24 March 2019
The commercial environment has been transformed from the office-based workplace of the past to the more open and collaborative space we see today. And now, we are beginning to see another transformation. According to Gensler, the workplace of the future requires a profound change in how design supports its varied forms, meaning the design industry will have to set aside its old ways to look at the working environment holistically.
There are significant changes happening in the workplace, with a younger workforce, surge in innovation-driven businesses, global transition towards working across geographic and demographic markets, and economic and cultural shifts are becoming the new norm. The new generation of workers is looking for work spaces suited to conversation among a few people, and for a balance between focus and the need to interact. There is a need now for the office workspace to be reshaped to interact with the community, and for smarter spaces that attract young, creative people.
Soaring real estate costs are driving higher density and greater utilisation of space. Many large companies are now forming global standards of office spaces, that are essentially a kit of parts to be adapted to different locations, such as tech hubs, easily configured offices, open-bench workstation neighbourhoods, and open network team areas.
According to the Ted Moudis & Associates 2018 workplace report, the square footage per person is staying the same; however, the number of offices has decreased, and the number of alternative seating continues to rise.
Companies are placing more value on creating alternative space for focus, meetings and amenities for employees. There is an increasing amount of space being dedicated to mental and physical well-being for their staff. This amenities focus is driving activity in the workplace and encouraging movement throughout the space. The Internet of Things is allowing integration and accessibility of technologies across multiple platforms, to facilitate agility.
Design that supports mental and physical restorative opportunities throughout the day to improve morale and increase productivity is a must. Companies are now more focused on creating spaces that reflect the brand and philosophy of the company.
Working from home is a perennial debate - some companies embrace it and some abhor it. In 2013, Yahoo banned employees from working from home, stating “some of the best decisions and insights come from the hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings”. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. Richard Branson from Virgin responded, “it was a backward step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever”. Google noted that as few as possible people work remotely, noting that “there is something magical about sharing meals, spending time together and noodling ideas”.
Working from home is more common among full-time workers over 55, and those with dependent children. It encourages employees’ work/life balance cutting down on commuting time. Although there is the fear that not being seen in the office may cut down on promotion opportunities, pay increases and lower performance evaluations. And so, the debate goes on, with no clear winner. Although, with the pressure on higher density, the greater utilisation of space and AI innovation, perhaps the pro-working-from-home lobby may win out in the end.
The pursuit of efficiency is leading firms which were office-heavy to opt for a more shared, open, team-based workspace, and with paper disappearing, libraries, records and administrative functions are being consolidated to reduce the footprint. Support spaces are being consolidated to allow more space for amenities. Activity-based work environments provide new amenities and a wider range of workspace types, while reducing the total area of occupancy. The forecast is that there will be an increase in semi-enclosed and small focus rooms, less executive suites, an increase in USF (usable square footage) per work seat in activity-based work environments, and an increase in both employer and building-provided amenity and wellness spaces.
More visibility and transparency with open perimeters, transparent walls and low partitions are the new norm, providing a more inviting and connected environment. Informal collaboration spaces and alternative settings are helping to provide privacy zones in place of private offices.
Employees are sitting in open spaces with greater choices of where and how to work, including benching and sit-to-stand desks.
On the other hand, there is a growing number of people and companies who are now thinking that the old days of the private office was not so wrong after all, allowing the closing of the door to avoid interruptions. Open office space has taken that decision away from people, and even with headphones, it is tough to avoid distractions.
Ultimately, people are different. They come in at different times, have diverse requirements, socialise at different times and have their most productive hours at different times. So, what is the solution?
There are several ways of making the environment fit all tastes, with WorkDesign Magazine proposing the following key considerations for the workplace of the future:
In summary, the workplaces of the future are a work in progress, with no shortage of ideas. It will be a rollercoaster ride to see what the future holds, but it is an exciting time to be involved in the commercial fit-out world.