Changes in workplace design as companies seek a more balanced working environment for employees

Bratislava, December 2015

One of the largest owners of office space in Bratislava, real estate investment management firm Heitman, has identified a growing trend for enriched office environments, as the fashion for open plan offices loses popularity.   Heitman owns the premium buildings Aupark Tower, BBC5, BBC4, BBC3 and CEOP, and says it is seeing a change in Slovak office design in response to companies’ needs for a more balanced workplace.   "Tenants require higher quality space than ever before” says Lucia Šimeková, Leasing Manager at Heitman Bratislava.  “Companies feel it is increasingly important for people to feel comfortable in their work environment.  The priority for tenants used to be price, with design a secondary consideration. However, companies are now aware of how important the right environment is for employees’ well-being, and subsequent performance and productivity, and they are investing far more in the design of their office space”.  

Open plan offices took off in in the US in the 1970s and quickly became fashionable around the world.  Tomáš Baťa was the first employer in Slovakia to use the design, introducing it in his factories.  However, open plan offices have recently seen a fall in popularity, with the rise of the “combi-office”.  "Heitman’s modern tenants now prefer a combination of open space and closed offices” says Šimeková. “Closed offices allow managers privacy and meeting areas, whilst connecting with the open space via a transparent glass wall". 

In response to a call for greater privacy, “Office Privacy Pods” have also become popular.  These are a play on the old style phone booths, providing a spot to make phone calls, skype and online connections without interruption.  Noise levels can by managed with specially designed furniture, such as stylish armchairs, and acoustic partitions between office desks. The rise in online work has also influenced office layout, with the internet enabling employees, as well as companies, to enjoy more flexible working, often from home.  Heitman has some tenants who require an extremely informal office layout, no longer needing dedicated workstations as staff hot-desk, or join a large working table.  IT companies have tended to be at the forefront of these types of environments.   

As people spend more time than ever in the office, employees’ wellbeing is increasingly valued and companies are encouraging employees to enjoy a healthy lifestyle.  Designated smoking areas are a thing of the past, as companies invest in relaxation areas and showers for the increasing number of employees who bike to work.    Heitman has been at the forefront of new trends in office interior design.  Interiors have softened, with businesses preferring a warm and welcoming atmosphere and companies asking interior designers to use natural materials, such as wood and lightly coloured carpets. "In the open space, the working environment should be as calm and neutral as possible” says Barbora Lajzová from Capexus, the Bratislavan company responsible for many of Heitman’s interiors.  “Staff can then personalize their individual workspace, with flowers or pictures from home". 

Companies are also asking for modern design features such as smart boards or blackboard walls; modern and stylish communication walls with special paint where employees can draw ideas or write messages with chalk or marker pens.    However, despite the modernization of office areas and the use of more sophisticated interiors, companies still prefer traditional cabling for data connection.  Lajzová believes the key criteria for interiors is practicality; "Nobody invests in new chairs just because they are pretty. This may have been done in the past, but companies now have higher requirements for functionality and efficiency, and the working environment must complement the tasks being undertaken".  

Top trends in office layout in Slovakia:
  • A combination of open space and closed offices
  • Glass walls which allow visual contact, rather than solid walls
  • Dedicated closed areas in noisy open space areas – ie. areas for meetings, phone calls or skype calls
  • Offices without a stable workstation for a specific employee, the ability to hot desk as working from home increases
  • More relaxation zones
  • A warm atmosphere with wood décor furniture, lighter colour schemes and natural carpets
  • The functionality and efficiency of equipment is crucial, visual aspect is not the priority
Source: Heitman, Capexus