By Dr. Eugene Brink
In light of the unique demands of Millennials regarding work and workplaces and the rapid rate at which change seems to moving, it is apt to wonder what the workplaces of the future will look like.
The nature of work is changing rapidly and this is destined to induce equally great change in where we work. A mere 20 years ago, workplaces were in general still large and hierarchical. The financial crisis of the 2000s, the ever-increasing evolution and adoption of new technology and a greater trend towards lower numbers of permanently employed staff and smaller workplaces have changed this forever.
“It happens every few years: a seismic shift in the way we live our lives fuels a change in human behaviour so significant, it blows the concept of the office as we know it out of the water,” writes Emily Wright on The Spaces, a leading design website. “And hard though it may be to believe that robotic security guards and app-controlled meeting rooms are just the beginning, there is still a long way to go.”
Whilst some discernible trends are already crystallising and will continue to do so in future, opinions on what future offices will look like are fairly varied and wide-ranging.
In the foreseeable future, workers will increasingly be wearing their technology, says Peter Hirst, associate dean of executive education at MIT Sloan School of Management. “Over the next few years, it is hard to imagine that the display, processing, interface, and communication capabilities of these wearable devices won’t match and likely surpass what we can do with today’s tablets and phablets (phone /tablet hybrids),” he says.
According to Hirst, along with the change wrought by technology, several other trends will have an unavoidable impact on workplaces in the next few years. The entry of so-called “digital natives” is one such trend. “This is happening already, and we can therefore see what is coming. People who have grown up as both workers and customers in the ‘flat, connected, and transparent world that has been enabled by the digitization of everything’ have different demands than their predecessors.
“Whether it’s demanding meaningful work and flexible career options as employees, self-employment as highly specialised contractors, or products and services from all providers that are equal to the best of the best, this is going to change both supply and demand for all businesses – and it’s happening now,” he says.
Peter Beech, a writer for World Economic Freedom, says “individuality” is what matters most in the 21st century office. “Gone are the days of those one-size-fits-all open plan spaces. The ideal workplace today is likely to be as idiosyncratic and full of unique tweaks as the quirky start-up it houses, with each re-imagining the norm in its own quiet way, making employees feel valued and as if their specific needs are being catered for.
“Forget choosing between open-plan or cubicle, breakout space or conference suite – the real office space of the future is ‘agile’ and can be all of the above. Depending on their mood, workers may enjoy customisable surroundings and the sort of interactive features that are proven to boost ingenuity, such as modular furniture, portable walls and removable corkboards.”
Tamara Brisk, managing director of Wiredscore France, a worldwide building certification firm, agrees with this assessment. “We will see more flexibility of space usage. For example, building cafeterias that were only used during breakfast and lunch hours in the past will serve as collaborative work spaces and meeting rooms. Open space offices will be divisible at the click of a button.”
She says offices will in a decade be designed to best foster our cognitive processes and working preferences. “We already know that people are more creative at certain times of day and that environmental stimuli can amplify collaboration, but we are at the very beginning of our understanding. In a decade, knowledge workers will be more productive because they will be better able to tap their mental capacities.
“Our work spaces in the future will provide different environments for different phases of work – like protective insulated cocoons for periods of deep concentration. These will be in addition to today’s stimuli-filled social co-working spaces that promote collaboration.”
Mikael Benfredj, founder of Patchwork, a furniture store turned co-working space in the heart of Paris, says integration is the way of the future. “I don’t think companies will be separated the way they are today. There might not be one dedicated building for a single company. Or even dedicated floors.
“We will see more integrated services such as childcare facilities, laundries, hairdressers, banks and post offices, plus more regulation – things like lighting, chair comfort and screen hours will all be monitored. And there will be less personalisation of your specific spot or desk.”
However, according to Dan Harvey, an office property specialist from California, offices may become more private again. “We’re already starting to see a pushback on some of the tech and the elimination of privacy. Collaboration is great but there is an emerging feeling that without a choice, people are sometimes finding it challenging to get stuff done. So through that push for a productive workforce, future offices may become more private again.”
Inc.com, 2018, “Your Office in 2020: A Glimpse into the Future”, https://www.inc.com/comcast/your-office-in-2020-a-glimpse-into-the-future.html
Emily Wright, 1 August 2017, “What will the ‘office’ look like in 10 years’ time?”, https://thespaces.com/what-will-the-office-look-like-in-10-years-time/
Peter Beech, 27 July 2018, “What is the future of office spaces”, https://thespaces.com/what-will-the-office-look-like-in-10-years-time/