Research - new office and work environments

Changing work environment leads to new office landscapes

It has become apparent in recent years that our work environment is constantly changing: the trend is shifting from individual to open-plan offices, new technologies need to be integrated in everyday work, and new forms of work are emerging.

Many companies focus particularly on increasing building and area efficiency when redesigning work and office environments. The aim is to design office properties which are economical and energy efficient, increasingly automated, standardized, and certified. The needs and expectations users may have with regard to a modern work environment, however, are seldom taken into account. Attractively designed office landscapes often collide with audible, visible, and tangible environmental influences which result in the loss of privacy and distraction, strain, or discomfort of the people working there.

Workplaces are created without considering the special needs of different age groups or with inadequate conditions for knowledge transfer, creativity, collaboration, communication, and use of technology. There is a lack of clearly defined strategies for optimum workplace optimization. For this reason, it is necessary to use workspaces as a comprehensive value-adding factor to a greater degree and to design areas to enable complete exploitation of employee commitment, intensification of innovation, support of organizational agility, and promotion of employer image. 

Efficient design of a modern & flexible work environment

A modern, future-oriented work environment also enables mobile working – flexibly and in any location around the world. Technological development makes continually increasing virtual work possible. Mobile end devices such as tablets or smartphones give rise to highly flexible and multi-local forms of work. The result is temporarily or continuously vacant space in companies – average office usage amounts to only approx. 1/3 of the work day; individual offices are used only 20% of the day.

Especially facility management can provide considerable potential for significant cost reduction in this regard, for a workplace in enclosed areas requires an area of approx. 15-18 m²; in an open-plan office, this area is reduced to 8-10 m². In a study conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO), it was determined that on average 30% of rental and maintenance costs can permanently be reduced by area optimization. Furthermore, new design possibilities for core activities are created in this manner.

An innovation-promoting workplace for knowledge work

As a result of economic change, there is an increase in interactive, mental, and communication-oriented activities. In order for a company to remain competitive and successful, it is necessary to create innovations which are dependent on knowledge work. Constantly growing demands on employee performance and efficiency necessitate reorganization of workflows, which entails increased collaboration, self-organization, and continuous development.

Knowledge workers are interested in being actively involved in operations and want universally available, personalized access to work equipment. Since social interaction with co-workers is also important for knowledge workers, it is essential that the office environment is designed to promote creativity. Office spaces should be configured to enable communication and provide space for spontaneous networking.

The aim is to design work areas and quiet zones which make it possible to alternate between focused and creative work. Furthermore, physical motion is said to activate the brain additionally. Apart from team spaces in the open-plan office which allow fast exchange of knowledge, it is necessary to create spaces for inspiration and tranquility – focus rooms or think tanks, for example. 

Ecological interior design for a green office

Increasing energy and raw material costs make environmentally friendly and resource-efficient office property design increasingly important. Nowadays companies rely on so-called green office design when constructing or modernizing offices. According to the same-named study conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO, 46% of the surveyed German companies have implemented concrete measures. It is also apparent that there is willingness to invest in green interior fitting. Although only 7% of the study participants indicated that they have a fully equipped interior with environmentally friendly furniture made of recyclable or recycled materials, the interior fitting at 40% of the respondents' workplaces consists of ecological furniture.

To reduce outage costs due to health problems and to promote employee health, more and more companies rely on the integration of natural elements like water and plants in offices. According to the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics IBP, health and wellbeing can noticeably be increased by pleasant air quality and room acoustics. In view of the results of the current health report of Deutsche Angestellte Krankenkasse, which show that respiratory and mental illnesses are counted among the most frequent reasons for disability, it is obvious that it pays off to invest in ecological climate and acoustics systems. 

Bringing generations together in the workplace

Nowadays companies are faced with the major challenge of offering different generations a workplace which meets individual needs and requirements. Older co-workers need workplaces and offices with the special comfort of ergonomics, for example, in the form of extra lights. Young employees currently entering professional life, however, seek a flexible work environment with possibilities for privacy and retreat, creative rooms, and lounges for mental breaks – according to the results of an internal study conducted by Daimler AG.

Not only an attractive salary is important to young employees nowadays – on the contrary, the new generation wants a workplace where they have enough space to do their own thing. Sufficiently flexible working time and workspace organization is just as important as a modern office which promotes brainstorming and social interaction with co-workers. According to a study conducted by the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs on the topic of value change 4.0, employees see a positive trend with regard to their new expectations. They assume that it will be easier to design their own career creatively or meet individual requirements in 2030 than today.

Shorter training periods and higher retirement age are also reasons why different generations will have to work with one another at least 10 years longer than before. Employers need to react appropriately in order to reconcile cross-generational needs.

¹Vgl.: Klaffke, M. (2016), Arbeitsplatz der Zukunft, Gestaltungsansätze und Good-Practice-Beispiele