The days of sitting at a desk from 9 to 5 are becoming a thing of the past. Today, companies are encouraging collaboration, comfort and autonomy in the workplace by way of design. This month, designers weigh in on how flooring is a design element that’s playing a major role in creating modern workspaces.

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Designing from the Floor Up

”Many corporate offices are still set up based on an older paradigm, with workers spending eight hours in a cubicle or office,” said Joshua Zinder of Joshua Zinder Architecture + Design (JZA+D) in Princeton, N.J. “This was once perceived as maximizing productivity, but that is certainly no longer valid—if it ever was. The next generation of workers are already looking for the corporate environment of tomorrow. The older office mode doesn’t fit what this evolving workforce wants, so many companies are going to have to adapt their offices to stay competitive and optimize productivity.”

Unless a company has designed and built its workspace to its liking from the ground up, an existing building’s structure and floor plan have the potential to limit a company in various ways, including but not limited to, restricting employee collaboration and interaction with customers.

“Location is vital and often a space is limited to the confines of an existing floor plate or building,” said Annie Hintze, an interior designer at Nelson design firm. “Certain locations limit client, visitor or customer exposure, so clients and management are paying attention to the best building locations now more than ever.”

With the help of various design elements, designers are combating common issues posed by preexisting workspaces and helping to strengthen companies’ branding, corporate identity and relevance.

“If a floor plan is dated or if the building in which a company is in is dated, the designer needs to turn it around,” said Pat Algiers, president of Wisconsin-based Chemistry in Place design firm. “They need to connect the dots and make something that is seemingly dated of our time and place. It’s a challenge, but it needs to be done because anything that skews old or dated in any way is often times look at as irrelevant.”

Specifically, flooring in corporate applications is methodically being used to facilitate interaction, workflow, collaboration and engagement.

“Flooring can help create a cohesive element of consistency throughout the space,” Hintze said. “A consistent type of flooring that is methodically placed and designed allows the user to travel from space to space, and gain subliminal clues on how one should be interacting with each other and the space.”

In fact, some would argue that flooring is the starting point of design in corporate spaces. “Flooring is the first place designers start in putting together a palate,” Algiers said. “Flooring sets the mood, look and feel and needs to be what leads the design and overall finish selection.”

What's Trending in Corporate?

In the workplace, ‘setting the mood’ with design can make or break employee satisfaction and overall engagement.

“Employees need to be engaged and feel as part of a team, and design has a great deal to do with that,” said Umberto Aponte, vice president of Lane’s Floor Coverings & Interiors.

Implementing the latest design trends in corporate spaces is key, and according to the designers, textured carpets and rugs, as well as raw concrete and natural wood looks are a few popular trends that are at currently at the forefront of design in terms of flooring.

“Flooring is only one part of design and the industry has made such great strides in all facets of flooring whether it’s carpet, carpet tile, resilient and so on,” added Aponte. “If we can imagine it, we could probably make it and install it. So, there should be no reason a workplace should be dull and dreary and have unhappy employees that just show up.”

Further, designers continue to draw inspiration from hospitality and residential markets to make corporate spaces that much more comfortable for a company’s employees and customers.

“Flooring in corporate settings continues to blur the lines between commercial, hospitality and residential spaces,” Hintze said. “Corporate clients are interested in products infused with residential flavor. Wood, woven, heavily textured carpets and floor coverings, wool rugs and natural materials are no longer things to be feared due to maintenance, but rather appreciated for their natural beauty.”

Mixing textures is also a popular practice that designers are using to make corporate spaces more appealing and visually interesting.

“Allowing for ‘breathing space’ and not overly designed space similarly to the way an art gallery uses blank walls to highlight art, the art of not using flooring and having raw exposed floor and other surfaces remains popular,” added Hintze. “The contrast from rough and raw, to refined and luxe creates visual interest that is desired. We are seeing the use of highly textured and woven carpets. Flooring that evokes a high end and sophisticated quality is prevalent.”

Manufacturers are speaking to designers’ preference to mix textures by creating families of products to assist with design and specification needs. According to Algiers, this is a one-stop-shop experience that makes design, warranty and maintenance easier for the end user.

Finding the Best Fit

But every trend isn’t ideal for every application, and just as companies vary based on factors like industry, size and budget, so do their flooring needs.

“What is needed, for example, in a healthcare facility is vastly different than what is needed or desired in a corporate office space, for example a tech company,” said Hintze. For that reason, various factors come into play when selecting corporate flooring, according to Hintze. “It is about finding a custom solution for each client that speaks to the overall budget, appropriate use, climate, location and ultimately design aesthetic that is trying to be achieved.”

As companies continue to steer toward fewer walls and more open, collaborative workspaces, designers must implement flooring that will support the noise, privacy and wayfinding challenges that can come with such a space.

“Noise attenuation is covered for all types of flooring whether you’re installing carpet, resilient or any other specialty floor,” said Aponte. “This is crucial not only in open space design but in other sectors such as healthcare, government, museums, housing to mention a few. Nevertheless, the ability to offer a quiet work space within the open layout is being brought forward more and more each day. More employees are put in larger more concentrated spaces and therefore they must feel some sort of privacy and noise level is one of the ways to offer that.”

Although the look of raw concrete is in, the hard surface is not ideal for every corporate application, and it’s up to designers to know when to make another suggestion.

“Many of our clients tell us that they want to retain or install hard surfaces,” said Zinder. “As experienced workplace designers, we know that employees typically prefer surfaces that are not as hard on their feet. This is especially true in offices designed to encourage movement and circulation, or that incorporate standing desks. We encourage our clients to specify appropriate flooring: installing carpet with a cushion underlayment over existing polished concrete, for example, or specifying cork flooring for new builds.”

The Evolution of the Workplace

The workplace of today continues to evolve to meet the needs of the next generation of the workforce.

“The workforce is evolving rapidly, and most companies now want to attract and recruit millennials,” said Zinder. “In order to do that, their facilities need to reflect a social, creative atmosphere, offering a sense of community in the workplace. These kinds of workplaces typically incorporate amenity spaces for relaxing, exercising, socializing, as well as breakout spaces for informal meetings and work discussions. Designs that foster community in the corporate environment tend to improve recruitment and retention prospects, while boosting productivity.”

From on-site eateries and fitness centers, to daycares and prayer/meditation rooms, companies are building internal communities to help employees balance work and life. With these revolutionary workplace additions, flooring types and materials that weren’t previously found in corporate spaces are making their debut in the sector.

“For the gym in a renovated property we recently installed rubber flooring with a composition that includes both cork and recycled rubber tires,” said Zinder. “For gym amenities, however, the type of use still matters. Some gyms may be for elliptical equipment only, whereas a gym with free weights should probably have a more substantial flooring installed. We have also designed some amenity spaces that require mixed floor types. These shared amenities often include a food service kiosk, requiring a hard, non-slip surface for employees, but the nearby seating areas for dining can be carpeted, for example, to offer comfort and reduce noise levels—the best of both worlds in one space.”

Whether a company provides a space for child daycare or in some cases, senior daycare, designers must be concerned with the health and safety of everyone involved when selecting flooring, according to Algiers. “Flooring that young children in a daycare setting will be sitting on is much different than floor covering that a working adult will be walking on,” she said. For that reason, Algiers suggests flooring materials that are antimicrobial and easy to clean and maintain for daycare spaces found in the workplace.

According to Aponte, the relationship between the employer and employee is changing in tandem with the evolution of the modern-day workspace. When a company does its best to create a space that allows employees to feel engaged, empowered and comfortable, they will have a more productive employee and will ultimately see growth in their bottom-line.