Relationships between employers and staff are changing -- and that means the physical places where we work are getting an overhaul. We're not just talking about moving furniture around, either. Organizations are putting a lot of thought into making offices conducive to our social businesses, our collaborative ways of work.
Designers and architects are creating space for collaboration and paying more attention to psychological and ergonomic aspects. This, at least, was the message of a workshop recently held at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and hosted by Spain's IE School of Architecture and Design, which in February plans to debut a master's program in workplace design in conjunction with RIBA.
Conference delegates from both sides of the Atlantic gave fascinating insight into how workplace design must change in the future, and addressed the following key questions:
- Where will people work in the future -- and how should these places be designed?
- What will happen as the boundaries between work and leisure time further dissolve?
- What incentives will organizations need to bring future talent together?
One of the challenges facing architects is today's multi-generational workforce, as older employees stay longer, said Jeremy Myerson, director of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art:
If you go into an open-plan office now, you'll see four generations at work. There'll be people in their mid-sixties working as well as people in their early twenties, and they're all sharing the same space and the same technology. But they've had completely different experiences. The young people are digital natives; they've grown up with technology, and older people have adjusted to technological change over many decades. It's really, really difficult to design a workspace that will appeal to all generations -- but that's the big challenge.
Another is the decreased emphasis on corporate hierarchy.
Society is breaking away from status-oriented offices and embracing a social culture, explained Simon Jordan, founder of Jump Studios. "That's impacted massively on the workplace, where workspace environments are much more informal and less hierarchical than they used to be."
Technology is the great enabler, removing all sorts of physical barriers for employees and designers.
Cloud and virtualization will play a growing and prominent part in shaping the future. Then again, mobility is also creating a paradox, said Philip Tidd, senior consultant at Gensler:
We've created a whole generation of mobile workers that have spent a lot of time working remotely. One of the problems with that is that it's created a generation of people that feel very disconnected from the workplace. What I'm seeing as a trend is that a lot of organizations are really rethinking the purpose of the office and actually trying to bring the mobile people back because they're trying to reconnect those people with the culture and the values of the organization.
So what should these offices look like?
Primo Orpilla and Verda Alexander, co-founders of Studio O+A, envision offices with places where employees can retire to think in peace and areas where people can get together and exchange ideas. Myerson said, "The big issue for designers is not simply to design for the physical or functional comfort of workforces, but actually to design for their psychological comfort."
You can hear the experts talk at more length here.
The architects' goals are clear. However, their visions need to be tempered with a very pragmatic approach by asking the following questions: What do top performers already do differently to increase productivity in the office? And how are work, collaboration, education, and social activity combined in the working environments of organizations seen as leaders in this space, such as Google?
What would you like the future office to look like?