An Insider’s Take on Workspace Trends in 2017

Every passing year brings with it an additional layer of complexity to the workspace design process, with workspaces transforming and adapting according to the ever-growing list of demands from the current workforce, one that includes professionals from every generation post-Baby Boomers. But the real challenge lies in having to balance the many regional expectations and the cultural influences that affect the design process. The result is a unique flavor that’s added to every design and project.

In our endeavor to understand where the Middle East currently stands in this context, we ask leading design firms on their thoughts on the matter, whether the region is on par with the rest of the world, and what’s currently happening at the drawing board.

Managers are moving out of corner offices and into the bullpen open-office

Workspace design in the Middle East has been, for the longest time, a reflection of the hierarchical management structure that large organizations employ; a fact that workspace design veterans in the region will vouch for. However, the region has been taking its baby steps towards adopting the open-plan and concept of collaborative spaces, together with an improved understanding of the current generation of working professionals.

“The focus is slowly shifting from status to collaboration and choice in the workspace,” says Edith Eddy – Senior Interior Designer at Gensler. In an increasingly competitive world, status takes the back-seat, and results are at the forefront. Offices are re-inventing themselves to promote a culture of innovation and foster productive environments, wherein the closed-off boundaries that are erected by status have no place. ‘Choice’ has trumped the need to waste precious real-estate on closed offices. The ability to offer a variety of work settings that support the different work modes is a huge asset in an organization, one that boosts employee productivity and morale.

Workspace Trends
GE Time on Wing, by AAID

Authenticity through interior design - Workspaces are being used to show core-values

“A foosball table has no place in a law firm. Stay true to your company’s core values when designing your space.”

Straight talk from Pallavi Dean – Design Director at Pallavi Dean Interiors. She has no qualms in terms of communicating her focus and design intent to us. And she has a fair point. While her team has a glistening track record of producing unique designs through staying up to date with trends, they’re also realistic when it comes to regional focus. The emphasis should be on company culture and branding as the starting point for the interiors. While playpen offices might be fun and quirky – an ideal of tech companies – but sticking a foosball table in a law firm or dentistry practice is inappropriate on so many levels. Staying true to company values is more important than blindly following trends. It’s a trend that several firms are following now, particularly large multinationals that are seeking to focus on branding and culture while incorporating local design elements.

Another point she mentions is to be practical when deciding where and what to spend on. “Adding collaboration spaces and downtime zones is a good decision, but make sure you provide enough space on your floor plate for actual ‘deep work’ spaces – where introverts and people who stick to their desks need space to perform. The open plan module doesn’t work with every type of job, so it’s important to try and understand the tasks people perform and break down the design of the floor plate based on this!”

Workspace Trends
Edelman Middle East by Pallavi Dean

Efficiency through Workspace Design

Richard O’Halloran, a Senior Design Associate based in the region, tells us that “firms are looking to real estate and the workplace for efficiencies and savings. Fit-out costs continue to be an issue throughout the area. The need for collaboration has increased dramatically in recent years and clients continue to seek innovative workplace strategies.”

Rising real-estate costs, combined with an ambiguous regional economic outlook resulting from oil prices and geopolitical issues – has in turn reduced budgets and forced business owners and designers to squeeze those creative juices. Not wanting to lower standards, design firms tell us that clients are looking to workspaces with solutions that check multiple boxes. Effective workplace strategies are the key focus: writable walls instead of separate brainstorming rooms to indicate collaborative areas, low maintenance living walls that contribute to biophilic design, acoustic pods and booth seating for isolated work, and even reconfigurable workstations are a few examples.

Workspace Trends
HSBC Project Olympic by AAID

Wellness is the new kid on the block

While sustainability has been a high priority item for some time now, wellness is a relatively new concept that design firms and organizations are looking to understand. According to Adil Amin, Associate at Bluehaus Group, “workplace trends in the UAE are pointing to a focus on wellbeing and biophilic design.”

What is wellbeing? It is founded on the understanding that facets of our environment interact with personal, genetic and behavioral factors to shape our overall health and well-being. According to the pioneers of the wellness and wellbeing concept, WELL recognizes that many behaviors are subconsciously dictated by external cues, and thus it carefully considers interactions between humans and the built environment that shape not only our physical health but also our behavior.

“The Middle East has proven itself a hub for innovation, and this is made evident by the region’s early adoption of WELL. With several projects already registered, our partners and WELL APs in the Middle East have been instrumental to the growth of WELL and have clearly dedicated a commitment to advance healthy buildings and communities”, says Rick Fedrizzi – Chairman & CEO of the International Well Building Institute. With major and influential local organizations, the likes of DEWA, Dubai Holdings and Du adopting the Wellbeing standards, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to see others following suit.

Workspace Trends
J Safra Sarasin by Bluehaus

Embracing Change

According to Donata Spivey, an associate at Gensler (Abu Dhabi), “Today, change is the new normal. More and more organisations in the Middle East are rapidly becoming spatially conscious and people-centric businesses; that is driven both by efforts to retain top talent and to keep staff engaged and effective in their daily tasks.”

In having to keep up with the latest technology, the dynamic new modes of working that Millennials and Generation Z bring into the workspace, and the fact that work is now less concentrated on dedicated internal workspaces, present new opportunities for commercial design in the region. Gensler sees tremendous potential to create vibrant sustainable office designs and layouts that cater to specific organizational needs, group dynamics, and most importantly – future growth. “Workplace mobility means not having to manage the trade-off between work efficiency and employee satisfaction.”, says Donata.

Arup Dubai Office by Bluehaus Group
Arup Dubai Office by Bluehaus Group

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