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Trick or Trend? How to Avoid Awful Office Design Trends

Cubicles, crowded collaborative zones, and… slides? Oh my! But fear not. We’ve scared up a list of the worst office design trends and how to banish them for good.

October 25, 2021
cluttered desk with paper and trash everywhere

As we head into the spookier season of the year, millions of Americans are returning to their workplaces, some of whom have been working at home for well over a year. For many, this return is a happy occasion—a chance to rekindle professional relationships and rebalance work and home life. But for others, the return to the office may feel more “horror” than “Hallmark,” especially if their employers have fallen for any of these more frightening workplace design trends.

Our Picks for Worst Office Design Trends

Poor office design can lead to real problems for employees and, in turn, their employers. Without a flexible, well-planned environment, motivation and productivity can plummet, which ultimately leads to high turnover. If you want to attract and keep the best talent, ditch these design trends as soon as you can!

Nowhere to Hide: The Open-Plan Office Dilemma

We can all agree that a sprawling maze of cubicles is its own kind of terror—those gray blocks inspire little other than parodies and horror movies. But the open-plan office that’s come to replace the dreaded cubicle farm has its own very real problems.

The original idea seemed promising: free employees from their stifling boxes and provide boundless open spaces to encourage collaboration and dialogue. But then we started seeing problems. It turns out when employees don’t have anywhere to go to escape distractions, frictions with other coworkers, or that feeling like they’re always being watched, trouble brews.

That’s why the future is flexible—with modular designs and an eye toward functional separation, spaces should be a mix of private, focused spaces and collaborative meeting areas. DIRTT modular interiors can help employers achieve this balance of open, responsive office environments—without sacrificing style.

Creepy Crawlies: Overcrowded Collaboration Zones

Respecting the personal bubble was important before Covid-19 introduced “social distancing” into our vocabulary. Yet somehow the open-plan office had many companies packing as many people into as little space as possible. Given what we know now about maintaining sanitary workspaces and prioritizing employee health and well-being, pushing for overcrowded workspaces will only cost you in the long run.

As many companies transition to hybrid models of in-office and remote work, consider incorporating the “hoteling” model into your shared spaces, where employees can check out collaborative areas and meeting rooms in advance. You might also consider partitions and pods to help encourage a healthy distance between individuals and groups.

Call in the Clowns: Patronizing Office Gimmicks

Google set off more than just the open-office trend. Suddenly, beanbag chairs, game rooms, and even slides started appearing in offices around the world, too. We’re not saying there shouldn’t be any fun in the office—our only caution is to make sure that these “perks” don't turn into gimmicks.

It’s fine to have a break room where employees can recharge and socialize. But if that space isn’t well separated from areas where others are trying to get work done, distractions and tensions are bound to rise.

Plus, if you can’t offer your employees perks that benefit them in meaningful ways—like competitive salary, benefits, or a healthy work/life balance—these “extras” will feel more condescending than uplifting. Instead of slides to replace the stairs, why not give your employees… well, anything else?

The Twilight Zone: Monotony of Neutral Colors

Is it just us, or does it feel like a wave of whites, grays, and beiges has crashed down on home and office interiors recently? Without a break in the monotony of neutral tones, these spaces quickly become sleep—and headache-inducing. Neutral palettes can be done well, but without accentual elements to make the space pop, employees and visitors end up feeling trapped in a drab wasteland.

Brighten things up with statement pieces, works of art, or just simple splashes of color. Creating beautiful and functional design pieces with 3Form Elements, for example, can provide a breath of fresh air and fresh inspiration for your employees.

Trick or Trend?

The pandemic has us reimagining what the modern office can and should be. And questions of design are no small matter in that consideration. As you begin to welcome employees back into the workspace, try to prioritize flexibility, modular spaces, and functionality. And always reach out for feedback—your employees are your best asset when it comes to the unintended consequences of design trends.

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