What’s next for the future of work?


Every summer, the commercial design industry celebrates the latest in workplace solutions at NeoCon. This year, our team joined nearly 50,000 attendees at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago for NeoCon’s 50th-annual show to explore innovative furniture, statement pieces and what’s new in office design.

From nature-inspired spaces to integrated technology, many of the showrooms we toured focused on the physical and cognitive needs of employees. Here’s a closer look at the some of the trends that emerged this year that I think are here to stay.


Creating spaces where employees can focus, collaborate and rejuvenate was a major theme at NeoCon. With an emphasis on wellness and user experience, the residential feel of the workplace continues to surge as ancillary spaces and soft lounge seating break down the barrier between work and home. Humans crave comfort and many showrooms transformed corporate settings into spaces with a more residential feel.

Additionally, with Steelcase being named as Best of Competition and Best Large Showroom this year, Steelcase’s products, spaces and ideas showed us how workplace design is adapting for the future. Steelcase recently announced partnerships and acquisitions with key partner brands that specialize in outdoor, education, ancillary and acoustical enclosures to expand their product line to cover all the bases that make work feel like home. These brands include SnapCap, West Elm Office, Smith Systems and Extremis.

Natural design

Plants in the office aren’t just a trend anymore; they’re a necessity for employee wellness and productivity. The use of biophilia design has increased in recent years as many workspaces bring nature into the office. Biophilia design brings nature-inspired elements indoors through furniture, fabrics, colors, plants and natural light.

NeoCon exhibitors made it clear that nature is a vital part of an engaging workspace. Showrooms featured warm designs with biophilic principles, including living walls and printed fabrics that bring the outside in. Natural patterns also were popular, whether furniture mimicked nature or incorporated natural colors or wood. Textiles also highlighted warm, natural colors and textures in subdued tones of mauve and green.

Integrated technology

As technology becomes more integrated into our lives and our work, it also is being integrated into the office. Steelcase showcased its new Workplace Advisor tool, which tracks and measures how different spaces within an office are used. Facility managers can use this data to better understand how employees use their workspace and shared spaces like conference rooms to determine what areas support employees’ productivity and wellbeing. By tracking how spaces are used, organizations can better understand their ways of working and be more informed when selecting and designing an office space. Steelcase’s Microsoft partnership also was demonstrated through collaborative tools such as the Surface Hub. The common thread of technology being highlighted throughout NeoCon shows how these new technologies are fostering creativity and supporting human connection without getting in the way.


Another trend gaining steam is creating privacy without compromising square footage. As a result of companies moving toward open office layouts, privacy has become a priority. Many companies see the need to complement the open office with quiet workspaces and places for meetings that may demand more discretion. Acoustic enclosures stole the show at NeoCon with privacy pods and telephone booths in multiple showrooms.

The future workplace is more connected, creative and comfortable. As the workplace becomes more focused on human-centered design, employers will need to offer work environments that meet a variety of employee needs. I think these trends from NeoCon 2018 are here to stay and I hope they inspire you to create a space that feels like home for your employees.

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