Consider how the physical workplace has evolved over the past 20 years. Back then, if you walked into most offices, you'd have to weave through rows upon rows of gray cubicles to get to your desk.

Then, as more startups began popping up, so did the open-office floor plan. Employees were free to communicate and work together as a way to improve innovation. Next came fun-filled offices with ping pong tables and designated game rooms. Then there were the wellness focused workplaces with standing desks and on-site gyms.

While all these design choices might just seem like surface-level trends, the work environment can actually have a big impact on the employee experience.

CultureIQ recently released a report that analyzed what the 50 winners of their Top Company Culture award were doing differently. The study found the one thing they all had in common was a high level of employee approval in regards to work environment. Out of a possible 100, their average score was 95.

Here are four new trends in office design that are helping companies improve the employee experience:

Make it like home

The offices of Red Fan Communications and Reelgood have a homey feel--because they're in converted houses.

Red Fan Communications is located in a three-story house in Austin, Texas, that is more than 100 years old.

"Every once in awhile, the team will head back from an offsite meeting and say, 'Alright, let's go home,'" said Emma Chase, account executive at Red Fan Communications. "I'm not trying to get all kumbaya here, but our office has really blossomed into a comfortable, collaborative environment as warm and inviting as our own homes."

Similarly, Reelgood is located in a house in San Francisco, California. Aside from work, employees also strengthen their team by cooking and playing games together. When remote workers visit from out of town, they even stay at the office.

"We have to deal with things that you'd never deal with at an office -- most recently, a pigeon infestation," said Catharine Burhenne, head of marketing and business development. "This makes us even closer as a team."

Give employees a voice

When Kronos decided to move to a new workspace, they wanted to make sure it reflected their culture. So they turned to their employees and asked for their opinions.

"At Kronos, we treat our employees like members of a family and we felt it was important that they also have input in many of the choices being made," said Vince Devlin, chief procurement officer at Kronos. "Kronites were given the opportunity to test out and vote on many decisions, such as what desks and chairs would be selected."

If your company doesn't have the funds to build its own office from scratch, there are ways to give employees a voice on a smaller scale as well. Simple things like allowing them to bring in office decor can give them an increased sense of ownership in the company.

For instance, Plasticity Labs has an enormous gratitude wall where employees share what they're grateful for on a post-it and place it on the wall. The wall is so popular it even has its own Instagram account. Best of all, Plasticity Labs has even submitted it to The Guinness Book of World Records to be considered as the World's Largest Gratitude Wall.

Add an element of fun

Stress and burnout occur even at the best companies. But having a designated spot in the office where employees can relax and have some fun can make difficult times a little easier.

At Kinoli, CEO Luke Knowles did that by adding a simple childhood playground piece.

"We have a swing," he said. "I'm always looking for ways to make work as fun as possible, and so the swing was an important addition for me because I don't know of anything else that gets that message across better."

Phear Creative, on the other hand, took a more adult route to having fun. They built a customized bar in their office where employees can gather and relax. They've also developed their own in-house craft spirit, called Barking Irons Applejack, so co-workers can share a special drink together.

Have a get-together place

Employees often feel like they have to act differently at work. They can't be as relaxed or authentic as they can when relaxing with family or friends. Having a spot in the office that acts as a gathering place for people to stop thinking about work and just be themselves is very important.

"We have a huge kitchen table that seats almost 20 people, which is almost our entire small agency," said Jennifer Schwartz, associate creative director at BARKER. "On the rare occasion that we can all have lunch together, it feels like a big family event."

And if your company has a number of remote employees, create a virtual place for everyone to get together and chat. Firmplay, for example, makes it easy to create social media content that employees can share with each other on their favorite platform.

Published on: May 18, 2017