The Future of Workplace… is Human

Some of the largest employers in the world describe it as ‘a tidal wave approaching’. College professors cite being ‘overwhelmed by demand’ due to this issue. This problem threatens to be the single biggest theme in the modern workplace. What could I possibly be talking about?

I’m talking mental health. Specifically anxiety.

We should have seen it coming, but then again it’s always easier to join the dots going backwards (right Steve?). The rise of tech has increased speed and output exponentially. Processes are automated, Siri and Alexa are fast learners and we humans become the bottleneck. The rollout of hardware and software is producing unexpected, but predictable side-effects. Whilst leaps in content creation splurge endless information onto our screens, management have to constantly adapt processes in order to cope. Our inability to keep up only highlights our mortal failings. We get sick and anxious. We feel alone, tired and unable to concentrate. We burn out.


So much planning goes into today’s carefully crafted workplace interiors, that they should by rights be seamless havens of productivity, but design skills alone are no remedy for mental health challenges. Endless mails, memos and requests overwhelm the inboxes of an already stressed workforce and despite the advantages of modern life, 2020 expectations can shove us over a productivity cliff edge.

PwC Basel relax room by Evolution Design

I sent you a mail this morning and haven’t heard back from you…

Familiar? In the rush to meet the next deadline it’s all too easy to forget that on the other side of the screen is a person with other issues to deal with. Other stresses in their lives. Only when someone breaks do we spot the failings of the system and reel in our unrealistic, relentless expectations.

Anxiety; once a rare mythical creature, is a daily topic many of us now have to deal with. Stress is a given. Smart phone and tablet addiction are often named as negative influences on social skill development and physical health. And now mental wellbeing is tipped to be the main focus of all the big global employers over the next five years. Businesses choosing to ignore this theme will find themselves tumbling down the league tables when it comes to employee attraction, retention and ultimately profitability.

Bank of Australia, design ID:SR

What does the future of workplace feel like?

A modern office with latest design features and unlimited coffee does not compensate for the lack of a caring organisational structure. Whether flat or traditional hierarchical pyramid structures, unchecked negative workplace cultures can serve to isolate and destroy.

We continue to ask ourselves what the future of workplace looks like. As interior focused professionals this is forgivable, but it’s the wrong question. “What does the future of workplace feel like?” is paramount. Traditional ‘Management by fear’ styles are shunned by a modern workforce, who respond in kind to empathy and supportive solution-oriented open discussion. We excel in office environments where we feel safe, comfortable, appreciated and trusted.

With the increase of flexible and remote working, the office of the future is a place we should consciously want to spend time at. A place for communication, inspiration, learning, rest, meetings and exchanging ideas. A place for teamwork, collaboration and FUN.


“People first, productivity follows.”

US businesses have job titles to make our eyes roll, like ‘Chief Heart Officers’ and ‘Culture Officer’. Many Americans schedule weekly meetings with their shrinks to talk through their issues Ricky Lake style. Just imagine! Actually talking to a doctor about your actual feelings and actual problems? Back in mother England this was frowned upon until recently. That’s why we invented pubs, football hooliganism and Brexit.

Meanwhile in mainland Europe, the Finnish Prime Minister is considering the effects of implementing a four day week, to boost employee productivity and wellbeing. We know working long hours is detrimental to our health, yet many of us still work in environments where being committed to your role means chalking up the hours in your office. It’s 2020, can we grow up please?

Whether an employer is influenced by the American or European approach to workplace wellbeing, if they choose to create and nurture a caring company culture at the very heart of their organisation, the result is generally net positive: Talent attraction, talent retention, positive team culture, less sick days, genuine commitment, higher engagement and loyalty. Find me a business case against that.


This is exactly why PwC rolled out employee access to the ‘Calm’ app, resulting in 13’500 of their staff taking part in online meditation sessions, whilst Google and Roche employees are tapping into the soothing mindfulness of Headspace. This is something employers of all sizes can offer to improve the mental health and wellbeing of their team. Additionally many larger businesses are also training management to recognise signs of anxiety and stress before they become critical, in order to help employees work through difficult times.

General research has shown that mindfulness meditation can increase employee productivity while reducing stress, illness, depression and absenteeism over time

Architecture and interior design alone won’t serve to cure mental health problems in the workplace, but when employee spaces are designed sensitively for workers who are in turn supported by a caring and positive company culture, the effects speak for themselves. Until we take mental wellbeing and workplace culture seriously, we’ll just have to continue to allow space on our floorplans for the big pink elephant in the room.

Thanks for reading, now take a break and listen to a carefully chosen track by the best band in the world…


Further reading:

HSE statistics on rise in workplace stress (UK 2019)

 Workessence: Postcard from the edge

NY times : worry, stress and anxiety

WSJ – the most anxious generation goes to work

CNBC – Headspace app to double corporate clients