The Future of Workplace

The revolution is about design. This is a time of profound change in how design supports work in all its varied forms. Old ways are being set aside as organizations look at work and its settings holistically. There’s a demand for new approaches and real estate products. It’s as much grassroots as top-down. Behind it are two big, futureshaping trends.


Cities and buildings are changing in tandem with work and work styles.

Significant changes, including a younger workforce and the disruptive, innovationdriven nature of business, mean that real estate products are being rethought both in form and provision. The revolution that started changing the workplace in the early 1990s has spread now to the buildings and arguably to the districts—mostly urban, but not entirely—where work locates.


Demographic, economic, and cultural shifts are taking hold worldwide.

We’re leaving the vestiges of the postwar era behind. The workforce is in global transition and the old economic order is breaking down. New players are on the scene and established ones are departing or taking on new roles. Working (and designing) across geographic and demographic markets is crucial. It means staying connected and agile while respecting the nuances of different cultures and cohorts.

QVC Japan Headquarters, Chiba, Japan



Effectiveness requires choice

The workplace suffers from a case of “opposites detract.” People need to collaborate and are hungry for places suited to conversations among a few people. They need to focus, but they also need to interact—conference calls, virtual meetings, and people stopping by. Look for activity-based choices, usershaped space, and furniture to calm distraction—look for balance.


Toward a next-gen workplace

As a new cohort—bigger than the Boomers—gets to work, the office workspace will be reshaped. The line between work and city will blur as towers and campuses mix in “community.” Coworking space, with its informal and collaborative ethos, will scale up. “Smart” environments will take hold. Attracting this young and creative generation will be a shared goal of cities and employers.

The Tower at PNC Plaza, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Commercial Office
Building Developers


New drivers of change

Office buildings are changing. This reflects a shift from hierarchy to community, to support innovation. A younger workforce wants to see itself and its locally based culture in the office. Mixing work with other uses is a growing practice; connecting informally with others in and around the building is a plus. Both make urban mixed-use locations more highly valued.


A building type in flux

Emerging tenant demands challenge conventional approaches to vertical transportation, egress, floor-to-floor heights, and occupancy metrics. Higher densities, greater utilization, and 24/7 use mean more robust infrastructure for new buildings. Low-voltage current and the cloud simplify it for some users, making older buildings easier to convert to meet the needs of office tenants.

McCann, New York, New York



Data-informed design

Strategic decisions—locating a headquarters, resolving workplace dilemmas, or designing the user experience—will draw on data analytics for timely, broad-based findings that inform the solutions. By combining sets of previously siloed data, analytics can deliver surprising insights, giving clients new perspectives on the major issues in front of them.


Transformative space

Leading organizations know that well-designed workspace improves performance, speeds innovation, and builds healthy cultures. They see it as crucial to achieving their goals. New research bears them out. The push for transformational space will make it standard practice to integrate strategy, collaborative design, engaged change management, and post-occupancy calibration.

NVIDIA Headquarters, Santa Clara, California



Shifting views on headquarters

Silicon Valley continues to favor suburban campuses, even though the tech workforce lives urban. Yet other companies are following the broader trend of locating close in, often in areas overlooked by financial companies and professional services firms. Energy companies also favor the suburbs, but a few of them are opting for several locations that face their global markets.


Two main functions: catalyst & accelerant

Increasingly, headquarters will focus on two primary purposes: supporting relationship building within global firms and propelling interdisciplinary teams to deliver innovative new products. The organizations behind them constantly sift the marketplace for new models that work better. Coworking space is an example, not only drawing corporate interest but likely to move into the mainstream.

CBRE, Los Angeles, California

Services Firms


The push for real estate efficiency

The quest for real estate efficiency is leading law, accounting, and consulting firms to leverage mobility more fully and opt for shared open and team-based workspace over enclosed offices. As new ways of working reduce the size of libraries, records, and administrative staff, firms are consolidating support functions and adding flexibility to grow within smaller footprints.


The new model for legal practice

Law firms traditionally handle unique and complex matters, yet about 80 percent of their work is transactional. New business models are shifting the focus from solving legal problems to solving business problems. As law firms’ corporate clients take on more routine legal work, wholly owned legal process organizations (LPOs) are competing with law firms for some of it.

BankUnited, New York

Services Firms


A need for greater workplace choices

Recognizing the difficulty of devising “global” standards, firms are opting for a kit of parts that is adaptable to many different locations. Firms are also testing touch-down tech hubs, easily reconfigured offices, openbench workstation neighborhoods, and open network team areas. While technology may be visible or invisible in these settings, it is integral to how well they work.


Influencers of sector change

There are two big influencers in the sector. One is the changed regulatory regime following the 2009 financial crisis, which has led big banks to spin off proprietary trading and private equity. The other is the unsettled question of retail banking: will technology make branch banks disappear or will they be reinvented as a brand- and relationship-building space?

Comcast SportsNet, Houston, Texas



Embracing new media is a necessity

Mastering media in all its forms is almost mandatory for effective organizations. Social media in particular has matured to the point that personal digital connectivity is a given. This interactivity will revolutionize every sector that it touches. Despite the potential for disruption, the growing hunger for digital content is likely to spur creative enterprise, not stifle it.


The media industry’s growing impact

Media now includes all forms of interpersonal communications, entertainment, and interactive technologies. It comprises both conveying information and sharing it. The emerging media industry reflects how content and delivery are fused together. It is changing the competitive landscape and challenging other industries’ business models and use of physical space.

Leland HiFi Chair



The maker revolution goes mainstream

With small-scale 3D printers becoming more affordable, expect to see a steady evolution of what people can make with them. Look for 3D printers to emerge as creative tools, adding an artisanal element to fabrication. As it proliferates, this kind of printing will reshape mainstream manufacturing, making larger components and short runs of backlist and bespoke products.


Rising costs in cities will spark innovation

Soaring urban real estate costs will generate new products aimed at maximizing the use of minimal space. A big part of this trend is a greater willingness to share what was formerly assigned or owned. From free-address work settings to car- and bike-sharing, new products will be developed to serve greater numbers of people “just in time” in less space and at lower cost.

Energy services company, Houston

Science &


Supporting global/local R&D

Multidisciplinary collaboration and knowledge sharing with outside (often offshore) companies and institutions around early-stage research is growing. Later-stage development takes place in-house, but the collaboration continues. R&D space has to serve the ageand culture-diverse workforce, with shared settings and amenities that support it through every step in product development.


Rethinking the lab environment

The use of advanced technology is transforming how lab research is done. Labs are becoming more compact, flexible, modular, and better integrated with the larger workspace. This gives researchers a wider choice of work settings. Because speed to market is crucial, labs are designed for rapid prototyping, enabling the product/ project teams to innovate without losing momentum.