2024 Office Design Trends: Creating Spaces That Inspire

The COVID-19 pandemic changed work for many of us. The hybrid and remote-working models that had been necessities at the...

The COVID-19 pandemic changed work for many of us. The hybrid and remote-working models that had been necessities at the height of national lockdowns became, for some, a preferred way to work afterwards. Many companies also began focusing on the physical and mental health of employees, too. And while we may now live in a post-pandemic world, the global health crisis certainly helped accelerate several office design trends that we’re likely to see more of in 2024/5 

These trends may also help employees transition back to an office-first environment. Many large companies are enforcing a return to the office policy regardless of employee preference. There has been some resistance to this. Office design may go some way to making this transition smoother, especially given the number of studies suggesting that it can have a significant impact on employee happiness and productivity. 


The Adaptive Office Layout  

Business Insider writes, ‘Half the world’s biggest companies are planning to downsize office space as hybrid working continues’. It’s not just large companies, either.

Real Estate Consultants Lambert Smith Hampton writes ‘27% of employers with fewer than 50 employees said they were planning to downsize their office space this year.’ 

Downsizing is great, often with the promise of lower rents or better locations, but it can be challenging to execute, especially for more established companies. The modern office must be adaptable, therefore. If there’s less space, then that space must be better utilised. To do this effectively, you may have to re-think your setup.For example, having banks of individual desks might not be necessary, especially if you're now managing hybrid teams. Do people need a specific desk if they’re only in twice a week? It may be better to have a hot-desking or desk booking system and free up floor space.  

Modular furniture is another option that lets you adapt the layout more effectively, depending on specific needs at a set time. This type of furniture is designed to be moved around easily. It may also be multi-functional: individual desks that can be pushed together for a functional boardroom table or collaborative space.  

Modular rooms can help, too. These temporary structures are ‘built’ onto the existing office floor. Dezeen defines them as ‘cheaper and easier than transforming the architecture of an office, and users can create varied structures with the same modules.’ In an open-plan office, these enclosed spaces can become private meeting rooms (they can be soundproof and even use transition glass for privacy), sitting areas for relaxation, rooms for in-house or remote meetings, or focus areas for when employees need to do deep work. The Energym ECO:POD is another example of a modular space but one used for exercise and relaxation. Employees can exercise on electricity-generating fitness bikes which capture and convert clean energy inside a portable battery unit or which can power a hot-desking area.  



The advantages and disadvantages of open-plan layouts are clear for those of us who've worked in open-plan offices. Open-plan offices are great for collaboration between teams and departments. They can help employees feel aligned and engaged with the company’s mission and ethos and foster a feeling of community. However, they’re also very distracting. With so much noise and movement, it can be difficult for individuals to focus on work. Adaptive layouts can help free up space, but they can also help address the difficulties many of us face when working in a more traditional office setup.  


Activity-Based Working 

Activity-based working is one emerging trend in office design. Rather than working from an assigned desk, employees are encouraged to use different areas of the office depending on the task that they’re working on. These areas are called zones. Space Matrix writes that ‘giving employees control over their workspace through the provision of various zones can enhance employee happiness and wellbeing.’  

For example, an inviting breakout area in the kitchen could be ideal for collaborative projects, brainstorming sessions or relaxed meetings and catch-ups. Furniture choices can help employees utilise the space more effectively, such as selecting high tables and chairs for 1-to-1s or informal chats with long tables for group projects. Several comfortable chairs for people to relax during break times, good coffee-making facilities and food prep options should also be explored.   

There could also be a meeting zone. This could be inside a modular room, as we mentioned earlier, or in an assigned room that can be quickly transformed to reflect requirements at that specific time. Meeting pods or zones for remote clients and employees to dial into should have AV and software to facilitate flawless connectivity and interaction. Private booths or individual desks in a quiet area are for focused work demanding concentration. Modular pods can be sound-proofed, or you could provide noise-cancelling headphones.  

We’ve written about activity-based working before, and it’s an interesting idea that takes a different approach: one where the design serves the requirements of the employees and business rather than just as a collection of desks and tables. Still, you may not be able to use activity-based working 100% throughout the office, but you may like to consider creating mini-zones, a quiet space for deep-focus work, for example, especially in open-plan environments.  


Sustainability and Eco-Design  

Sustainability is becoming more important to more people. Over time, it’s become integrated into lifestyles: people want to live, shop and work more sustainably. It’s about doing more than just recycling single-use plastic bottles in the office kitchen or encouraging employees to turn off lights in unoccupied rooms. Employers must do more. Fortunately, sustainability is about more than just taking a moral responsibility. Being more resource-efficient often translates into financial efficiency ,too. For example, if an energy audit flags up that a HVAC or lighting system is inefficient, then upgrading doesn’t just mean reducing your business’s carbon footprint but will likely save that company more money in the future.  

The World Economic Forum writes that the big challenge for sustainability is the existing building stock. New builds are more energy efficient, so the problem is turning older buildings into more sustainable spaces. Oktra writes that sustainable offices ‘not only showcase your organisation’s commitment to the environment, but it can also lead to cost savings, improved employee morale, and enhanced brand reputation.’ Research has shown that younger people and Millennials are more likely to pick an employer that’s sustainable than one that isn’t. And people have reported feeling happier in their work when working for companies that care about environmental impact. 

There are many ways to incorporate sustainable design into your office. LED lighting is obvious. Smart systems to manage airflow and temperature can help with energy efficiency too. Metec Consulting Engineers has a LinkedIn article listing some of the ways that companies can create healthier and more eco-friendly workplaces. Among their suggestions are large windows that provide lots of natural lighting and occupancy light sensors that are triggered by movement for quieter areas of the office. It writes ‘Open floor plans and glass partitions can help increase natural light...reflective surfaces such as mirrors, light coloured walls and glossy flooring will help bounce natural light around the office and make it feel brighter’. 

Several studies have also indicated the extent to which access to natural daylight in the office can impact employee health. Workers with outside views and access to daylight get an additional 46 minutes of sleep each night. A University of Oregon study found that employees also took 6.5% less sick time than those who didn’t get enough access to daylight during the day. They also saw an 84% reduction in eyestrain and headaches. Using sustainable materials can help you avoid those building materials that contain VOCs. Sustainable office design can also help kick-start conversations with employees around sustainability, encouraging and empowering them to live a more sustainable lifestyle outside the office too. Climate change can feel so massive to individuals that teamwork and group action, even on relatively small in-office projects, can make a big difference to how people view their efforts. The ECO:POD is a great conversation starter about where energy can come from. Employees can generate their own electricity and then use it to power a hot-desking area or portable battery system. 

Sustainability can also focus on repairing rather than replacing. The EcoSend blog writes ‘so your desk has a scratch on it, or your office chair is getting a bit squeaky. Does the solution really involve buying new, or could repairs be made to solve the issue?’ 


More Tech-Heavy 

This covers a vast range of options, depending on your business type and budget. With many more remote and hybrid workers (on top of long-distance clients and suppliers), it will be a big year for audio-visual technology. The ability to dial into a meeting and actively participate seamlessly will become more critical. PwC argues that 59% of UK businesses are planning to invest in new technology within the next 18-24 months. The idea of a digital workplace as somewhere people can work and collaborate even when they’re in different locations will drive how office design works, whether by the physical design of an office or by the technology that helps offices seamlessly interact with their customers, clients and employees.  

Smart technology isn’t just about AV technology. It also goes hand-in-hand with greater energy-efficiency. According to a JLL survey, “45% of occupiers plan to adopt energy and emissions management technology over the next 12 months". This can be in temperature management, ensuring that rooms are adequately heated or cooled without wasting energy.


Wellness-Centred Office 

We’ve already mentioned how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how businesses and employees see wellness and health in the workplace. People spend a significant portion of their lives at work, and the impact this can have on someone’s physical and mental health shouldn’t be ignored. Bosses may sometimes feel as if this isn’t the company’s responsibility, but there have been several large studies show when a company invests in wellness, it reaps the benefit, too. 

We’ve written about the positive impact that employee wellbeing initiatives can have on a company before, but here are a few details from a British Heart Foundation study.  

It found that in 82% of employee wellbeing programs, staff turnover was reduced by 33%. The number of accidents and injuries was also reduced. It argues that while achieving an ROI can take around 2 years, UK businesses investing in workplace health initiatives can expect to see as much as £4.17 back for every £1 spent. Another study found boosting happiness increased the success of salespeople by 37%. What’s more, Fellowes published a report that suggested 93% of workers in the technology industry ‘prefer to work for companies that provide a healthy work environment designed to promote mental and physical wellbeing.’ 
We’ve covered employee wellness in general terms, but office design can also help with wellness. We’ve already touched on it for sustainability: natural light reducing eyestrain, for example.  

Companies might provide social events or lunches during the working day, using an inviting kitchen area that makes taking breaks together relaxing and fun. Companies can also ensure that desks and tables are set up in a way that’s comfortable, preventing poor posture and eye strain.  

It can be include an area for exercise. We’ve written before about the benefits of allowing employees to exercise during working hours before. In short, it can help manage stress and anxiety, beat the post-afternoon slump, and boost creative thinking.  

Designers can also think about the colour of an office – avoiding bold and bright colours unless there’s a specific area where stimulation is required and instead using colours that are calming.  

We’ve written about how open-plan offices can be distracting, but a lack of privacy can also be stressful to employees. An office design that considers wellness might include private spaces designed not only for focused work sessions but also for people feeling anxious or overwhelmed and needing a quiet place to sit for a few minutes. If your staff are hiding in toilet stalls, then it’s time to find a better solution on the office floor.  

Posturite suggests that more employers are encouraging movement within the office. This is using walking meetings, allowing people to work at standing desks, adjustable workstations, and using outdoor spaces in the nice weather.   

Overall, the trends we expect to see in 2024/5 will largely continue those that have been emerging over the last few years. Much of it will be centred around promoting productivity, sustainability, technology and wellness, and good office design will likely see many of these elements overlap.  

Find out more about the ECO:POD for offices and see how you can re:energise your working space for sustainability and productivity. 


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