Briefings Magazine

The Office Odyssey 2024

US firms spent $44 billion redesigning their offices to be workplaces of the future. What do they look like—and how do they function? 

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By: Arianne Cohen

On a typical workday in 2024, a manager might come into work at 8:45 am, grab a seat at the office café, and fire off some emails while sipping espresso and locally made quick oats. At 9 am, he might head to a room whose four walls are covered with floor-to-ceiling padded whiteboard, where he’ll guide his team as it produces new drawings in 20 colors. Next he might go to a huddle space on the adjacent deck to meet with his boss. It’s not even lunchtime, and he’s already worked in three different spaces.

Welcome to the offices of the future, which emphasize activity. Many employees have workspaces at home, so when they come to the office, they’re there to do something. “We’re working quite a bit harder to lure people to a destination, and that destination needs to be multipurpose,” says corporate designer Jennifer Janus, principal at Detroit-based Pophouse. Prepandemic offices typically featured five or so different types of workspaces (think: cubicle, small huddle space, conference room, private office, break room). Now, some have 30—and counting.

To be sure, this type of transformation doesn’t come cheap: US companies poured $44 billion into office renovations last year. And the research that goes into the changes is eye-popping. Rather than simply designing and implementing their plans, for example, many designers will construct temporary 90-day pilot spaces and use them to study employees’ comings and goings (which can vary widely from team to team and company to company—especially in offices housing 40 or 50 different job functions). Janus monitors these provisional spaces with sensor tools, surveys the employees, and adjusts her plans every 30 days. “We tweak a lot,” she says.

With people constantly moving from space to space, seamless technology—enabling employees to tote their laptops without worrying about dongles and cords, for instance—has become de rigueur. But one touch you’ll see less of these days is plants. “There are so many things that are more interesting than plants!” exclaims Janus. Potted greenery, it turns out, is frequently added by non-designers, not pros. (Guilty as charged.)

To get a feel for what people are finding at work these days, we went to the very top—San Francisco-based Gensler, the largest design and architecture firm in the world. Its designers toured three recently completed projects with us in order to explain the strategies fueling the offices of 2024. One lesson: Many of these developments would have been virtually unimaginable just three years ago.

Back to School | Anthem

Walking into the midtown Manhattan headquarters of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, you can’t help but be reminded of Montessori classrooms, in which different learning stations are set up alongside each other, and children naturally move from one to the next during the course of the day. “People don’t sit at a desk for eight hours anymore,” says Michael Chappell, a principal and strategy director at Gensler, who oversaw the project. “They’re moving between spaces based on what their activities are.”

Anthem has leaned into hybrid schedules: Roughly 50 percent of the office footprint consists of collaborative, team-oriented spaces—a much higher ratio than prepandemic.

These multipurpose areas provide varied sensory stimulation that ranges from quiet gray nooks to brightly lit cafeteria tables. The design style, with floor-to-ceiling views of the Manhattan skyline, aims to draw in the building’s surroundings.

Amid the bustle, you find quiet workspaces featuring a range of both soft and firm seating options. An employee can sink into focused work between meetings, or take a break.  Monitors are set up so that they can easily plug in their laptops. The idea, says Chappell, is to support every type of work, facilitating natural movements from activity to activity and space to space. Maria Montessori would be proud.

Finishing Touches | LinkedIn

For a designer who’s adding dozens of workspaces to a campus that already has the basics, the palette for materials and colors expands exponentially. This LinkedIn office in Sunnyvale, California, is awash in unexpected finishes. That textured wall? It’s soft to the touch, almost like suede.

“It’s very intentional that it feel soft and inviting, and evokes quiet, without people hiding behind closed doors,” says its lead designer, Kelly Dubisar. The company understood that its employees, particularly engineering staff, needed a variety of spaces promoting deep focus, including options to support workers who are neurodivergent. This space is purposely dark and cozy, with ample drapery and hanging lights—an art installation by local artist Katie Gong—that convey asymmetry, texture, and a muted palette.

The finishes in the room radiate a sense of safety and quiet that’s particularly appreciated by employees who crave silence. “We saw so much momentum around people gathering, but there’s still a need for people to have privacy and refuge,” says Dubisar.

Location, Location, Location | Gensler

“The South got somethin’ to say.” These are the immortal words of André 3000, a much-beloved Atlanta performer, and are among the hundreds of ways Gensler’s Atlanta headquarters nods to its home city. Many designers believe that today’s typical offices suffer from being sleek, generic, could-be-anywhere spaces.

To infuse offices with a sense of here and now, designers add what they call “layers of locality,” often in the form of installations by local artists, or products—ranging from plants to foods to beverages—sourced from the surrounding region. In this office, arriving employees are greeted by a café that serves locally produced favorites, including coffee, beer, and other beverages (this is Coca-Cola country). The café is centrally located because “we wanted to figuratively bring our clients into our kitchen,” says the project’s lead designer, John Cantrell.

Amid Atlanta’s mild climate, which encourages outdoor gatherings, the building offers spaces where employees can pop outside. The location, just adjacent to indoor huddle rooms, allows employees to leave the building without first having to navigate elevators and ground-floor lobby security, which in practice deters employees from leaving the building. The outdoor space—part of a design that is thick with awareness of the native plants, cultures, and communities of Atlanta—brings employees into direct contact with the environment they live in and design for. 


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