The New Landscape of Work

An abstract illustration of multiple colorful geometric configurations.

Story by
Mindy Koschmann & Joseph White

Illustrations by
Leonie Bos

A global study confirms that progressive organizations and their design partners are planning space to a new, wildly different set of benchmarks.


With all the changes to how, where, and why we work today, is it any wonder that organizations are exploring a variety of new design solutions to address the shifts?

To ascertain the substance and scale of these changes, we studied 120 progressive work environments from a variety of industries throughout the world. Although each of these offices was unique, they all shared traits that signaled significant movement in the way organizations and their design partners were planning space.


In the course of our study, we found that the benchmarks that were once used to help guide workplace design have been turned on their heads.

At a macro level, these emerging trends point to a growing demand for more workplaces that offer greater variety. Living Office offers a holistic placemaking framework and product portfolio that make this variety purposeful.

An abstract illustration showing colorful box shapes inside two cubes.

Traditional Floorplan
10 Conference Room Seats

Emerging Trend
7 Meeting Space Seats

From Oversized Conference Rooms to Precision-Fit Meeting Spaces

Large, traditional conference rooms (think long rectangular tables with seats lining the sides) are still prevalent in many offices today, but our research shows that most are underutilized: people only use two-to-four seats in spaces designed to accommodate six-to-twelve.1 This means that the valuable real estate these large rooms occupy is not being put to good use.

We observed that top organizations are reclaiming the space used for large but perpetually underutilized conference rooms and redistributing it throughout the office landscape to make room for smaller, more purposeful settings and connective spaces. Those that have adopted this approach have seen an increase in space utilization, and their people feel better supported for the many ways they work together.2

1 Confidential and proprietary research with Fortune 500 companies conducted by Herman Miller, 2014.
2 Confidential and proprietary Living Office longitudinal research conducted by Herman Miller, 2015.

An abstract illustration suggestive of a large ball of fabric.

Traditional Floorplan
33% Circulation Space

Emerging Trend
47% Connective Space

From Required Circulation to Desired Connection

In the past, circulation space was viewed as a necessary evil: offices had to have it so people could comfortably move from Point A to Point B. But circulation space can be far more than a conduit for people. When purposefully planned—with people’s needs, experiences, and activities in mind—it can become active connective space.

We’ve found that progressive organizations are making more room for connective space by reducing the number of private offices, too-large conference rooms, and underutilized assigned workstations. To give this connective space more value, they are prompting greater connection by carefully considering sightlines and adjacencies between key areas of activity, to facilitate information sharing and relationship building between people and teams.

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Traditional Floorplan
16 People per Breakroom Seat

Emerging Trend
4 People per Plaza Seat

From Distant Breakrooms to Central Plazas

For decades, the breakroom has been a physical manifestation of group culture. As the nature of work shifts to accommodate a broader range of activities that may be considered social, companies are beginning to understand the value of bringing more people together in these kinds of settings.

Our research indicates that leading organizations are creating cultural hubs, or large, centrally located Plaza Settings. These vibrant communal spaces provide plenty of comfortable seating, enticing amenities, and inspiring artifacts that help people feel more engaged, connected with coworkers, and in touch with the broader purpose of the organization.

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Traditional Floorplan
1 Standard Group Space

Emerging Trend
6 Purposeful Group Settings

From Standard Conference Rooms to a Variety of Group Settings

If you observe any office, in any business around the world, you’ll notice people doing a variety of activities throughout the day. A majority of these activities are social and collaborative in nature, like dividing and conquering work on a project, having a conversation, or co-creating an idea for a new product. But many offices only offer one type of group space—conference rooms—to support this broad range of activities.

Our study revealed that forward-looking organizations are creating workplaces with a variety of settings, each specifically designed to support different people and their work. In these offices, people have better support for their work, and the organizations are making optimal use of their space.

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Traditional Floorplan
97% Assigned Workstations

Emerging Trend
41% Unassigned Workpoints

From Assigned Seats to Shared Workpoints

Technology has freed people to work anywhere in the office, and many people are doing just that. In space-utilization studies, we found that 60 percent of the time individual workstations were unoccupied.3 While this freedom is great for workers, it also means that the spaces occupied by their assigned workstations are being underutilized.

The preeminent organizations we studied are shifting from a workstation mentality to a workpoint state of mind. Instead of assigning one desk to each person, these organizations created shared workpoints throughout the office to give people the variety they need to do a range of individual activities. This approach doesn’t mean that assigned workstations aren’t still appropriate for some people and work, but shared workpoints make better use of space and provide better support for the way most people are actually working.

3 Confidential and proprietary research with Fortune 500 companies conducted by Herman Miller, 2014.

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Traditional Floorplan
67 People per Private Space

Emerging Trend
24 People per Haven

From Privacy-as-a-Luxury to Privacy-on-Demand

As work activities have become more interactive and communal, the need for privacy hasn’t gone away. The best ideas happen when groups can function like accordions: individuals pulling apart to work solo on tasks and coming back together to share progress or develop concepts. This means that everyone needs access to a variety of supportive settings, especially ones where individuals can think, sketch, write, or relax independently. Private workstations or offices are no longer the way to provide this privacy. In fact, our research shows that private offices are unoccupied 77 percent of the time.4

In our study, we noted that many organizations are taking their exclusive-yet-vacant private offices and transforming them into smaller, better-equipped Haven Settings, where anyone can work. These organizations are making more efficient use of their space while signaling to employees that their contributions are valued.

All Together Now

Workstations and conference rooms can’t do it all. Explore three settings that better meet the needs of today’s work.

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