The Changing Workplace – How Academic Design Trends are Reshaping Place by Kay Sargent, Lisa Killaby and Greg Tew

Monday, September 28th, 2015

There has been a lot of focus on the changing workplace and the changing workforce. But change starts before we enter the workplace.

Academic facilities are also changing today, as they need to meet the attributes of today’s students, just as workplaces are evolving to reflect a new breed of workers. And as these spaces evolve, there is an increasing convergence and blending of academic spaces and work environments.

As Marc Prensky, author of Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants noted, “Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our education system was designed to teach.” 

So, let’s start with what is impacting space and the changing workplace today.

  • Technology has radically changed the way we communicate, work, play and learn. In fact today, 73% of students say they cannot study without technology. The classrooms of today, like corporate offices, are techno-enabled to augment the learning experience. And with any new advances, we are seeking ways to strike a balance between technology and human interaction.
  • MOOC – Massive Open Online Courses started in 2009 when a Stanford professor opened online classes to students anyway. Many feared that these online classes would reduce the need for physical classrooms, but instead they attracted students to the program without diminishing the need for place. In fact, many online only universities are now creating physical locations to give their students a place to meet, gather and connect. Those initiatives reinforcing the power of place and human connection.
  • A Demographics shift to the Millennials and the pending arrival of the Digital Generation means we need to shift the way we design space. Education facilities and corporate offices are designed today to accommodate a generation that is always connected; does everything online; is very team-centric; has a global vision; broadcasts everything; is multi-modal; and are dynamic and visual learners. Those are the attributes that are defining not only a new generation but the workspace of tomorrow. And as fewer men are going to college today and more women are enrolling and graduating than men, a gender shift is transpiring as well will impact the way we design space.

Another statistic that is impacting the way space will be designed was revealed in the 2012 National Center for Education Statistics Report. The report reveals that for the first time in three decades there will be a diminishing population for college age students in the United States. This means there will be a battle for top talent, both at the university level and in the workplace. In the future there will be a need to go beyond designing places to just attract and retain; space will need to be designed to empower and engage.

The Evolution of Learning is in full swing. As the learner evolves so must the learning environment. The classroom of today is not like the ones you’ve probably experienced. That was then…this is now.

 [Then]                                                                                 [Now]

Teacher focus                                                                    Student focus

Mass produced education                                           Mass customization

Lecture based                                                                   Project based

Learning in class                                                                24/7 in-out

Teacher/sage on the stage                                          Guide on the side/Facilitator

Content focused                                                              Learn to learn

Technology poor                                                              Tech rich

Controlled thinking                                                         Critical thinking

Lectured to                                                                         Communicated with

Memorization                                                                   Critical thinking and application

Theoretical                                                                         Tactical

And as the new academic environment emerges, new trends become evident. Fast Company recently published an article entitled “5 Bold Predictions for the Future of Higher Education” by Brad Lukanic. The article notes the trends as:

  1. Academic curricula will become more multi-disciplinary, and their buildings will need to reflect that.
  2. Education leaders will need to balance MOOCs and traditional learning.
  3. With fewer students, Higher Ed will become the hunters, not the hunted. Recruitment and retention will be important, along with well-being.
  4. Schools need to invest in technology, infrastructure, and security.
  5. Higher Ed needs to look for new funding models as a student loan crisis looms.

Given the changes and emerging trends, what will the academic spaces of the future look like? Academic facilities today are being designed to meet the needs of tomorrow with:

  • Flexible buildings that can adapt to different learning styles and needs;
  • Classrooms that are agile and can be quickly changed;
  • More space allotted to communal areas, social spaces, and interaction areas;
  • Team-centric;
  • Comfortable and easy to use;
  • More interactive spaces and fewer stages;
  • Security as a prime concern;
  • Technology enhanced spaces but not tech-reliant;
  • Globally connected; and
  • Spaces designed to emulate real world settings.

 Student expectations for workplaces have evolved, and with declining numbers of new graduates and increasing numbers of baby boomer retirees, employment markets will likely shift in favour of workers forcing employers to compete for the best employees with a variety of perks including well-designed workplaces. To judge student expectations today, we posed a list of questions to students at Virginia Tech that have taken a general education course titled, Design Appreciation. The course is open to all students in the university and 1500 students have taken the course since 2010. The response to the questions were a reminder that while in college students are still making do with workspaces in the library, dining halls, dorm rooms, and personal apartments. Each in their own way, these spaces fall short of ideal, so their initial expectations for the workplace were low. Lacking experience with spaces specifically designed for work, most recent graduates that responded to our survey were not particularly concerned with the design of their workspaces, and a couple of photos provided of their workspaces were appalling. On the other hand, one student in particular, connected the dots that as designers we try to establish. She wrote, “Our company places a HUGE emphasis on our values (creativity, leadership, integrity, and commitment) and the culture is just amazing. I don’t think it would be anywhere as great if we were in a different facility.” As more companies use their facilities as a physical expression of their corporate culture and values we expect more young graduates will add good design to their list of required expectations in the workplace.

 The changing classroom and changing workplace in corporate environments are creating a Convergence of Spaces. Elements of the office are appearing in academic facilities and offices are looking more and more social, interactive, and like learning environments. It’s getting harder and harder to tell them apart. But this convergence is making the transition from one to another easier, not only for emerging professionals, but for professional going back to school to retrain themselves.

Corporate spaces not only weave in elements from academic environments., but they are emerging as more adaptable spaces designed to reflect some key factors that are viewed to be essence for corporate success today. Those factors include:

  1. Entrepreneurial spirit
  2. Social media madness
  3. Continuous education through one’s life
  4. Technology rules as an enabler
  5. Agile and flexible spaces
  6. Collaborative places balanced with focus spaces
  7. Social responsibility
  8. Gamification: rewards and recognition
  9. Well-being
  10. A reflection of the corporate culture

Successful places today are blending a mix of working/learning environment. Spaces are no longer designed in a silo fashion but are taking a more inter-disciplined approach and style that reflect the complexity of the world that we live and the work-life-learning convergence we are all seeking.

This article is based on the FMCC webinar “How Academic Design Trends Are Reshaping The Workplace


kay-sargent  Kay Sargent

Kay Sargent joined Lend Lease in 2014 bringing over 30 years of experience. Previously Kay served as VP of A&D and Workplace Strategies for Teknion and was a Principal for IA Interior Architects where she spearheaded workplace strategies. Kay has a BFA in interiors from VCU and studied environmental design at Parsons. She has worked with Fortune 500 companies on their global real estate and workplace strategies. Kay serves on the Advisory Boards of WorkDesign Magazine, PaletteApp and IFI. She has also served on the International Boards of IIDA, ASID, NCQLP and NCIDQ and is active in CoreNET and IFMA. 

 Lisa Killaby

Lisa Killaby is a nationally recognized expert in workplace design with over 30 years of experience.  As Senior Principal with ADD Inc, now with Stantec, Lisa leverages her real estate planning and workplace strategies expertise to develop impactful, award winning workspaces for global leaders in technology and financial services such as IBM, Adobe, and Fidelity.  

Lisa’s workplace knowledge has made her a sought after expert for academic clients including MIT, Northeastern and University of Miami.  Her focus on ReWork Strategies has developed a new service for ADD Inc, helping their clients rethink real estate and plan for the future.

Lisa is on the Board for CoreNet New England and a sought-after speaker on a range of topics for NeoCon, ULI, CoreNet Miami and for institutions such as Harvard University Graduate School of Design and MIT Lincoln Lab.  She contributed to the CoreNet Workplace 2020 report.

Lisa is a LEED AP ID+C and NCIDQ Certified and studied Interior and Product Design at Cornell University and has served on the board for both IBD (now IIDA) and NEWIRE (the CREW chapter in New England).

 Greg Tew

Greg Tew is an Associate Professor in the School of Architecture + Design. He is a multiple AIA Honor Award winning architect and has a broad base of experience as a designer with work that includes town and city planning at the macro scale through to the scale of objects with international experience as a product designer including work for Artemide, a premier manufacturer of contemporary lighting based in Milan, Italy. Greg has presented his research extensively to diverse academic groups representing architecture, interior design, health care and economics and his work is published in many of the most prestigious international design and business publications.

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