The future of office design

Office Partitions Testimonial In an age where more and more people are working from home or shared spaces, it is clear that the professional – and, by extension, office landscape is changing. The working day is no longer nine to five and the desk chair and filing cabinet are no longer synonymous with a ‘day at the office’; people are as happy and able to work from a hotel lobby or their local Starbucks – perhaps even more so – while much is being achieved at the touch of a Smartphone button whilst still horizontal from the night before.

Ryan Anderson, director of product strategy at furniture manufacturer, Herman Miller, is quoted in a Wallpaper article as saying that “there is a fundamental shift happening in the modern office” as “today’s offices are being designed with a wide variety of spaces to be shared by everyone.” A stark contrast indeed to the rigid and uniform collection of individual cubicles made up of chair, desk, phone and computer of yesterday’s office – the result of an old method of space planning dating back to the 70s and 80s that was based on the narrative of the time that meant most people could do the majority of their work by themselves in a single space.

Not so anymore. Various studies have shown that nowadays, desk utilisation is actually below 50% – meaning it really no longer makes sense to use the same model that’s been in operation for 30 odd years. “Instead, offices are becoming like homes where each person may have their own space, but those are supplemented by a wide variety of spaces to chat with a co-worker, co-create with a group, or contemplate individually about an important decision”, says Anderson. A ‘home’ that Herman Miller has renamed a ‘Living Office’. And, as every homemaker will attest to, a successful living space must be the right blend of colour and comfort; homely touches and productive triggers; the individual and their co-habitants. It’s a term that was coined by Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky in the early 1900s – the third space – relating to the theoretical place between work and home. Today’s working space, therefore, must be that third space; it must offer all that a home and office offers – and more – if it is to tempt workers away from the comfort of their couch or, if they’re really lucky, a beach in Bali.


Jeff Miller, veteran of Apple and Herman Miller who’s now vice president of design at modern office suppliers, Poppin, may well be on to something, therefore, as he says in a Fast Company article that today’s trends are the antithesis of rigid workstations. “Lighter, powerful, wireless technology has untethered the workspace more than ever, so offices can be more comfortable, which stimulates relaxed collaboration”, he’s quoted as saying.

His ties to Apple are no coincidence as, like much else in today’s modern world, the tech giants were one of the early adopters of this newcollaborative approach, with one of Steve Jobs’ final public appearances detailing plans around their new, doughnut-shaped headquarters, while the new BBC offices in London are also borne out of a similar mindset, now boasting American diner-style booths where staff can enjoy chance encounters. Flexibility, it seems, is key, as – borne out of the untethering of technology and today’s growing reliance on the social – collaboration and community become core workplace trends – complete with standing communal desks, business lounges, and relaxation pods.

“The ‘Google’ style offices of old were making a bold statement – ‘work doesn’t have to be dull drudgery, you can have fun with it and you can look forward to it’”, says Dennis Keighron-Foster, creative director at web hosting company, Steamhaus. The problem is, he says, many companies interpreted that to mean “a few beanbags and some AstroTurf” – an “overly childish” approach that is a poor imitation. “That said”, he adds, “the style has served its purpose; to pioneer an employee focused way of doing business.”


It all fits in with the growing importance of company culture and employee engagement, as suggested by a survey conducted by Deloitte which found that 87% of organisations cite these things as one of their most critical challenges, and is an approach used by Love Energy Savings, which, in recent times, has re-located their senior management on the mezzanine floor an open middle section above the sales floor – the theory being that it should motivate the sales floor to work their way up whilst providing inspiration and information to the top floor from the buzz of the sales floor; a two-way stream that encourages a move towards company-wide transparency and team alignment.

Taking the idea of flexibility one step further, Old Granada Studios champions what they call “transitioning workspaces”, which are “spaces that can quickly evolve into presentation areas, venues or even social settings.
“We find that zoning allocated areas helps to create a seamless transition between working environment by day and social venue by evening; the perfect work/play balance”, Tanya Grady from Old Granada Studios tells us. “With workplace wellbeing being the key to keeping employees motivated, we often host regular professional sessions with key speakers, networking events and socials to encourage cross collaboration and provide some much needed downtime. In short, we believe that providing flexible space for people and businesses to grow creates a valuable ecosystem that reaps benefits for both organisations and individuals.”

She warns, however, that “despite being in vogue at present, an open office won’t necessarily suit everyone.” As a result, therefore, they believe they have “developed the next generation of workplaces with a platform that suits all types of personality ranging from hot-desking to separate studios”.


Of course, another obvious benefit of this new flexible work structure is the enormous potential in environmental savings, and engineering consultant National Grid is one such company which has won praise for its innovative design which not only promotes collaborative working but does so in an eco-friendly way. Their Smart WorkSpace has increased informal meeting space by 30% whilst making a 16% energy saving through initiatives such as installing motion sensors and fitting out their offices with sustainable furniture.

Then there’s the actual interior design of today’s office. According to Miller, “we’re seeing more offices integrate pops of colour in unexpected ways”, whilst a study from Australia concluded that having plants in an office can increase productivity by 15% – a nod to another trend which seems to place great importance on bringing the outdoors in. Rooftop gardens may even develop to such an extent that own produce is grown to then be sold in canteens to encourage healthy eating.

Other future trends are constantly being predicted, too. According to internet service provider, Plusnet, driverless cars mean car parks will have a stacking system, like those already in existence in Japan, the need for heightened security will mean scanning on entry to the building and holographic receptionists will be personalised towards each person! There may even exist a toilet lockdown, which prevents anyone leaving until they have washed their hands sufficiently to maintain high levels of hygiene throughout the office whilst, perhaps most exciting of all, they predict biometric fridges in kitchens which will recognise an individual’s touch and produce privately stored food, as well as 3D printers which will develop to the point of being able to prepare a snack at the touch of a button!

With an intentional blur between work and play these days, it would seem we’re doing away with the daily grind and, as well as working for our profession, we’re making our profession work for us. And there’s nothing wrong with that!

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