Designing for success: tips to modernize your office

The modern trend of moving into older spaces specifically for the classic architecture has a lot of aesthetic appeal, but it might leave you with a workplace that’s less than ergonomic. Exposed brick on exterior walls and air ducts crisscrossing the ceiling look great, but how much productivity are you sacrificing to drafts and poor noise dampening?

The key is discovering how to make an office that perfect blend of classic appeal and modern feel. So, while we don’t recommend covering up all that original brick or drywalling over exposed beams, there are a few simple tricks to balancing traditional and contemporary.

Here’s how to bridge the gap between your older workplace and the trending modern office designs that workers need for a positive employee experience.

Update the fixtures

Lighting is always a prime candidate for updates in an office makeover. Ditch the fluorescent bulbs for softer LEDs and swap worn-out fixtures for modern, minimalist accents that complement the space.

Upgrading the lights reduces eyestrain by brightening the office. But there’s another reason to change the lights: it makes your energy bills look better, too. Lighting consumes 17% of energy in modern offices, so switching to higher-efficiency bulbs can save you a lot of money.

Add new tech

The fastest way to make an office look modern is to roll out technology upgrades. Televisions and mounted video screens can make a big impression. A laptop or tablet charging dock can influence the feel of a space. For a broader impression, digital wayfinding is both practical and appealing. You can even add exposed network cabling overhead for an effect that’s so modern it starts to feel futuristic.

Bring in greenery

Biophilic design is a major element in modern offices. It’s also a great way to bridge an older workplace atmosphere and modern design themes. Add live greenery throughout the office with a variety of floor and table plants. If possible, hang a few baskets of non-flowering plants throughout the office. Plants balance mood, lighten the color palate, and even help purify the air. They’re also inviting, making employees feel welcome when they arrive at a new hotdesking station.

Introduce art

Pick an art theme and go wild in your workplace. Whether you choose eclectic, surreal, modern, industrial, or classical art, scatter wall décor throughout the workplace. The workplace of the past may have had barren white walls, but the workplace of today should be anything but. We’re all long past the posters with TGIF cats or inspirational quotes about teamwork and leadership.

Engaging art offers employees a chance to take a quick break from work and look out past their computer screens. They can let their imaginations run wild for a few minutes before jumping back into a spreadsheet emotionally recharged.

Lose the walls

Speaking of walls, if you don’t need them, knock them down. Not only will you gain newfound square footage, but you’ll also shift closer to a modern workplace aesthetic. It’s a big task that’ll cost money, but opening your floor plan definitely says “modern office.”

Removing walls has the added benefit of bringing sunlight to more spaces in the workplace. Now, instead of only the desks around the edges of the room having natural light, a lot of the spots closer to the center of the room enjoy it, too. It might seem like a small thing, but according to a study conducted by the World Green Building Council found that employees working in well-designed offices with access to natural light had a 20% increase in productivity.

Choose a minimalist theme

Like when you’re picking art, settle on an office design theme and stick to it in a minimalist way. For example, choose modular furniture with clean lines or industrial accents based on the aesthetic that best suits your brand. Going overboard can leave you with a workplace that feels cluttered. Stick to simple accents and build a cohesive theme.

That line about “sparking joy” might already feel like a cliche, but there’s a lot to be said for having only what you need, nothing more. Think of it this way: Everything in the office that doesn’t need to be there is a distraction.

Accent all the texture

Texture is readily present in older office spaces, but it needs accenting in a modern way. You have what you need already there, but you need to make it a bit easier to see. Create focal points with brick walls, exposed architecture, or original features. Accent brick with a subtle carpet pattern or offset exposed steel with leather furniture. Combining and accenting textures is a great way to make the most of existing features by employing them in new concepts.

Consider color carefully

Color is crucial. Whether you choose to focus on your brand’s colors or have a different palate in mind, pick accents that inspire. Remember, you want employees to feel energized and focused. Clients in the office for meetings should get a reassuring visual vibe.

Find cohesion by hanging red art on a cream brick wall, putting blue furniture on a beige carpet, or painting walls purple to offset black and steel architecture. Color binds the many elements of your workplace together and can be the key in reinvigorating it, your workforce, and clients.

Try window treatments

Window treatments are a great design element in their own right. They’re also great for adding a modern touch. Install blinds or cellular shades to add a nice contemporary look to your workplace. As part of a full facility makeover, window treatments have the transformative ability to turn the clock forward.

Put comfort first

Antiquated office spaces don’t have a reputation for being comfortable. Specifically focusing on comfort in your workplace breaks that stigma. Invest in comfy furniture, ergonomic desks, and informal environments where employees can connect, collaborate, and de-stress. Comfort adds a modern touch that few individual design elements can by themselves.

Keep it clean

Regardless of the changes you make, make sure your workplace is always clean. An unorganized or cluttered workplace quickly loses its appeal, which can drag down the atmosphere. If there are older elements in your space, the clutter may magnify them, leading to an overall feeling of dinginess. Keep in mind, clean carries a connotation of “modern.”

With the rise of the hybrid work model, facility and office managers are finding scheduling cleaning more challenging. But, with the use of sensors to track occupancy and use, they’re able to make data-driven decisions and where and when to send in the cleaning crews.

Short of taking a wrecking ball to your office for a complete “down to the studs” renovation, there’s not a lot you can do about the building materials and architecture. To bring your workplace into the modern era, you can focus on the design elements you do have control over.

Podcast Ep. 241 recap: Finding happiness at work

In episode 241 of Workplace Innovator, host Mike Petrusky speaks with Dr. Tracy Brower, Vice President of Workplace Insight for Steel Case, who shares insights on the changing nature of work and the workplace, the importance of community, and the role of leaders in the current context.

They explore the value of connections and community and journey through the research and personal experiences related to humans thriving at work. Plus, Tracy offers practical advice for facility management and corporate real estate leaders interested in creating great employee experiences for their organizations.


  • Fundamental changes in the workplace
  • Importance of updating the workplace
  • Role of leaders in setting expectations and providing flexibility
  • Significance of community and connection in work
  • Impact work experience has on work happiness

What you need to know: Workplace takeaways


Takeaway 1: The nature of work has fundamentally changed, requiring updates in the workspace to reflect this shift and maintain employee satisfaction and productivity.

Tracy Brower, Vice President of Workplace Insights at Steelcase, stressed the importance of updating the workplace to reflect the fundamental changes in the nature of work. She mentioned that this not only enhances the workspace but also sends a message of adaptability and responsiveness. She suggested that organizations should adopt practices that offer as much flexibility and choice as possible, creating work environments that people would want to come to.

“One thing that we can do is really make sure that we’re implementing work experiences where collaboration is absolutely prioritized. People want to come in and collaborate and connect,” said Brower. She also emphasized the need for workplaces to provide enough spaces for employees to focus and have privacy, as well as the importance of integrating policies and practices with the physical work environment.

Takeaway 2: Workplace leaders are tasked with providing clear expectations while simultaneously offering their employees the freedom to adapt and express their opinions.

Brower underlined the importance of transparent leadership in the new work environment. She explained that leaders must provide clear expectations and set certain “guardrails” while also allowing for adaptability and giving employees the opportunity to voice their opinions. This balance, according to Brower, is essential in maintaining employee engagement and encouraging better performance.

“Leaders have this sort of new requirement,” she said. “There’s greater emotional labor required of leaders right now. We’re really looking for leaders that provide great direction and vision, but also that give us the opportunity for involvement and feeling like we have a voice.”

Takeaway 3: The value of in-person interaction at work extends beyond task-related communication, contributing to the social well-being of employees.

Brower also emphasized the importance of in-person interaction for employee well-being and happiness. She pointed out that while digital communication has its place, it doesn’t provide the same level of depth and nuance that face-to-face interaction does. Brower mentioned that even incidental connections made at the workplace contribute to an employee’s sense of value and appreciation.

“Inappropriate ways, right? Like, we bump somebody on the elbow, or we touch them on the sleeve, or we lean forward in a meeting. Right. All those physical manifestations of relationships actually build our feelings about how important we are to somebody else or how known or recognized or appreciated we are by somebody else,” she explained.

Takeaway 4: The workplace has a crucial role in fostering community and helping employees form diverse connections.

Brower highlighted the role of the workplace in fostering community and helping employees form connections. She noted that work is a place where people express their talents, feel necessary to others, and create connections. In particular, workplaces tend to facilitate the formation of more diverse friendships than in personal lives, serving to enhance empathy and the ability to think with others.

“81% of people say they make their more diverse friends at work. So evidence would suggest that in our personal lives, we might be more likely to hang around with people who look like us or think like us or sound like us. But at work, we get more of an opportunity to learn from people and be exposed to people who are different,” said Brower.

Workplace insights

  • Work has fundamentally changed and it’s crucial for workplaces to adapt and show they’re not stagnating.
  • Leaders now have a greater emotional labor requirement, expected to provide clear direction, vision, and expectations while also allowing for employee involvement and adaptability.
  • Work has a new and expanded role in our social well-being, especially as we become more disconnected in our personal lives due to technology.
  • The workplace is an important place for developing deeper relationships, which are critical for our sense of contribution and value.
  • It’s important to update the workplace to better suit people’s needs, use pilots and prototypes to test what works best, measure the impact through continuous feedback, prioritize collaboration, and offer flexibility and choice.

What makes you happy at work? It’s the International Week of Happiness

During International Week of Happiness at Work, we’re taking a closer look at what it means to be happy on the job – and offer some guidance from industry experts on how to find it.

In 1993, 35% of employees surveyed by Gallup said they were “completely satisfied” with their jobs which is the lowest level reported by the research organization. Fast forward 29 years to 2022 and that number reached 49% – with the highest level reaching 56% in 2020. Overall, the trendline shows we’re more satisfied today with our work than in years past.

The annual survey explores the full spectrum of satisfaction elements, including flexibility of schedules, chances for promotion, amount of money earned, healthcare and retirement plans, our co-workers and peers, and immediate manager satisfaction – nearly everything that makes up our work lives.

But what if we narrowed it to just one? Recently, we conducted our own survey with 161 responses, and here’s what people said makes them happy at work:

  • A supportive manager: 43%
  • Work recognition: 29%
  • Friendships and collaboration: 27%
  • Other: 2%

Though limited to only four fields by LinkedIn, the poll offers a quick snapshot of what our followers and employees value today – connection, being noticed for your work, and having leaders who have their backs.

“To be happy at work, you don’t have to hold a fascinating job that represents the pinnacle of your educational achievement or the most prestigious use of your ‘potential,’ and you don’t have to make a lot of money,” reflects Arthur C. Brooks, a columnist for The Atlantic, host of the “How to Build a Happy Life” podcast, and Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School.

“What matters is not so much the ‘what’ of a job, but more the ‘who’ and the ‘why: Job satisfaction comes from people, values, and a sense of accomplishment,” says Brooks.

Jesse Harrison, Marketing Manager in Asia-Pacific, at Eptura agrees. “I’m happiest when I’m doing work that I believe has a meaningful purpose, aligns with my skillset, advances my personal growth, and surrounds me with inspiring, like-minded people,” he explains in the comments of our survey.

Social connection and collaboration makes people happy

Our quarterly Workplace Index of today’s trends finds social connection and collaboration with others to be a highly motivating factor for being in the office or other workplace location together. Employees rank socializing and collaborating with co-workers as the top two reasons for visiting an office, per our survey of 6,700 employees.

Having a workplace to go to can help:

  • Reinforce community purpose
  • Improve 1-on-1 in-person communication and collaboration with managers
  • Boost career growth from guidance and mentoring

Survey respondents also expressed a need for access to equipment and a better working environment as important motivating levers for visiting the workplace – whether an office, a commuting hub, co-working space, hospital, college campus, or manufacturing plant. Our data also shows that more freedom of choice on the commute with flexible work schedules could make a difference in seeing people more days in the office.

“Relationships are fundamental to physical, cognitive and emotional health,” writes Dr. Tracy Brower, a sociologist and frequently cited expert on the topic in the article “To Achieve Work-Life Happiness, Stop Trying to Be Happy” in Newsweek.

“Prioritize creating, building and sustaining relationships,” explains Brower. “To make a close friend, it takes about 200 hours of investment—seeing them regularly at work, rolling up sleeves and innovating together, having coffee or taking a walk.”

How to be happy at work: What the experts say

In a sense, it really depends on how you define happiness. Can a goal as abstract and subjective as personal happiness actually be attained? Some research suggests setting the goal can be counterproductive to achieving it.

“It’s natural for people to want to be happy,” writes Brower. “But ironically, if you make happiness the goal, you’ll actually feel more frustration and angst, based on research in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.”

Happiness for its own sake has a host of challenges. It tends to be focused on what’s missing and is overly focused on the self – whereas happiness is strongly correlated with helping others. The pressure to ‘find happiness’ can also be added to the list of stressors for those who are already trying to achieve a lot and are stretched for time.

Instead, it’s all about creating the conditions for happiness, finds Brower – who says they include these four elements:

  1. Gratitude and generosity
  2. Purpose
  3. Social connection
  4. Learning

Brooks says there are two important levers for creating these conditions for being happy at work: Earned success and service to others. Earned success comes from two levers. A sense of accomplishment and professional efficacy – or the idea that you are good at your job. High levels of all these elements help reinforce happiness and job satisfaction.

“Employers who give clear guidance and feedback, reward merit, and encourage their employees to develop new skills are the most likely to give you those feelings,” says Brooks. “Look for a boss who acts that way—and if you have the opportunity, be that kind of boss.”

Service to others isn’t necessarily as altruistic as you might think—though research does suggest volunteering and helping others in need helps satisfy people’s sense of generosity and purpose. It relates to having thoughts that help an employee feel that their job is making the world a better place – and this comes from being able to find a service mindset in almost any role.

How are you helping others? You can find that it in any job by stepping back and thinking about how what you do helps your customers and peers. We all have something we do that can help others.

For Eptura, we give intention to serving others. On the anniversary of our company’s founding on October 4th, our employees will celebrate by volunteering at local food pantries and other charitable events around the globe.

Podcast Ep. 264 recap: Exploring workplace technologies for the new ways of work

In episode 264 of Workplace Innovator, host Mike Petrusky speaks with Michael Prischula, Managing Director for Intelligent Digital Workplaces at Accenture. Together, they explore the intersection of facility management, real estate, and workplace strategy for helping organizations transform their work — including technology’s role. 


  • Discuss the purpose of the workplace and why it matters for effective management and innovation. 
  • Examine the role technology plays in facility management and the workplace. 
  • How integrating tools and data makes for better decision-making. 
  • Modern office design with emphasis on creating spaces that serve people and their needs. 

What you need to know: Workplace takeaways  


Takeaway 1: Technology has a crucial role in redefining how people will work in the future 

During the webinar, Prischula highlighted the importance of technology in transforming workplace norms. He emphasized that the current situation presents a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redefine how people will work in the future. 

“The strategic one that I’m seeing right now a lot is help me understand what’s actually going on in the spaces that I’ve got right. Who’s coming back? When are they coming back? How are they using spaces? Why are they coming back?” said Prischula. He stressed the need for understanding these factors to make strategic decisions about the workspace portfolio.  

Prischula also pointed out the need for improving conference room experiences to ensure productivity in a hybrid environment. “Investments in how do we improve conference room experience, that experience of coming into the office for a specific purpose, for a specific meeting and making sure that that activity is as productive, if not more productive, than you can do when you’re sitting at home in the office.” 

Takeaway 2: The purpose of the office in the future relies on understanding its current role 

Prischula urged the audience to consider the purpose of the office and how it serves the employees and the organization. By understanding its role, companies can rebuild the vision for what the office needs to do and how it functions.  

“One thing that I challenge all of our clients to do is ask themselves this one question. It’s like, what’s the purpose of your office? And I don’t mean that at a superficial level,” said Prischula. He further emphasized that understanding the purpose of the workspace is key to providing the necessary services and capabilities for the team and the people using the space. 

“We have this once in a lifetime opportunity to define the way that people work, possibly for many generations to come. And so my question to your audience, or my challenge to your audience, really, Mike, is will they take the opportunity?” Prischula concluded. 

Takeaway 3: Tools and technologies should be integrated to provide a better workplace experience 

Prischula pointed out the abundance of tools available in the market and the challenge of having too many silos between these tools. He emphasized the need for understanding why these tools exist and how they contribute to the purpose of the workspace.  

“I think that’s where many organizations are missing, and, quite honestly, where we get asked by a lot of our clients to help them bring these different either tools together. Bring data from different toolsets together to help them make decisions about either how they’re operating a space or how they need to change the space,” said Prischula. He suggested combining and leveraging the information and automation these tools provide to operate spaces more efficiently and improve the experience of people consuming it. 

Workplace insights 

  • Organizations seek to understand how their spaces are used to make informed decisions about their portfolio.  
  • Collaboration spaces are becoming more critical as people return to the office for specific purposes, and these spaces need to be made hybrid-ready.  
  • There is a need to understand the purpose of the workplace, the tools used within it, and how these align with the needs of the employees and the organization.  
  • The future of the workplace is about creating spaces that serve people and meet their needs, contributing to productivity, community, and brand communication.  
  • There is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to define how people work, and organizations are challenged to seize this opportunity. 

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