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12 Design Elements of the Modern Workspace

By Nicholas Willis & Kristin Christensen

In the past decade, the entire notion of office design has changed dramatically, and has come a long way from the days of cubicle farms for team members and secluded private offices for executives. The modern office is not just a place to punch the clock. It has become a thriving ecosystem combining elements of live, work and play for its team. Private offices and boardrooms have transformed into creative and collaborative centers, and high cubicle walls have been replaced with open workstations. The modern workspace has become wildly imaginative throughout the years, which now serves as a critical recruiting and retention tool for businesses with a major focus on productivity, collaboration, integration and connectivity.

At Hughes Marino, we believe office layout, design and company culture truly work hand-in-hand to inspire and invigorate teams, and have the ability to positively impact businesses in many ways. Over our careers we’ve had the rewarding opportunity to watch many workspaces come to life, and we’ve taken plenty of mental notes on our favorite features in the process!

Here are 12 of our favorite key elements of planning and design in the modern workspace that help increase productivity and communication, while also strengthening company culture.

1. Interior Private Offices

The days of hallways lined with oversized separate offices have come and gone. Over the last decade, private offices have shrunk by 25% and we’ve seen a trend towards moving these offices away from the perimeter and into interior areas of the space. This feature enhances one of the most important elements of the modern workspace–natural light–which fosters happier moods and higher productivity, while also reducing energy costs. By shifting interior offices to the center of the floor plan, natural light from the window line can be shared with even more team members!

2. Glass Office Fronts

While the move to interior offices is the modern approach, if your company isn’t culturally set up for removing perimeter offices, it’s important to keep the office fronts as open as possible. If privacy is an issue, you can introduce window film or roll-up screens to keep the light coming in while maintaining some visible privacy. Again, the theme here is the addition of more natural light throughout the space.

3. Open Ceilings

The modern space is foregoing the traditional ceiling grid, tile and boxed light construction that has become so common to office space. Open ceilings expose the building’s structure, which creates additional ceiling height and highlights the beams and duct work to provide an industrial aesthetic with an airier feeling, replacing the uniformity of the conventional ceiling. The 2×4 ambient light fixtures have been replaced with linear or spot pendant lighting, making light less uniform and more dynamic. Open ceiling architecture also has the potential to add volume by adding a few extra feet of height to the workspace. Planning tip: If your project isn’t planned with precision, open ceilings can introduce a host of challenges. Before you decide to remodel, we recommend doing extensive research or consulting with our experienced team for more insights!

4. Hard Surface Flooring & White Walls

Companies are leaning toward utilizing hard surfaces like exposed concrete, stone, wood or vinyl composite/luxury tiling to add a more modern feel and aesthetic. Another plus–hard surface floors are durable and relatively maintenance free. While many offices still utilize some carpeting, it appears less frequently throughout the space. Design tip: An accent rug is the perfect way to add a pop of color, absorb noise and soften the space!

The move to white walls is becoming more of a trend in the “industrial open office”–less corporate, more inviting and home-like. White walls work well as a backdrop for any type of art and any color scheme, and come in handy if a business undergoes a design or branding refresh down the road. White also brightens up the space, especially where there is an abundance of natural light!

5. Open Office Layouts

Without question, the open office dynamic has defined the modern workplace, and has certainly caused a healthy debate about its effects on productivity. The open space design supports the culture of the collaborative and creative workforce, while also driving teamwork, efficiency and transparency among teams. The layout also provides high visibility throughout the space and eliminates the cube farm and dull, repetitive vibe. Every office environment is different, so be sure to consult the experts on which layout would most benefit your team’s productivity and company culture!

6. Huddle Spaces & Phone Rooms

If an office features a lot of open areas, utilizing phone and huddle space is an important aspect to consider for team members to make private calls and to have as a quiet place to focus. Since most meetings occur between two to four individuals, we’ve seen a reduction in the amount of large conference rooms. Unless your particular business calls for frequent large meetings, we recommend that companies provide one large conference room for 10-12 people, with multiple smaller rooms, or “huddle spaces,” for meetings between two to four people. Designers can put a fun spin on these rooms with themes, colors and company branding!

7. Plenty of Collaborative Space

From open break areas and living rooms, to game rooms and work lounges, these spaces can take many forms! The purpose is to offer a fun and inviting area for people to gather, relax, collaborate, enjoy the team spirit and boost camaraderie. When planning these spaces, businesses should provide plenty of areas for comfortable individual and group seating with tables varying in size and height, and game room components such as game tables, TV’s, bar tables and stools. Each of our Hughes Marino offices have game rooms with all of these elements to encourage fun and playful competition! Planning tip: Keep in mind that space has a financial cost, and one way to keep real estate needs reasonable is to combine uses for areas. For example, kitchens and reception areas can also function as break-out space, lounge space or alternative working areas.

8. Welcoming Reception Areas

The power of first impressions is critical, and the reception area of an office can set the tone for the entire experience! Modern office reception areas are inviting for both guests and team members, and should evoke a hospitable feeling with charming furnishings that promote an accessible and friendly space. Recognizing that receptionists are very often the office managers that keep everything running smoothly behind the scenes, as well as for anyone who walks in the door, the lobby should provide discrete functionality behind an inviting greeting desk with plenty of open space for line of sight, and comfortable seating that sets the tone for an impactful reception area.

9. Lighting

Lighting can make or break a space! The days of fluorescent light fixtures designed for a grid ceiling are dwindling. While most corporate office buildings maintain the grid and tile ceiling system for acoustics, better lighting control and economics, these features can be spruced up with contemporary lighting, like unique pendant lights and dazzling chandeliers. As discussed earlier, providing access to as much natural light as possible is a big part of the lighting element too!

10. Mixed Architectural Elements

The modern office generates fluidity with creative applications of materials delivering an impactful feel on a space. A designer may utilize an unconventional mix of materials to create visual interest, like industrial metal wall panels or integrated technology such as digital media on LED screens. Our headquarters features a grand staircase that combines the elements of metal, wood, glass and brick, which makes for a stunning visual impact and a grand entrance!

11. Elements of Home

An office is a home away from home for team members and guests! By incorporating residential furnishings like comfortable couches and coffee tables with playful knick-knacks, your visitors will feel relaxed and more at ease. At home, everything revolves around the kitchen, and the same can hold true at work. By centering the kitchen in an accessible location for the entire office, companies can create a natural hub for team members to gather. Plants also have an incredibly positive impact on office environments. Bring the outdoors inside with living walls and potted plants, which improve air quality, lower stress and even have calming effects–a win-win for everyone!

12. Gym & Wellness Space

More and more companies are providing team members with access to gym facilities and/or wellness space. This area could be utilized by someone who may be feeling under the weather, or act as the perfect spot to escape for a mental break. The spot can also be great for working mothers who need a comfortable, private retreat. Physical activity is a must for good health, and team members who have close access to a gym tend to stay at work longer and have an easily accessible way to alleviate stress and stay healthy!

Nothing is more fulfilling than helping our clients’ visions come to life. Our Planning + Design team, in conjunction with our Program, Project and Construction Management team, work to shape the perfect functioning workspace for clients’ teams in order to enhance space and productivity, to ultimately reinforce a positive company culture. For more in-depth information on our Planning + Design service, please visit our website, or feel free to contact us directly. We look forward to helping more businesses build their dream spaces to cultivate a positive environment for their teams to grow and thrive, all while looking sleek and modern to impress anyone who visits!

Nicholas Willis is interior planning director at Hughes Marino, an award-winning commercial real estate company specializing in tenant representation and building purchases with offices across the nation. Contact Nicholas at 1-844-662-6635 or nicholas.willis@hughesmarino.com to learn more.

Kristin Christensen is interior design director at Hughes Marino, an award-winning commercial real estate company specializing in tenant representation and building purchases with offices across the nation. Contact Kristin at 1-844-662-6635 or kristin.christensen@hughesmarino.com to learn more.



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