The 9 Worst Office Furnishing Trends (and How To Do It Better)

a non-binary person using a laptop at work

You’ve probably heard about the offices at Google and Facebook. They’re magical places full of good food, nooks for collaboration, and games to play when the coding gets tough. We can’t all work in startup offices. So let’s look and learn from the best office furnishing trends.

But first, a question that needs to be answered once and for all: DO open offices really work?

If you ask Mark Zuckerberg or Frank Gehry, you’ll hear that open offices are the way of the future. They increase opportunities for chance encounters and cross-collaboration. But if you ask the employees who have to sit in them, open offices are the scourge of the earth. They prevent focus and privacy, which is especially bad for programmers. Open offices are infamously terrible for women, too, and other people who tend to be vulnerable to interruption.

The biggest challenge in office furnishing is balancing the needs of different teams.

Think of it this way. In a startup environment, people are constantly discovering new ways to do business. This requires the ability to check in with other teams. Startups typically have a bit of money to burn, too. Startups need to attract and retain top talent, hence the presence of ping pong tables and kombucha on tap. On the other hand, if your job requires more individual focus and less conversational decision-making, then an open office would clearly be detrimental to doing your best work.

Here are some contenders for the worst office furnishing trends ever, and some suggestions for doing it better.  (For bonus points, share this with a co-worker or with your office administrator. Or just send them this article on the health & wellness benefits of good interior design. Who knows, maybe they feel the same way you do?)

1. Distracting Open Offices

two people sit opposite each other with a laptop between them in a semi-private meeting area

Hey, we’re just the messengers on this one. Unless you’re Google or a scrappy early-stage startup, open offices tend to be bad for focus. A study by Gensler in 2013 found that workers spend 54% of their time on activities requiring individual focus. Open offices also spread disease more quickly. Plus, they’re not actually that good for equity and inclusion. People who are already vulnerable to interruption (like women) tend to be interrupted even more when they’re out in the open.

> How To Do It Better: Hybrid spaces. Offer a mix of spaces, including soundproofed private workspaces and open, collaborative picnic-table style spaces.

 

2. No Access to Nutritionan orange sits on top of a laptop keyboard beside a mug

It’s a recipe for disaster to ask people to sit still and focus for eight hours without providing a nearby spot for eating and drinking. If the kitchen is dirty or too far way, people just won’t use it. This leads to dehydrated and hangry employees, stuck with stiff limbs after not getting up all day. And when employees get stressed and sick, they do bad work or miss work altogether.

How To Do It Better: Google solved this very efficiently with their micro-kitchens strategy. They provide clean, minimalist eating and drinking spots scattered throughout the office. Be sure to take nutrition into account when designing office furnishing. A simple placement of a fruit bowl and water cooler can encourage people to get up more frequently, and take a sip of water or an apple when they pass by.

 

3. No Natural Light & No Air Flow

The emotional and physical effects of being stuck inside are exacerbated by the absence of natural light. In fact, one study showed that office workers in a space with windows slept for an additional 46 minutes per night, compared to workers without access to natural light. Light regulates our circadian rhythms, which helps our bodies feel balanced and productive. Fresh air keeps the brain fresh, after all. A lack of windows can make it difficult to imagine the outside world — which is where your customers are.

How To Do It Better: Short of remodeling to add more windows, this is a tricky one. If you don’t have access to natural light in your office, look for ways to enjoy it throughout the day. Take a short walk at lunch, or sit in the atrium. Even 10 minutes of fresh air can make a big difference.

a single window is open visible from the outside of a building

a trans masculine person in a winter coat on the sidewalk

Credit: The Gender Spectrum Collection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. No Office Plants

a person sits smiling next to a windowsill with a plant

Credit: The Gender Spectrum Collection

Bare walls, drab paint — and no greenery to be found! There’s really no excuse for this office furnishing trend.

> How To Do It Better: Look for some really affordable low-maintenance office plants. And if no one in your office has a green thumb, just get some fake plants! The appearance of greenery can be enough to make a difference. Looking at plants produces mental and physical benefits. The presence of plants in the office can help reduce stress, reduce sickness, reduce noise levels, and increase creativity.

5. No Flexible Seating Options

If your back aches and your wrists hurt, you may be suffering from not enough flexible seating options. This isn’t just for fidgeters anymore. Yoga balls, adjustable desks and chairs, sofas and coffee tables: the more options you have for changing posture, the better your health and productivity will be. There is a danger here of making a space feel too comfortable. If your office furnishing includes couches, candles, and rugs, you may feels like you’re home and be struck by a sudden desire to curl up on the couch and nap.

> How To Do It Better: Hop on Craigslist to find some additional seating options. Look for different sizes of tables and chairs, and maybe one sofa.  If there’s not room for more furniture, try switching up your meeting location to get people out of their seats. Try a stand-up meeting.

 

a woman sits with her legs extended on a yellow couch in an industrial office space

a person sitting in an office stretching their hands overhead

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Generic Office Arta gray office with cubicles and fluroescentl lights

The cardinal sin of office furnishing is generic art. Seriously, when was the list time you were inspired by a generic skyline print?

How To Do It Better: Luckily, this is easy to fix. Find a local artist who wants to display their work. Host an office party to create an abstract piece together. The wellness and productivity benefits of looking at original art are immense. Interesting art provides great Instagram fodder, too.

 

7. Distracting Perks & Furniture

Controversial, we know. But as fun as it is to play pool in the middle of the day, games can be a major distraction. Ping pong tables, slides, and other classic startup furnishings are visually distracting, and they create noise which can inhibit focus. It’s a case of design over function. Your foosball table and hammock may entice a new hire, but does it help your team produce the best work?

> How To Do It Better: Locate distracting games away from the main workspaces. Board games are a great substitute for ping ping tables, as they take up less space and don’t make as much noise. Check in with colleagues about the office furnishing. Maybe they’re ready to swap out the foosball table for an Xbox.

Two non-binary friends play video games

Credit: The Gender Spectrum Collection.

8. No Obvious Recycling & Compost Containersa hand holds a plastic bottle over a green recycling bag

It’s 2019, people, get with the program! Out of the way containers, or badly labeled containers, are often culprits of bad waste disposal practices. Some offices do have a compost bin, especially if it’s required by law, but it isn’t easily accessible. Poor waste management practices create additional cost for the company, and they burden the planet.

> How To Do It Better: If your office isn’t willing to take on this task, well, that sucks and you should keep pestering them until they agree. All you need are clearly marked green and blue bins. Find some pretty ones! Recycling bins don’t have to be ugly. Lots of companies have had success turning sustainability into a friendly interoffice competition. Otherwise, you could maybe do it yourself if you’re part of a small office? For those of you who weren’t Earth Warriors in elementary school, look for small ways to reduce your impact. Pack your lunch in tupperware. Bring your scraps home to start a compost pile, and then donate it to your community garden.

a surveillance camera hangs from the ceiling
9. Too Much Smart Technology

Some companies swing too far into high-tech land, relying on smart technology to manage shared office space. This can prevent people from actually providing their input about the space. A recent article in The New York Times pointed out that most thermostat systems are controlled by men. It may not be intentional, but smart office tech can actually be bad for equity. People can’t be productive when they’re uncomfortable.

How To Do It Better: Studies show that when people have some degree of control over their environment, they’re happier and more productive. So have a conversation at the office, and make the lighting and temperature controls available to everyone. Even better, have localized systems so that different areas can be specifically adapted to match the sensory preferences of their occupants.

 

If your workspace is committing one of these design faux-pas, don’t panic! Many of these office furnishing mistakes can be quite easy to fix.

When it comes down to it, office furnishing is a simple equation: how do you balance design with function? And the good news is that no matter which space you’re in, interior designers are equipped to help you out.

So drop the Furnishr team a note if you’re furnishing an office space and need a sidekick 💪

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