In 1999, the movie Office Space lampooned the ubiquitous grey office cubicle. Fast-forward more than a decade and a half later, and tech companies are more likely to look like sleek open warehouses with lines of workstations and Aeron chairs or standing desks.
But a combination of fast-moving technology, backlash against open-space floor plans, and other factors are influencing the office of the future. Looking forward to less than a decade from now, experts believe offices will undergo some changes, both in how they look and how people collaborate. The good news is that more companies and designers are paying attention to worker experience.
As agile, flexible working becomes the norm, workplaces will become more of a luxury or reward, says Ken Raisbeck, EMEA head of occupier advisory at CBRE, Ltd. in London, a leading commercial real estate services firm. "The reason people go into the office is changing somewhat. They’re being more collaborative," he says. Offices will do more to provide convenience to workers to allow them to focus on their work. He also believes workplaces offer more personal services and wellness options.
Randy Howder, a principal in architecture and design firm Gensler’s San Francisco office, says companies may begin to mimic welcoming hospitality spaces, accommodating various forms of seating and work accommodation within a fixed space.
Cheryl Durst, executive vice president and CEO of the International Interior Design Association in Chicago, thinks that the concept of "touchdown zones," or workspaces being more fluid and centered on the type of work the person needs to do rather than an assigned place, will become the norm for those whose work depends on collaborating with others.
Raisbek speculates that data-based services might guide employees throughout their day, informing them in real-time about the best method to commute. Instead of fixed desks, workspaces will be based on what type of work the individual needs to do that day. A digital "concierge" may direct workers to meeting rooms that are configured with the right technology for the gathering or workstation groupings to bring together the people who need to collaborate that day.
Even those with static workstations will see an increased emphasis on individual needs and productivity—a more "human" approach, Durst says. Moveable walls with sound-absorbing fabrics will allow workers to get the privacy they crave and create "hubs" that foster collaboration without the cavernous feel of a totally open office. Raisbek says that "hygiene factors" such as lighting, temperature, ergonomics, and the like are all becoming more sophisticated and data-based to accommodate employees. Offices of the future will allow more individual accommodations to make workers more comfortable and improve their experience, he says.
Howder says that office furniture will become more customized to workers’ needs. As we gain more data through various technology, the concept of having "everyone in the exact same desk for miles and miles" signifies a lack of understanding of individual work styles. Instead, offices might take modular approach to furniture, giving employees a budget to choose from a collection of pieces that allow them to customize standing or sitting desk features, desk space, and other elements that adapt to both their type of work and their individual bodies and work styles. While it may not be by 2025, 3-D printing may someday create customized, ergonomically sound chairs created for individual workers’ bodies.
Of course, this mobility and collaboration wouldn’t be possible without technology. As mobile and wearable devices continue to evolve, they will shape the way we work. Instead of being anchored to a desk, employees will bring their devices with them and have easy access to various digital screens that can help them share information from their devices, says Loni Stark, senior director of strategy and product marketing at Adobe. Durst says this will also shift communication from texting and email messages—which aren’t convenient to write on a smartwatch, for example—to more interpersonal interaction.
Smart conference spaces will facilitate meetings by providing easy access for devices to connect to monitors and seamless methods for remote workers to join the meeting via audio or videoconferencing, Howder says. Sensors may track metrics on meeting participation to ensure that team members each have an opportunity to give feedback. Mikko-Pekka Hanski, cofounder of global design firm Idean, thinks that we’ll see "much more immersive" methods of remote collaboration through virtual reality.
Overall, there is a movement to improve the overall workspace experience, Howder says. "There’s no reason that your workspace has to feel like a workspace," he says.