Some 20 or so years ago, the internet revolutionalised the workplace, and fundamentally changed the way we worked. Now as we enter 2016, it feels like we’re standing on the precipice of another workplace transformation, which we’ve been hurtling towards for the past few years.
Mobile and social have been driving a huge cultural shift in the way we work, and people aren’t chained to their desks in the way they were a few years ago. The physical office is not as ubiquitous as it used to be, with a quarter of the EU workforce now being classed as ‘e-nomads’. This means in the future,the work environment will need to evolve, technologically and socially, to continue to prove its worth, and still be a worthwhile destination for employees.
So what will the office of tomorrow look like? Here are a few speculations around how we see it shaping up…
Ninety percent of large organisations offer flexible working, and 4.2 million people work from home in the UK. The trend is only set to rise, and so the office of the future will need to make flexibility central to its design and layout, and become more of a ‘landing place’ which employees visit for stimulation and purpose.
It seems likely that in a few years’ time, businesses will down-size their office environment, meaning they will rarely have the space for everyone to be in work at the same time. Employees will be able to work from any location they choose, and technology will beam a virtual ‘telepresence’ for those away from the office.
Furthermore, the modern office will become a mix of private spaces and open environments, and employees will have the freedom to customise the space to accommodate their preferred working style. All aspects of the office will be portable and moveable, so if an employee needs a temporary meeting room, they will be able to slide walls along the ceiling to create it, and likewise if they want to shift part of the space from an open layout to private offices, it will be easy for them to transform.
We’ve known for quite some time that sitting down all day is bad for your health, and what’s particularly worrying is that extra physical activity doesn’t seem to offset the costs of what researchers call “prolonged sedentary time.”
The solution, it seems, could be active desks. These can take the form of a standing workspace, or even a treadmill desk, and overall are designed to improve physiological health and psychological performance. Some businesses have already begun trialing them and within research active desks have been shown to reduce idleness and improve mood without introducing too many obstacles to productivity.
Additionally, we’re likely to see the rise of more natural and healthier environments, to help alleviate workplace stress and build a more dynamic workforce. For example, Amazon’s new office in Seattle which is currently under construction, will take the form of three biospheres, which will house 300 plants from more than 30 countries. According to Amazon it will enable its staff to “work and socialise in a more natural, park-like setting” and will be large enough to accommodate mature trees.
In the future, office space will need to become more environmentally sustainable, and there are already some businesses making headway with this. Workers, for example, will be able to regulate the climate and light over their workspace via an app on their smartphones. This will not only save money and help the environment, but also provide insight into how a building is run, helping overall efficiency.
Additionally, urban farms and gardens will become a feature of tomorrow’s office, to include a wall of home grown produce, for example, which employees will be able to pick and eat.
The New York Times made headlines recently for sending its print subscribers Google Cardboard viewers along with their Sunday paper. Virtual reality (VR) is really making headlines and seems set to become an integral part of the office of the future.
It seems possible that within five to 10 years, the office experience will be largely characterised by VR and smart glass. Workers will see everything through an extra lens (probably smart contact lenses) that will augment every aspect of the workplace for them. They’ll get an instant reminder every time they have an email, message or news alert. The wearable tech will also monitor their health and stress levels, and advise them when they need a healthy snack or drink, and when to take a break. Most importantly, VR technology will enable individuals to be truly portable, removing the need for a clunky peripheral smartphone or tablet. They will be able to work on-the-go, at lunch and on the commute to and from work.
Of course this all begs the question why businesses will need an office at all if everything employees see is a projection from their augmented contact lens. Once that kind of technology is mainstream one might as well stay at home and just project the whole thing there! It’s perfectly feasible to think that in 20 years time, the social side of work may soon be the only reason we have office buildings.
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