With the long-awaited return to the office upon us, it’s never been more vital to create smart workplaces that attract and retain top talent. Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the landscape of shared workspaces as we once knew them – but the future is still bright. Modern office design is evolving and shifting to fit the needs of post-pandemic working environments. Hybrid and flexible workspaces, wellbeing-focused design, and community-inspired spaces are taking storm in 2021. We’ve put together some of the most effective office design trends that attract talent, boost productivity, and make workspaces an enjoyable place for employees to thrive in 2021 and beyond. 

What can modern office design do for me?

Do you want to attract the crème de la crème of your industry? Are you competing for top talent in a hot job market? Is staff turnover a problem?

These days, salary or financial compensation is just a small piece of the employee satisfaction puzzle. People need a workplace that stimulates creativity, collaboration, and communication while reducing stress and anxiety. 

Effective office design boosts productivity and guarantees real results for your business. Ideally, you want a workplace that allows people to focus and concentrate, and collaborate and communicate, whenever and wherever needed. You also want a workplace that promotes both physical and mental wellness so your team can perform and function at their best. This is what today’s modern office design trends are striving to achieve.

Below is a list of the 7 most important office design trends. Take a look so you can retain the best and most qualified employees to your organization in 2021 and beyond. 

Prefer to speak to our workspace design experts now? Feel free to contact us for a FREE consultation


1. Activity-Based Working

Activity-Based working offers your staff a much-needed change of scenery or fresh perspective during the workday. We all know it can get tiring spending an entire day in the same spot. Sit-stand desks, privacy booths, shared desks and collaboration rooms can diversify the workplace and be the tonic your people need to boost their morale and productivity. With activity-based working, if an employee needs to do something that requires a high level of concentration and focus, he or she can move to an isolated and quiet area to avoid distractions. On the other hand, if an employee is doing something that requires close collaboration with co-workers, such as learning a new software application or overseeing a new employee, then he or she can sit in a collaborative booth, shared desk, or conference room where they can openly communicate and interact.

Here’s a breakdown of the different types of zones within an activity-based work environment:

Open Office Area:

    • This is often the more traditional type of seating arrangement where workers are seated close together without any walls or barriers. Typically, instead of each worker having his or her own individual desk, they share longer workbenches, where each worker has their own individual area with a computer, keyboard, mouse, landline phone, and other accessories.
    • Open office areas are suitable for highly collaborative work activities, such as activities where people may need to ask frequent questions of one another. Business areas such as sales, marketing, and creative disciplines often utilize open-plan working areas to maximize on teamwork and communication.
    • Some downfalls of open office zones include noise, distractions, and a lack of privacy. This is why activity-based workspaces are so important as they ensure there’s available space for all types of working. 

The photo above shows an open office area within RI Group’s office.

Privacy Zone:

    • These are either small, enclosed, sound-proof booths or isolated quiet areas that allow a person to make confidential phone calls. Privacy zones may be used to hold discreet meetings between two employees. Many private phone calls are totally unplanned and unscheduled so every office should have a private area readily available where an employee can quickly go when needed. 

The photo above shows a private phone booth in RI Group’s office. 

Quiet Focus Zone:

    • Distraction-free areas are essential for concentration and maintaining focus. The type of setting can range from an isolated armchair or beanbag, to small independent workspaces and concealed soundproof rooms for maximum concentration and privacy.

The photo above shows some quiet focus areas in RI Group’s office. 

Meeting Zone:

    • Dedicated meeting rooms are often the springboard for idea-sharing and creative thinking. These are also key for client meetings and presentations. Meeting areas come in all shapes and sizes and can be designed to suit the needs of your business. Whether it’s an enclosed room for privacy, a larger lounge area for comfort, or a fusion of the two for enhanced collaboration and creativity, your new office design should have a suitable zone where employees can meet with colleagues or visitors.

The photo above shows one of RI Group’s meeting zones.

Café Area:

    • Whether it’s a brainstorming session, team meeting, lunch or just somewhere to grab a quick coffee – having a relaxing area within your office is critical for mental health and wellness as well as culture-building. These types of casual areas rejuvenate employees and allow for easy and enjoyable collaboration.  

The photo above shows RI Group’s café area.

So, why choose Activity-Based Working?

Activity-Based Working is a trend that solves many of the problems of the older and more traditional type of office setups called the Open Office Plan. The Open Office Plan has been around for decades and was born in response to the problems of older and more traditional cubicles and private offices. With the open office plan, people work very closely together in open spaces with almost no barrier between them, with workers encountering inevitable distractions, germs, and noise from co-workers. The activity-based working model gives employees options to really diversify their workday through intelligent spatial design and choose working zones that work best for them. So whether your people need quiet time, 1:1 discussions, group collaboration or a shared space to bounce ideas – activity-based working gives them options to choose a location that best suits their task and personality.

Activity Based Working - Modern Office Trends


2. The Flexible Workspace

Flexible workspaces are a hot new design concept. This type of workspace features desks, tables, and chairs that are easily movable and resizable, a bold advancement from the traditional office plan. With the traditional office plan, locations of desks, chairs, tables, and other resources are fixed and unchanging. 

A flexible workspace utilizes modular furniture, including desks, tables, and seating which can be tailored to the changing requirements of your workforce. In a flexible workspace, you’ll find meeting tables that can be quikly resized to accommodate different size groups as well as tables on wheels for easy reconfiguration. You can also expect the dynamic creation of new teams and boosted collaboration between workers for short-term and long-term tasks.

Some flexible workspaces feature unassigned seating arrangements. Put simply, employees aren’t assigned to a specific desk or workstation and can choose any space on each given workday. This concept has been boosted by the modern paperless workplace; where nearly all information is digitized by computers. As a result, the modern workplace is looking more and more like a simple desk and chair with only a computer, monitor, mouse, and keyboard. These factors allow for unassigned seating arrangements in the workplace to become more practical and easy to implement. 

Unassigned seating is thought to enhance collaboration between employees, since today’s projects are becoming more dynamic and free-flowing. It’s also thought to enhance overall job performance, as some employees would like to work where they can best concentrate and focus on their work.

Google Garage is a popular example of a flexible workspace. It’s a dynamic space where any Google employee can go to brainstorm new product ideas through hands-on experimentation with different physical products, devices, and gadgets such as 3D printers. Staff are encouraged to brainstorm ideas on tables and walls. All of their office furniture, equipment, and devices are on wheels! They’ve covered all bases and fitted power and ethernet cables to extend from the ceiling toward the floor so that full connectivity can be achieved from just about anywhere. Although you probably don’t have to go that far to provide a dynamic environment for your employees, Google Garage demonstrates how much smart spatial planning can achieve for aspirational businesses.


3. Biophilic Design

Biophilic design is huge right now! A green workspace has the power to boost moods, performance, and wellness in your workspace. It’s based on the premise that humans have a need to connect with nature, and that when this connection is made, it results in better health, concentration, creativity, and work performance. Incorporating elements of the natural world have been proven to improve cognitive ability and reduce stress, blood pressure levels and heart rates in the workplace.

Biophilic design may use any of the following elements in offices and workplaces to boost wellness and productivity:

  • Natural Light: Biophilic office design allows sunlight to stream into your space through high glass windows, glass walls, glass doors, and glass ceilings. High glass walls in lobbies and entrances have a positive, rejuvenating effect on the occupants of a space.

Natural light flowing in at our client, DL1961’s office in New York City.

  • Flowing Water: Fountains, streams, and mini-waterfalls…although these examples might be over-the-top for many small offices, they provide a tranquil soundscape for lobbies, common areas, and large offices.

A decorative wall made to look like flowing water at our client, Corporate Essential, LLC’s office in Parsippany, New Jersey.

  • Plants: Not only do they look gorgeous, plants improve air quality, boost ventilation, and reduce toxin levels in the air. The aesthetic pleasure of gazing at plants and greenery is not to be underestimated.

Plants incorporated into the design at our client, Grassi & Co.’s office in Park Ridge, New Jersey.

  • Views of Nature: If you’ve got green space outside, try to maximise your window space to make the most of the scenic views. Art work is another powerful way of invoking nature indoors: nature-themed paintings and prints work a treat! If you’re working with a larger space, indoor gardens with plants, trees, rocks, flowing water, and wooden bridges can be installed in building lobbies and common areas to provide views of nature.

Views of nature out RI Group’s office window in Saddle Brook, New Jersey.

  • Natural Materials: Natural materials like wood or stone can bring a real raw aesthetic to your workspace, invoking the natural environment and bringing texture and contrast to traditional office design.

Live edge countertop and decorative wood beams in RI Group’s office Saddle Brook, New Jersey. 

A great and shining example of biophilic design is the Central Atrium of the Federal Center South Building 1202 located in Seattle, Washington. This awe-inspiring building features a common area with natural light from high glass ceilings, gardens consisting of flowing waterways, trees and rocks, indoor plants and walls, stairs, and handrails made of reclaimed timber.

The modern trend toward biophilic design is so powerful, it is sweeping the world’s largest metropolitan areas from New York City to Singapore. Bloomberg LP, headquartered in midtown Manhattan, features extensive use of glass walls, glass doors, and fish tanks containing the world’s most exotic species of fish, on every floor of their headquarters building in Manhattan.

On building rooftops in midtown Manhattan, you can find gardens of trees, grass, and other elements of nature. Singapore began its biophilic movement about 50 years ago, where green natural surroundings can be seen everywhere. In fact, Singapore, which used to be called the “Garden City”, is now more appropriately called “City In A Garden”.

4. Home away from Home

Creating a space that feels like home is a major office design trend in 2021. Afterall, home is where most employees have spent the past 18 months so you’ll need to make sure your office has all the comforts of home. Think bright and comfortable sofas, recreational swings, ping-pong tables, lounge areas: the idea is to make the workplace as relaxing and stress-free as possible as they adjust to the transition of coming back to the office. By creating areas where employees can take short breaks to give their bodies and minds a rest, in turn allows them to recharge and remain productive throughout the day.

Soft seating area at our client, Austin William’s office in Hauppauge, NY.

Cozy spaces aren’t all about downtime though: they are meant to be productive too! Group meetings can be held at an informal living-room type of space with sofas, armchairs, and coffee tables. Collaborative spaces encourage a sense of togetherness, inclusivity and belonging amongst staff. If you build a positive office community, you’ll in turn promote positive work relationships and create a mutually supportive environment for staff.

Informal, productive space at our client, Baldor Specialty Foods, Inc. in Bronx, NY.

Some of the home-like perks commonly provided by employers now include:

  • Comfy sofas, armchairs, pod seats, and coffee tables
  • Lounge areas
  • Break areas with recreational games
  • Cafés with free coffee, snacks, and food
  • Fully-stocked bars
  • Outdoor terraces and balconies
  • Exercise gym and showers
  • Bicycle storage

Can home-inspired workplaces improve employee performance? The answer is yes!

Companies across the globe are discovering that providing a home-like atmosphere encourages productivity, collaboration, and open dialogue. After all, a home-like atmosphere is less intimidating and less formal than a traditional office setup. In a relaxed setting, people feel more free to express their thoughts casually: stimulating team culture, brainstorming, and creativity.

5. Industrial Office Design

Industrial office design has been a major trend for a while, but it’s not going away anytime soon! The industrial office design is a purely aesthetic style of design that is intentionally unsophisticated and creates a raw, rustic, and unrefined atmosphere for office workers.

You’re probably used to seeing some of these popular industrial design trends:

  • Exposed ceiling air ducts
  • Exposed ceiling pipes
  • Exposed ceiling beams
  • High ceilings
  • Exposed brick walls along the outside of the office space
  • Lack of interior walls resulting in more open space
  • Very large windows
  • Natural wood instead of treated wood
  • Concrete floors instead of wood or carpeted floors
  • Overhanging light fixtures with exposed light bulbs

The popular industrial style promotes your business as unconventional, creative, or outside the mainstream. It’s a bold step away from corporate luxury and is embraced by start-ups and companies with brand identities rooted in simplicity. The headquarters office space of Yelp! has been constructed with a bold industrial concept. Heroku’s San Francisco headquarters are fine examples of a raw, unassuming, and unique space – check it out!

From a practical standpoint, industrial office designs are generally more budget-friendly than other types of office design. But the savings in construction costs could be offset by potentially difficult technical challenges encountered while converting an old factory or industrial building into one that is fit for office use in a corporate setting.

Something to remember: The type of office design used in your workspace determines what kind of employees you attract to your company or organization. The industrial office design tends to attract a younger demographic looking to exercise their creativity and unconventional way of thinking. As designers, we know that this design doesn’t work for everyone. That’s why as designers, we get to know and understand your business and your likes and dislikes to create a space suited specifically to your business. 

Industrial office design at our client, Micronix Systems, Inc. in Springfield, NJ. 

6. Ergonomic Workstations

We all know sedentary lifestyles are unhealthy, so it’s no surprise that sitting at your desk for long periods of time can have negative effects on your health. To address this issue, today’s modern office workplaces are incorporating the following new technologies into their workstations:

  • Ergonomic Chairs: These are office chairs that have adjustable support for your lower back, which is also called lumbar support. Their seat height should also be adjustable so that the person sitting has both feet planted firmly on the ground. The height of the armrests should also be adjustable.
  • Height-Adjustable Desks: Ideally you would want the height of the desk to be adjustable for people of different body sizes. Some people also like to alternate between sitting and standing while they work. These desks use electric motors to adjust their height upon button activation.
  • Sit/Stand Desk Risers: Also called “standing desks”, these are height-adjustable mechanical platforms that sit on top of the desk on which is placed your monitor, keyboard, and mouse. They are suitable when the employee wants to alternate between sitting and standing while working.
  • Exercise Ball Chairs: These are large plastic balls inflated with air that can be used instead of a chair. As exercise, the person sitting on the ball can bounce up and down on the ball. Sitting on the ball also forces you to exercise the muscles in your body that are required to maintain balance on the ball. However, the health benefits of exercise ball chairs remain controversial.

Some employees like to periodically alternate between sitting and standing at their desks in order to minimize the health risks associated with sitting for too long. But health benefits aside, the sit/stand technique along with the exercise ball chair can both stimulate thinking, creativity, and concentration in some people, since the mind and body are interconnected.


7. Glass Walls And Doors

Glass walls and doors in the workplace have been trending for years now, and they are an important component of modern office design. Below are two main benefits of having glass walls present in the workplace:

1. Natural Light.

It’s impossible to understate the power of natural light! Bright spaces are not only energizing, they reduce eye strain and potential headaches too. Utilizing spaces that avail of the most natural light is important, so your design scheme should take into account the brightest spaces and how they can be best used to support the wellbeing of your people.

A study published by American Academy Of Ophthalmology shows a strong link between the development of near-sightedness (also known as myopia) and the number of hours spent outdoors per week [1].

Another study shows that as we age, our eyes lose the ability to absorb blue light, and that this is responsible for health problems [2]. It turns out that blue light, which is part of natural daylight, is required for the production of melatonin, a hormone that is responsible for healthy, restful sleep and the rejuvenation of our bodies during sleep at night. Without it, we lose our biological rhythms based on the 24-hour cycle, and this can lead to various negative health conditions. 

If you are concerned about privacy, there’s endless options for decals. Decals create privacy while still allowing natural light to flow in. 

Glass wall with custom decal at our client, Austin William’s office in Happauge, NY. 

2. Transparency.

Some of the most inventive office designers make extensive use of glass and it’s easy to see why! Glass walls and doors promote more transparency in the workplace and a positive community-feel. Whilst being relatively sound-proof, they still allow people to concentrate and focus on their work. 

It’s also worth noting that glass walls are often cheaper, providing a brighter and bigger floor space and square footage at a fraction of the cost of normal walls. 

Glass walls and offices at our client, Open Systems Technologies, Inc.’s office in New York, NY.

How can office design trends help me attract the best employees?

We all spend a lot of time at work, so it’s worth investing in strategically planned workspaces that are comfortable, collaborative, and enjoyable. When considering office design trends, it’s always important to consider how they’ll impact your employees’ motivation, health, and productivity, but also the cost of implementing those elements. RI Group focuses on what works best for your people: we’re here to help your business make design-led, smart choices for your wellbeing in 2021 and beyond. 

Want to Learn More?

RI Group will take the time to get to know and understand the dynamic of your culture and workspace. That way, we can deliver effective, collaborative solutions and a people-inspired space bespoke to your company and vision. We’re here to help you make the right decisions for your people! If you have any questions, please get in touch.

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[1] http://www.aaojournal.org/article/S0161-6420(12)00363-6/abstract
“The Association between Time Spent Outdoors and Myopia in Children and Adolescents”
(American Academy Of Ophthalmology, October 2012, Volume 119, Issue 10, Pages 2141–2151)

[2] http://bjo.bmj.com/content/92/11/1439.full
“Circadian photoreception: ageing and the eye’s important role in systemic health”
(British Journal of Ophthalmology, Volume 92, Issue 11)

[3] http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/096032718902100102
“Fluorescent lighting, headaches and eyestrain”

[4] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/001401398186928
“The impact of flicker from fluorescent lighting on well-being, performance and physiological arousal”
(Ergonomics, 1998, Volume 41, Issue 4)

[5] http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/14771535950270040301
“Modulation of fluorescent light: Flicker rate and light source effects on visual performance and visual comfort”

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laminated_glass
“Laminated glass”

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