The concept of “the office” has never been more vague. After 2+ years of working from home, Americans have done “work work” from just about everywhere but the office building itself. When / if you return to your building this year, you may be bewildered by old ideas of conference rooms, break rooms. Maybe it’s time for some fresh ideas. Here’s some fun stuff to get you started.
Flexible Seating is Magic
Problem: Most offices have “legit chairs” for meeting rooms, and an awkward cluster of cheap folding chairs in the corner. If you get one of these lesser seats, you feel like a lesser person. Or you end up leaning against the wall like an angry teenager.
Solution: Why not have a large team room with flexible seating? Look at this awesome wall with fun little stools tucked into their own nooks. Don’t you just want to grab your favorite color and have a seat? Bonus: I am guessing that this wall of stools also absorbs echoes.
Let’s look again at the options for this room:
- You have dozens of stools. They can easily get pulled into other rooms.
- The benches appear to be simple, affordable Pine lumber with steel hairpin legs.
- The cool blue chairs on the lower left are less than $150 each. Search for “Acapulco outdoor chairs.” A company with even modest budget can make a cool space.
BONUS: Repetition of unexpected objects is a delight. For this office, the designer chose inexpensive ping pong paddles and hung them with precision. It has all of the interest of wallpaper, but it’s so much more playful. And did you notice the conference table is in fact a ping pong table?
Opt out of a Large Conference Room
Problem: When I think of a “miserable office,” everyone thinks of cubicles smashed together. But do you know what’s just as offensive? The conference room with that long ugly table surrounded by tiny ugly beige chairs.
The biggest room is the most rarely used. And when you do use it, it always feels broken.
Solution: Meetup areas modeled after good ole sports bleachers have become the new cool. Everyone has a clear view of the “field,” which is always the meeting leader. Everyone is looking in the same direction, so there is minimal distraction. And you know what? It’s totally fun!
BONUS: There’s something calming about the two “bleacher style” meeting spaces above–the natural wood.
Synthetic materials and artificial light are soul sucking. The most dreadful offices are layers and layers of synthetic, plasticky materials beneath fluorescent tube lighting.
Instead, use natural wood and natural light whenever possible. 🌳 🌞
This trend is not going away. Apple was brave when they opened up retail stores in the early 2000s, and a trademark of their stores was simplicity, natural wood, and clean lines. Twenty years later, they’ve opened 100s of stores with that same formula. And every time you walk through the doors, it feels like magic.
Make Team Rooms More Private
Problem: Glass makes for great windows and sexy offices. But meeting inside those glass boxes is torture. Everyone outside of the room stares into your meeting to see what’s going on. 👀
You have no privacy, no ability to concentrate. Not to mention that normal voices bounce around within those glass walls and it sounds like a firing range. In short, glass rooms look cool but are miserable places to meet.
Solution: Put some film on the glass! In our own Smith House office, we use frosted film to delete unpleasant views on the other side of the window. (It’s available for relatively inexpensive at Home Depot.) The natural light pours in, and the diffusion of light is lovely.
But there are more bold, creative options for inside your office!
Dichroic films and gradient glass frosting are both fascinating options. Below, you can see layered dichroic film in the shape of a triangle. Imagine all the graphics and patterns! (TIP: Don’t cover glass walls with dichroic from floor to ceiling–that’s too much. It will overwhelm the room with trippy colors.) Also, look at the gradient frost–opaque at the bottom, then diffusing to clear glass at the top.
BONUS: What about dealing with the noise in glass rooms? Try carpet tiles, those hipster ones. Then maybe add a feature wall with noise-dampening acoustic panels, which can also look cool. All affordable upgrades to make that glass room into something special.
Make Room for Creative Problem Solving
Problem: Marker boards hidden in silly wooden wall cabinets. I have too much pride as a designer to put a photo on my website, but you can see them everywhere, like over here on Amazon.
Solution: Give people room to sketch, dream, create! Get a huge white marker board. Or upgrade to white or black glass. Here are three unique examples:
BONUS: The marker boards above are pretty ambitious, but they don’t have to be expensive. In our own office, we have black glass marker boards. Literally, it’s re-purposed shower glass, shatter proof, with black paint on the backside. Looks like a million bucks, cost less than $150.
If glass is too complicated of a project, a super easy option is to roll some chalkboard paint on the drywall. Pick up some dustless chalk online and you are good to go. $100 and you are done. 🏆
You know what I love about these big scribble walls? No matter where you go, people are always proud of these walls. It doesn’t matter if the wall is expensive or super cheap, people are always proud of their creative spaces where they solve problems.
Creative problem solving makes people feel alive. They feel proud, and accomplished. And maybe even happy to be back in the office.
Awesome, right? ◾️
99 Percent Invisible did an awesome episode on the evolution and ideology of office spaces: Office Space Time Loop: Open Plans, Cubicle Farms and Back