Underpinning the evolution of the modern workplace

With the evolution of modern offices arguably having come full circle, Jeremy Broadhead of Heckmondwike considers how flooring has addressed workspace trends.

The impact of the physical workspace on employee productivity, morale and motivation has been the subject of much debate, discussion and research. In fact, research conducted by the Chartered Association of Building Engineers indicates that the workplace environment accounts for 24 per cent of job satisfaction and can affect performance by up to 15 per cent. However, with many industry professionals declaring open plan office design obsolete, it is time to consider how the workspace of the future would look like and what design challenges it would pose for architects.

From open plan to cubicle and back

Open plan offices first appeared in Germany in the 1950s as a way of creating a non-hierarchical working environment where all staff could sit together, thus fostering communication and collaboration.

But open plan in its truest sense didn’t last very long; as early as the 1960s, office furniture manufacturers saw an opportunity to redefine the workspace and used advancements in manufacturing techniques to create modular office systems that consisted of structural panels. When assembled, they made a workstation designed to provide workers with both privacy and the opportunity for interaction.

In the UK, the office cubicle became widely embraced during the 1970s and continued to dominate the office landscape when personal computers became commonplace. During this period, the use of carpet tiles that were functional, hard-wearing, easy to maintain and replace, became widespread.

At the start of the new century, the emerging dominance of digital technologies in the ‘dotcom’ era ushered in a more flexible approach to working and the workspace. Hot desking and the virtual office were born, alongside a generally more flexible approach to the physical workspace.

Today, the prime question for architects isn’t about the viability of a certain type of design, but how to successfully employ aspects of closed and open plan offices in a new kind of workspace. This approach has brought the hybrid office to the fore; it combines the best of both design typologies and can be adapted to suit an organisation’s specific needs.

Sound & colour

Advancements in flooring manufacturing techniques have also highlighted a role for carpet beyond just covering the floor.

Research shows that poor acoustics negatively affects employee productivity, stress levels and morale, leading to a 5-10 per cent decline in performance when undertaking tasks that require concentration. Investing in a floorcovering with acoustic properties at planning stage is therefore a very wise move. Fibre-bonded carpets, for example, can help reduce sound transmission between different floors, thus keeping noise to a minimum.

A further consideration is the use of colour, as this has been found to encourage creativity and productivity and to boost morale in the workplace. Different colours provoke different psychological and physiological responses, so careful choice of carpet is becoming increasingly important for office areas, breakout spaces and boardrooms. Use of particular shades has been shown to maximise productivity and minimise fatigue, as well as stimulating creativity and team working.

Carpet is also used for walkways, area demarcation and zoning larger, open plan spaces, and also to bring a sense of individuality and personalisation to smaller, compartmentalised spaces.

Custom choice

So, if the office of the future is already here, what can emerging technologies in flooring offer in the future? Increasingly, creative carpet tiles and carpet planks, which are growing in popularity, are available in corporate colours. Flooring can also be customised to carry company logos and strap lines, while custom entrance carpets and barrier matting have become the norm.

When it comes to choosing floorcoverings for today’s hybrid offices, there are some essential factors to take into account, which not only impact on the aesthetics of the workplace, but also the productivity, health and happiness of those within it.

Jeremy Broadhead is a commercial manager at Heckmondwike