Office chairs that adjust to your body based on biofeedback. Walls that slide, shift, and change color according to worker needs. Three-dimensional printers that produce food and replicate office supplies. These are some of the possibilities in the “office of the future.”
Plusnet, a U.K. Internet service provider, interviewed a dozen futurists and office design experts about the office circa 2030. The consensus is that workspaces generally will become more flexible (to accommodate different types of employees), more collaborative (this is the way work is going), and more natural. There’s a ton of research showing that employees are happier and more productive when exposed to nature. So, organizations will increasingly look to incorporate natural light whenever possible.
“I would guess that in 10 years what is currently in the office will look much more like what is outside the office,” says Scott Lesizza, founding principal of Workwell Partners, a New York furniture supplier. “We are already starting to see this with biophilia, the idea that humans have a natural instinct to want to be closer to nature. By increasing natural sunlight, perhaps through greenhouse type spaces, and bringing plants, trees, and flowers into the workplace, we are replicating what is naturally a less stressful environment, and a more productive one.”
As you would expect, offices will become increasingly tech-enabled. Hologram assistants will sit where receptionists sit today and “3-D, holographic, augmented reality, and other immersive technologies will enable fully interactive remote communication,” says futurist Glen Hiemstra.
William Higham, another futurist, forecasts that traditional corporate hierarchies and department structures will break down. And that offices will become increasingly unregulated. “There will be fewer departments and more environments. You won’t go to, say, the marketing department. You’ll go to the workshopping, stimulus, or quiet area, depending on your needs,” he says. “The more we’re able to customize our personal tech with photos and lock screens, the less we’ll worry about having a dedicated desk space and the more we’ll embrace the freedom of hot-desking.”
Owen King, with the Unwork consultancy, says technology will eventually enable us to be less distracted and more focused. “Wearable technologies will end the cycle of constant interruptions from emails, calls, and colleagues. Monitoring our levels of concentration, these devices will wait for us to get into the flow of a task before filtering out all but the most important communications,” he says.
And of course the trend will be to prevent workers from sitting all the time, in favor of walking, standing, or doing literally anything else besides sitting to maintain blood flow. “The next stage of the office evolution will be the chair-less workplace, complying with the anti-sitting agenda of medical researchers continuously stressing the negative effects of sitting down for many hours,” says Mona Kovacheva, business development manager at EOffice, an office supplier in London.
In the future, the emphasis is likely to be on well-being, and on enabling employee health. “With technology advancing, the future employee will be able to incorporate fitness and health monitoring into their working day and not just during breaks,” says Neil Shah, founder of the nonprofit Stress Management Society. “We are already seeing a rise in the use of sit-stand desks, ergonomic chairs, office green spaces, standing meetings, and well-being days, which include massages, health, and fitness workshops.”