Have you ever wondered how a typical office would look like in a decade or so?
The first things to come to your mind is likely to be some pseudo hi-tech stuff based on some cheap sci-fi mumbo-jumbo. Retina scanner on entrance, a conscious Robocop to assist, a 3D avatar of a boss in a luxury boardroom, etc. — all of these fantasies try to copy today’s reality and enhance it with geeky digital tomfooleries.
The reality, though, is likely to be more down-to-Earth and less packed with gizmos, but, in some respect, even more shocking. Here we present a number of controversial trends which are to shape the office in the years to come.
Home sweet home wherever you go
Judging by assertive ads and wow-inspiring publications, remote working from a home office is our imminent future. This opinion is partially affirmed by stats: the number of such office tends to grow.
However, the whole remote home office boom dates back to the previous decade when the proliferation of Internet peaked. Throughout the years, the Internet growth somehow stabilised. The total amount of permanently remote workers (including self-employed) even in the US does not exceed as little as 5% of employed population — honestly, it is not the figure to boast about.
At the same time, occasional remote working is a far more widespread phenomenon which becomes mainstream. Today, you are sitting in the office, and tomorrow, you are preparing a power-point presentation on an aeroplane, then you answer emails while sitting in a coffee shop in a different city, etc. Here, figures are much more outspoken: this scheme is employed by about a half of all Americans.
Anyone who ever worked remotely, learned to appreciate the charm of office visits, at least, during the first hour.
Numerous studies have proven that physical proximity of co-workers (not what you might have thought!) significantly contributes to higher productivity. Considering that peak office space utilization rate, according to the Strategy Plus consultancy, is, in average, 42%, flexible reconfigurable open spaces represent an abundant resource of chances that employees will become closer.
— Eugene Kaspersky (@e_kaspersky) November 13, 2014
It does not necessarily mean that we would have to work while standing due to this convergence trend. Turning down the idea of personal workplaces allows to decrease unused office space and, again, drive productivity up. At least this is true for Norway-based Telenor who employed this system back in 2003.
For instance, Google and IBM are among adopters of shared workplaces.
Meet me by the coffee machine
It is widely accepted that a company’s most important matters are discussed not in a boardroom but in a smoking room, or, considering anti-tobacco legislation, by a coffee machine or a water cooler.
Today’s office architects take this proverbial truth seriously and employ scientific thinking to it. In the trendiest offices the space is organized in a way that provokes these small ‘unplanned’ meetings between employees from different departments in such ‘places of power’.
— Michael Millane (@MMillane) April 30, 2013
How does that happen? For instance, all local coffee machines and water coolers are taken away from a department and installed in the huge ‘points of gathering’ where employees have no other choice but chat to a co-worker. These methods are used by Google and Samsung development departments.
Lying and thinking
It is quite likely that standard “desk+chair’ workplaces would go extinct in some offices. This would be done not for the sake of space convergence but for the sake of employees’ health.
Sedentary lifestyle is a proven evil. For example, a 45-year-old person spending 11+ hours a day sitting on a chair, according to a research, runs a 40% higher risk to pass away in the nearest 3 years.
Architects RAAAF took on the office of the future. Think prairie dogs in a cube farm. https://t.co/U4aAEzipMm
— Daniel Roth (@danroth) January 27, 2015
RAAAF, a Dutch art project, decided to solve this problem by establishing an experimental studio dubbed ‘The End of Sitting’, which by far resembles a modernist playground rather than an office space.
One couldn’t possibly sit normally amongst a chaotic pile-up of plastic blocks. But it is possible to lie down, stand, accommodate oneself into a narrow gap between the constructions, curl into a ball and the likes of it. This forced movement while working is based upon absence of workplaces where one could comfortably sit for prolonged period of time.
— Co.Exist (@FastCoExist) January 28, 2015
To make this experiment as realistic as possible, a group of ‘young professionals’ was accommodated in the office for three weeks and was able to work successfully for the entire duration of the experiment. In their evaluation, the participants cited ‘tired feet’ but also confirmed they felt more ‘lively’ than in the traditional office. It may be quite useful to maintain the experimental integrity and listen to ‘elderly’ employees’ evaluation, but the experts, for some reason, decided to skip this step.
Halt, who goes there?
Boy, do these fingerprint and retina scanners look awesome and futuristic! However, the most feasible admission control for an average office would be based on programmable electronic locks opened by, say, a smartphone.
— Kaspersky Lab (@kaspersky) August 19, 2013
The advantage of this solutions lies within low pricing — such locks have already been used in mass-market smart home deployments. Each employee would receive a flexibly configured security profile and use a temporary digital certificate on admission. Simple and elegant — one would barely find a person without a smartphone in a couple of years.
Co-working sounds good
Whereas today co-working spaces are mostly a pre-seed start-ups domain, in the future such offices might become popular amongst more mainstream companies.
The reasoning behind that is quite straightforward: co-workings provide an opportunity to save by flexibility in resource utilization (remember the 42% of peak utilization, won’t you) and also use the ‘coffee machine effect’ due to the diversity of the environment, which, in turn, drives productivity.
Growing prominence of outsourced services makes it easy to cost-effectively provision the infrastructure (IT, connectivity, security, maintenance) and enjoy higher infrastructure resilience.
Well, glass orb looking is never really dependable. These ideas look quite reasonable now, but there are chances our descendants would perceive them with a patronizing smile the way we now look into the canvas of French artists, who drew the 2000s reality back then. At times, the reality transforms so fast it is impossible to make an accurate guess. Time will tell.