very human contributions to your organization, and automation can make them feel superfluous. Streamlined workflows only benefit the company if there are engaged, happy employees on-hand to put them into practice. Companies are now realizing that more tech may lead to fewer people.

Both of these factors drive the newest workplace trends for 2020, all of which focus on cultivating comfortable, flexible, and creative environments that will make your employees eager to come to work.

1. The Multisensory Office

When you walk into any workplace, you should immediately feel a sense of well-being. The furnishings should be laid out to flow naturally, the colors should delight your eye, and you should feel welcomed and invigorated. But how many times have you entered an office that’s dark and cluttered, or smells like some mysterious industrial chemical? When considering workplace design, experts have found that it’s crucial to account for all five senses of your human workforce. Everything from eye-friendly lighting to delightfully soft upholstery to uplifting aromatherapy scents can enhance a space. As we shift our focus away from machinery and computers and toward designing for people, we should remember all the senses that make us human.

A workplace design trend that leverages multisensory attributes is biophilic design, which focuses on reconnecting people to nature. To incorporate this tactic into your own office, consider how you can make indoor spaces feel more like the outdoors. Anything from a living garden wall to allowing fresh air and natural light into your common areas will do the trick. Some companies embrace biophilic design by creating outdoor meeting spaces like courtyards or gardens. In the absence of real nature, using organic shapes and earthy color palettes can evoke the natural world.

2. Transformable Spaces

It’s no longer feasible—or even desirable—for a company to pay for real estate that only serves one function. Especially among start-ups and other small, innovation-driven businesses, workplace design trends are moving toward creating and leveraging multi-use spaces within the office. The sharing economy, collaborative culture, and a collective desire for sustainability all contribute to this new efficiency-driven mindset. Transformable spaces also contribute to the activity-based working movement, which encourages employees to move about the office, changing spaces to suit the work they’re doing at the moment.

Now your conference room might double (or triple) as a lunch retreat or after-work event space. Modular cubicles might be conjoined to create a larger brainstorming area. Designated coworking spaces can create efficiencies of scale for employees who work remotely part-time. And a group of wheeled tables in your conference room allows you to rearrange the configuration to best accommodate the task at hand — from brown-bag brainstorming to team-building exercises.

This is one of the simplest workplace design trends to implement. With help from a company specializing in workplace moves, adds, and changes (MAC), you can create new multi-use spaces quickly, easily, and at relatively low cost.

3. Thinking in Transition

Steve Jobs famously designed Apple’s offices with restrooms at the ends of floors so that his employees would have to walk a bit during their workdays. The extra exercise is a bonus, of course, but the real payoff is increased transitional thinking time. Research indicates that when we are on the move, we’re more open to serendipitous encounters and prone to flashes of creativity. This is why breakthrough inspirations often appear when we travel through a passageway between two fixed spaces. Putting ourselves in dynamic “passage” mode also creates a more relaxed state of mind, allowing us to think outside that proverbial box. This is especially helpful to knowledge workers. This subset of employees truly benefits from the automation of repetitive tasks since it frees them up to move around, think, create, and innovate. Otherwise, they’re stuck at their desks, sedentary, stagnant, and gradually increasing their risk of various health issues.

This new interest in creating spaces that promote transitional thinking stems from a cross-industry desire to redefine work itself. A team of MIT researchers has pointed out that this shift in thinking is crucial, saying, “Integrating job redesign with work redefinition makes the goal of work a dynamic destination—one that expands both financial value for the company and creates dynamic new sources of value and meaning for the customer.” In light of these findings, many leaders are no longer obsessed with task completion, choosing instead to focus on creating new sources of value for customers and the business. Those new sources might appear in the relaxed mind of a middle manager while she’s strolling from one end of the building to another! And companies hoping to capitalize on transitional thinking may intentionally create longer hallways, curved ramps, or other extended walkways that force employees to press “pause” on execution and dip into their hidden stories of inspiration.

4. Kitchen Table Creativity

At home, the kitchen table is the epicenter of the house. We don’t just eat there — we talk, we play games, we pay bills, we share. Having a similarly community-centric, multipurpose gathering area in the workplace can replace the stuffy conference room and encourage workers to bring their true selves to the table. (Literally!) Researchers have found that functional, group-sized amenities promote a sense of camaraderie and belonging, both of which promote collaboration and innovation among colleagues.

Another workplace design trend that taps into the power of communal gathering areas is “resimercial” design — combining commercial efficiency with the comforts of home. Office lobbies are no longer sterile and sleek, they’re brimming with cushy couches, quirky beanbag chairs, and boldly colored artwork. Conference rooms and cubicles are giving way to huddle areas, lounges, and café seating. Just switching out the furniture in your common area to make it feel more warm and inviting can change the vibe of your entire workspace. Resimercial design is also a fantastic way to reflect your brand values in a concrete, visual way to every single visitor who crosses your threshold.

Become a People-Friendly Brand

2020 is the year to take a fresh look at your employees and figure out how your work environment can best support and motivate them. When you do so, you’ll likely improve teamwork; increase satisfaction, creativity, and productivity; and even attract and retain more top-notch talent. By expressing your company culture with an enhanced workspace, you’ll be setting yourself apart as a desirable place to work.

Because Corovan is California’s leader in engineering workplace change — including ongoing facilities support, business moving, and storage — we can help you envision and create the perfect office for your unique team.