The Future of Office Design: Creating the Workplace for Next Generation

Stop for a minute, look around and think about the future of office design. The times are changing faster than ever and modern workplace needs to change with them!

The days when workplaces were designed just to shelter all your hard-working employees are long over. Now office design plays one of the central roles in creating a productive, informal and collaborative workplace where people thrive. In other words, a modern workplace should be designed with a purpose of making employees happy. These days, when companies are fiercely competing for top talent, it’s a way to set their employees up with the right environment and motivate them to tackle important projects.

As the workforce transitions – baby boomers start retiring, millennials are now the largest generation in labor force, and Gen Zers are about to storm the workplace – we need to make sure that the modern office environment meets their needs. So what defines the office of the future? What workplace design trends are likely to emerge soon? We spoke with 4 of the leading design firms about the future of office design:

If you could describe the office of the future in just three words what would they be?

Nathan Curtis: Flexible social spaces.

Eisuke Tachikawa: Open, Discrete, Mobile.

Damjan Geber: Activity based workspace.

Gavin Daniels: Learning focused design.

Let’s look at the big picture. In your opinion, how will the workplace of the future be different from what we’re used to today? What has been the biggest failure in office design in the past?

Nathan Curtis: The biggest legacy failure is commuting to and from the office each day and having to be seen at your desk for hours in the end. Technology pretty much allows you to work anywhere and allows employers to track productivity. Of course, trust is important here. The office of tomorrow needs to be more of a social space for the sharing and discussion of ideas. Where the agreed work needs to be carried out is not so important unless you are tied to manufacturing something. Task based environments are the key.

Eisuke Tachikawa:

Until recently, workplaces were designed for management. Because of why, offices had a strong definition between manager and worker in zoning.Every section has been isolated, and visible difference was needed to define the position hierarchy.

But because of this design, autonomy of workers was kept spoiled and the process of work had a feeling of duty. In the future, these customs of office design will be massively changed. You will work with someone next to you, who you cannot define the rank of the hierarchy. You cannot tell he is higher, lower, or even.

Please imagine everyone is working like a freelancer. They will need to have autonomy, and the office will need to attract them. Workplaces would need to be like a holiday home.

Damjan Geber:

The main change in the way we work today compared to the past is the technology we use to do business. The main tools most of the companies use to create their products are much smaller and simpler than they used to be, but above all, they are not necessarily fixed to the desk any more.

Until only a few years ago the standard desk equipment consisted of big computers, screens, printouts, folders, storage units and tons of stationery. People liked to be anchored to their work units and used enclosed meeting rooms when they wanted to discuss something with their colleagues. That created a workspace that separates ‘work’ from ‘communication’ which has a direct impact on creativity, innovations and atmosphere – the key points of a successful office of the future.

Gavin Daniels:

The workplace of the future will be customizable and flexible beyond “open or closed,” “sit or stand” options. The biggest failure in office design involves spaces designed without consideration for the lifestyle options office users need.

Recent surveys claim that on a typical day, desks are in use only half of the time. Does that mean that we are slowly moving away from personal workstations in the office?

Nathan Curtis:

Yes. The permanent desk represents a waste of increasingly expensive floor space and I question how productive most people are at their desks. Its a good prop to hide behind and appear busy. We should be moving away from it for the obvious cost savings and freeing up the floor plate for more useful working environments that encourage social interaction.

Eisuke Tachikawa:

Sure, it is. For example, I have no desk for myself. Everywhere in front of screens can be our potential workplace.

Damjan Geber:

That is exactly why activity based workspace is the key to a successful business, but in my opinion, not in a way a lot of consultancies are implementing it. People like the feeling of belonging, of having something of their own, a ‘private’ place. In an office, that is their workstation. Taking that completely away from them, makes the office more flexible and saves space, but at the same time blocks a deeper connection to a specific place.

No matter how hard companies try to make the workspace a second home (or first in some cases), the emotional connection people have to their private life should not be underestimated. That doesn’t mean that everybody needs a big desk full of family photos, but coming to work every day and having a different station, floor or even a whole different building waiting for you makes you a good worker, not necessarily a happier one. In the long run, this can influence the emotional connection to the workplace and even the loyalty to the company itself.

A flexible workspace shouldn’t mean flexible workers. Investing in someone’s professional growth is a long and hard process and having their loyalty based only on strict contracts is the complete opposite of what the office of the future should be. We spend more conscious time in a day at work than anywhere else and that time should be great and fulfilling, as much as possible.

Gavin Daniels:

To be honest, I don’t think so. Surveys are frequently interpreted to overgeneralize results, thus prescribing inaccurate trends.

Remote working is growing in popularity very fast. Do you think that technology has the ability to sub in for the real physical thing?

Nathan Curtis:

I think technology is getting there, in some countries it is far more advanced than others. The hand held devices we use are excellent, however they are only as good as the location infrastructures connectivity. It is the latter that still needs improvement.

Eisuke Tachikawa:

It depends on the context. If the office goes to mobile, each of the workers can be at the physical site with discreet.

Damjan Geber:

I am not sure about that. For some businesses that can work great, specially the online based ones, but what it comes down to is that you have a lot of sub-contractors that make things happen, but groundbreaking concepts and innovation comes from interaction with other people.

Yes, new technologies are trying to cover that (Slack, Dropbox…), but some of the greatest ideas we had in the past came from the people outside the team working on the project, over a coffee, lunch, beer. Sometimes a person next to you might have the answer you were looking for and that person is not even an architect or designer. We work with our colleagues around the world, it is great and easy, but I still have a feeling that when we are all in the same space, the work done is more elaborate and innovative with more ideas added during the process, without planning.

Giving people tasks, looking at the work they did and giving them feedback, leaves a lot of uncovered territory in-between the scheduled Skype meetings where some cool things could have happened out of the blue.

Gavin Daniels:

No. Human connections and relationships will always be essential. Technology does however have the ability to connect people who may not ever otherwise physically connect. This is happening everyday through mediums like Periscope and Facebook Live.

Facility managers are getting crazy over devices with sensors and other embedded technology that can optimize the use of the work space. What role will the IoT (Internet of Things) play in the workplace of the future?

Nathan Curtis:

An increasingly bigger role. It should be easy to find things at your finger tips, whether it is internal or external information and resources.

Eisuke Tachikawa:

IoT will work for automation processes of working. But, I doubt the story which is often mentioned – as every device will become IoT. The field of IoT will be needed to select carefully, since most of people are satisfied by non-digital products.

Damjan Geber:

Again, this will depend on the kind of work the company is doing. Whether the productivity can be measured through the use of the work space or not. In creative industry that becomes counterproductive, since forcing people to work a certain number of hours to produce something doesn’t necessarily makes a great product.

Workspace of the future is the whole office, not just the work station. There shouldn’t be an office that doesn’t have at least 3 or more different work station options. Standard desk (with height adjustment technology) being one of them, but also: sofa lounge, individual quiet rooms, quick meeting boxes, telephone booths, cafe areas, outdoor stations, high on-the-run desks…

Work is being done everywhere and it shouldn’t be limited to a work station. Connected living is not even the future, it is reality, we do our work on personal computers, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, whiteboards, paper… anything we can get our hands on, and any time of day.

Gavin Daniels:

Ask Major League Baseball (MLB). They have the best use of sensors and practical application in the world. These devices allow us to evaluate and respond to the need for change. The big question is, can we design spaces that will react to that?

We will be welcoming Generation Z to the workplace very soon. Do you feel that they need a wholly different office environment?

Nathan Curtis:

This generation is the one that has been connected via technology all of its life and is not in the slightest bit phased by technology. The answer is yes. They will need a new office environment. It should come from them and not be imposed on them by the likes of me…a generation X!

Eisuke Tachikawa:

Yes. It will be changed from the aesthetic and innovative point of view. For example, interior of cars will be closer to the workplace, with automatic driving.

Damjan Geber:

I think the office environment that is happening now is what they need. We are already at the limit of overdoing it by creating amusement parks, bars and cafes instead of offices. That can look cool in magazines and feel great at first, but without a very delicate balance it could become more important than the work itself.

Once you start the spiral of gimmicks as the focal point of the office design, there can never be enough of them. Every new office will have to be ‘crazier’ than the previous which will make some older offices seem dull much sooner than they should. I’m not sure which business model can support this level of constant refurbishment to keep up with the expectations of the generation Z , or any other generation for that matter.

Gavin Daniels:

Churches, synagogues and mosques have remained remarkably the same for centuries. While our office is not a place of worship, the basic functions and interactions facilitated by the office environment remain. The office environment will change, but to assume everything changes for a new generation is short sighted at best.

What advice would you give today’s business owners who want to prepare for the office of the future?

Nathan Curtis:

Be flexible, work on the adaptations they have already made to attract and keep generation Y, who are the closest to generation Z in terms of life experience. Be open, be honest, share expertise.

Eisuke Tachikawa:

I advise smart businesses to imagine an office like a cafe. It will be needed to have comfort, and diversity in the workplace.

Damjan Geber:

Talk to your employees, listen to them and try to find out how they feel inside the office environment before you hire an outside consultancy to do it for you. Office of the future is a place where everybody contributes to the success of the company, there is so much new generations can learn from the business owners and vice versa. The old hierarchy based office design system is not necessarily the best one or the most productive one for your company. There are currently a lot of successful models for organizing and planning the office environment that merge technology with behavioral psychology and new ones are being developed every day. It would be a mistake to miss out on this opportunity.

Gavin Daniels:

Define YOUR culture, define YOUR goals, and know YOUR company better than anyone else. With that firmly in hand, great design will readily enable YOUR company to succeed.

Do you have any additional thoughts on how workplace of the future will make office workers more productive, healthy, comfortable and happy?

Nathan Curtis:

Make them less corporate. Branding can be subtle it needn’t be plastered everywhere. Foster a sense of pride and belonging, place trust in employees and encourage development and empowerment. Encourage health and well being through smart design of the facility.

Eisuke Tachikawa:

It will be more productive if some device can tell whether the workers are ‘on (you can talk to them)’ or ‘off (do not disturb)’ automatically. Focus can be easily disturbed by small stimuli.

Damjan Geber:

Put your screen at the eye level and get the best chairs available.

Gavin Daniels:

Alternative workspace is not just for fun, it should be ergonomic and healthy. We just started the era of laptops and mobile phones and there are already health issues connected to it. What will happen to our backs, necks or hands after 40 or more productive years we have in front of us? No matter how cool the office is, taking care of our health is crucial for our long term well-being and happiness.

When Office Design Meets Technology

Think back just 10 years and picture a workplace with fax machines, huge copiers, the ugly wire spaghetti and grumpy office workers trapped inside their tiny windowless cubicles. Now we are talking about flexible working, hot-desking, wireless technology and even workplace sensors placed to collect empirical data and help facility managers make educated workplace decisions. Relax, people will remain the most important factor in most organizations for many years to come. The technology is here though to make sure the work is conducted and buildings are managed in the most efficient way possible. The future of office design will be a lot about thinking how to incorporate these technologies into the spaces people are working in.


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