Unconventional office design is the new norm– the trend is seeing an upswing across the world, responding to movements related to employee wellbeing, flexible working, a focus on branding and the entrance of the millennial generation into the work place.
Global trends: Design reflects branding and lifestyle
Emanating from advertising agency culture and embraced by Silicon Valley, office design is increasingly influenced by branding. It’s been part and parcel of the tech experience, with Facebook, Google, Airbnb and Uber all adopting unusual offices that have games rooms, slides, themed meeting areas, bicycles, baristas and everything else in between. There are many reasons why these companies adopt creative office design: to encourage out of the box thinking, imaginative solutions, and adopting an alternative mindset at work. As work becomes more nimble, collaborative and not necessarily facilitated by physical proximity, workplaces are adapting to provide features that boost work place satisfaction.
Google headquarters, located in California, is world-renown for creative office design.
The flipside of this is the ability to keep workers on site for longer, by blending the concepts of work and leisure. Creative office designs include open plan work areas, different types of spaces from shared to quiet rooms, a variety of themed meeting areas and amenities such as laundry on-site, sleeping areas, gyms and showers.
This model follows a ‘work hard play hard’ mentality, and at the same time provides an environment for employees to be comfortable in. The focus on wellness and satisfaction has seen a new raft of industries being created, including building standards for health and wellbeing, ergonomic furniture, and well-being practitioners facilitating on-site yoga and massage sessions.
In Hong Kong, some signs of a beginning
As always, the creative and tech industries are leading the new wave of interesting office design in Hong Kong. Korean creative agency Cheil has built an office reportedly including a studio-like workspace, lounge with a fireplace, casual in-wall cafe seating, custom-made diner booths, gallery style spotlights highlighting artwork, felt curtains, and wall surfaces made of black board glass.
Microsoft, meanwhile, has focused their office on collaboration and wellbeing. Other notable examples include branding agency Eight Partnership’s high ceilings and open plan office, tech company Tink Labs’ open office with a pool table and ship container meeting room, and the funky design of Swire’s Blueprint shared collaborative space.
While open plan design eliminates costs associated with creating individual desks, the work benefits can be various. A big idea may arise during a game of pool, or while relaxing on a lounger. For the Millennial generation especially, innovation and fun in the office design reflects company culture, and ultimately, the output of an organisation.
Traditional business uncertain as challenges remain
Large companies in Hong Kong have tried elements of these practices to some extent. Many banks and financial services firms have adopted flexible working, hot desking and open plan spaces, but more as a way to cut costs.
Hong Kong has fallen behind international trends of building fun and interesting offices for a few reasons. With typically short lease periods of a few years, there is little incentive to rent and redesign an office in the city just to leave it in a short period of time. Also, given the city’s traditional work hard culture, there has not been a drive to promote work life balance. For many workers, overtime, even on holidays and weekends, is the norm.
This is no surprise given branding and lifestyle are typically important to those working in the tech and creative industries. But to expect this from SMEs with little budget or multi-nationals faced with mounting costs and even higher rents is a very big ask. Still, with the rise of collaboration and workplace satisfaction culture, assisted by mobile and workplace technologies, these trends look like they are here to stay.
A recent University of Warwick study found that happiness made people around 12% more productive. Professor Andrew Oswald, part of a team leading the study, said: “Companies like Google have invested more in employee support and employee satisfaction has risen as a result. For Google, it rose by 37% so they know what they are talking about. Under scientifically controlled conditions, making workers happier really pays off.”