The New Face of the Workplace

by Karen LeBlanc

The Latest Design Trends from NeoCon 2018 Create a Home Away from Home

As the office looks and feels more like home, architects and designers are ramping up the wellness factor. This growing concern for employee well-being brings into focus biophilic design concepts and sustainability all aimed at creating healthier commercial spaces.

At NeoCon 2018, held in June at The Mart in Chicago, the buzz was all about biophilic design, the practice of incorporating natural materials, natural light, vegetation, nature views and other experiences of the natural world into the workplace.

ESI Ergonomic Solutions LotusDX Lifestyle workstation

ESI Ergonomic Solutions LotusDX Lifestyle workstation

From adaptive furnishings to living walls and privacy pods, today’s office employs design elements that foster community and company culture, collaboration and physical activity with just the right dose of me-time.

Several standout exhibitors exemplify this new face of the workplace with innovative products that embody the direction commercial design is headed. Let’s break it down to five major design trends creating this new face of the workplace.

Biophilic Design:

Climate Office Hedge Elements are plant walls of philodendron that can be equipped with acoustically-effective filling for sound absorption that is made of recycling material.

Climate Office Hedge Elements are plant walls of philodendron that can be equipped with acoustically-effective filling for sound absorption that is made of recycling material.

Biophilic design counterbalances all of the time we spend indoors by strengthening our connection to the outside.  Research shows that contact with nature stimulates the human parasympathetic system. The idea is rooted in Japan where the popularity of forest bathing prevails— taking walks outside among trees and nature to lower stress levels.

I discovered an interesting study from the environmental consulting firm Terrapin Bright Green. “The Economics of Design”  found that incorporating nature into the built environment is not just a luxury, but a sound economic investment in health and productivity, based on well researched neurological and physiological evidence.

Privacy Pods:

Open-concept office spaces meant to spark collaboration and imagination come with a downside— the lack of privacy. To compensate for all that social space, there is a growing demand for products that provide privacy on demand. From agile partitions to mobile pods, manufacturers are offering new solutions to create quiet time away from other co-workers.

Framery Q provides a stylish solution with a quiet and comfortable space designed for two users to have meetings, work sessions and important conversations. 

Framery Q provides a stylish solution with a quiet and comfortable space designed for two users to have meetings, work sessions and important conversations.

 

JabbrrX, cutting-edge IoT workspace solutions designed for use in open and semi-public spaces, the on-demand consumer amenity offers the perfect environment for on-the-go work, well-being, and privacy.

JabbrrX, cutting-edge IoT workspace solutions designed for use in open and semi-public spaces, the on-demand consumer amenity offers the perfect environment for on-the-go work, well-being, and privacy.

JabbrrX, cutting-edge IoT workspace solutions designed for use in open and semi-public spaces, the on-demand consumer amenity offers the perfect environment for on-the-go work, well-being, and privacy.

JabbrrX, cutting-edge IoT workspace solutions designed for use in open and semi-public spaces, the on-demand consumer amenity offers the perfect environment for on-the-go work, well-being, and privacy.

Healthy Products:

Healthy products and materials in the workplace that minimize or eliminate off-gassing and are crafted of recycled materials also factor into employee well-being at work.

Room One is a privacy solution for open-plan offices designed to create a moment of peace in the open-plan office made with recycled plastic bottles. Engineered to reduce noise in the office, helping support employees’ work preferences as well as mental health and well-being, the system’s human-centric design is easy to customize.

 

One standout sustainable product caught my attention with signage bearing the quote: “20,000 bottles are bought every second, by 2050 the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish. Source: Ellen Macarthur foundation. It makes you stop and think, doesn’t it? What about all those ubiquitous plastic water bottles and soda bottles.

We know China has tamped down on recycling our plastic refuse as a consequence of escalating trade tensions. Sustainable manufacturers are vital to our earth’s health more than ever in the marketplace, innovating ways to reuse our refuse. For that, I give props to Shaw Contract for launching its new product category, PET Resilient flooring made from 40 percent post-consumer recycled content. The Palette collection is made of 16 recycled plastic bottles per square foot, 64 recycled bottles per plank, and no plasticizers, chlorine, or PVC. Starting with a minimum of 40 percent post-consumer recycled content, its trajectory aims to dramatically increase the use of PCC plastics to minimize our carbon footprint.

Designed in collaboration with Jason McLennan of McLennan Design, Lichen is the first flooring product to achieve the International Living Future Institute Living Product Challenge Petal certification.

Designed in collaboration with Jason McLennan of McLennan Design, Lichen is the first flooring product to achieve the International Living Future Institute Living Product Challenge Petal certification.

Another sustainable product standout is the Lichen Collection by Mohawk Group, a new modular plank carpet system, inspired by the idea of “Nature’s Carpet. ”  Mohawk Group says the creation and specifying of Lichen has a net positive impact for people and the environment, through innovations in materials, manufacturing and community involvement. 

Get Up and Move:

As architects and designers seek ways to get employees up from their desks and moving more, adaptive furnishings are gaining popularity as one solution. Reconfigurable and highly adjustable furnishings promote physical activity on at work. There is a growing product category of active workspaces with new sit-to-stand capabilities such as the Accel Active Desktop that provides ample space for a variety of work tasks and repositions at the touch of a button – no lifting effort required.

The Sound of Silence:

Floating Panel Workspace CoArt Acoustics

Floating Panel Workspace CoArt Acoustics

All this open space in the workplace makes means sound mitigation can be challenging. Acoustical solutions that minimize unwanted noise at work are essential to loft-like commercial spaces and NeoCon offered a wide range of products promoting the sound of silence. 

Lina Mosaic sound absorbing panels

Lina Mosaic sound absorbing panels

 

Polarmoss Flex Element, made of reindeer moss, panels for interior walls.

Polarmoss Flex Element, made of reindeer moss, panels for interior walls.

This year NeoCon celebrated its 50th anniversary, with a nod towards its beginnings as a commercial design industry trade show in 1969.

Studio TK, a NeoCon exhibitor, succinctly captured the gist of the collective conversation on a sign that read: “Social spaces, that create connections, prioritize well-being and express a point of view, have a work culture that empowers people to do the same.”

Studio TK

Studio TK

 

This blurring of the lines between home and office challenges designers to create productive, comfortable workspaces that emulate the comforts of home but with the on-the-job structure.

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