Conceptions of office spaces are changing. Traditionally, a productive office environment is made up of cubicles and partitioned workspaces, set up to ensure that employees get from lift to desk as quickly as possible in order to minimise time spent away from their work stations, which were considered the cornerstone of productivity and work, until now.
Rapidly evolving technology and the vastly more sociable way particularly the youngest generation of employees interact with each other, have given rise to a different way of thinking about how to optimise workspaces and maximise productivity and employee satisfaction.
The new generation of graduates are digital natives who have learnt to relate to others in a very different way to previous generations. Millennials "are used to different ways of working, sharing, and collaborating, even from an early age," explains Elaine Rossall, who is head of London market research for property consultants Cushman & Wakefield.
Ryan Mullenix, the chief designer of the new Google building, explains that office spaces are evolving, and productivity is less and less measured by the amount of time spent at a desk.
Longer working hours, particularly in the technology sector, have also led to a growing need to make offices more than just static, isolated environments centred around a desk. Designers and organisations are incorporating elements of the home into workplaces; introducing ways to help employees relax and let off steam at work, in an effort to reduce mental exhaustion and keep the workforce stimulated, enthusiastic and productive.
Furthermore, the explosion of digital technology and online business means increased working flexibility, enabling people to work from home easily, rendering the need for an individual desk for each employee in a firm much less relevant.
According to Philip Tidd, from the design and architecture firm Gensler: "The idea that the desk is a unit of productivity is changing very, very rapidly. Your productivity is not measured by the amount of time you sit behind a thing called a desk. It is what you do. It is about your output”. Gone are the days of static, partitioned offices with cubicles and silence. Instead firms, from Silicon Valley to Shoreditch, are reconceiving notions of office spaces and revolutionising the way people work in an office environment.
The requirement now is for designers to create stimulating, comfortable environments that invite employees to utilise their office space to its best potential, in order to maximise interaction and collaboration opportunities, whilst remaining as relaxed as they would be working from home.
Perhaps the most famous of them all, Apple’s headquarters was one of the first to embrace this new office culture. A 71 hectare (176 acre) campus with an enormous O-shaped building for 13,000 employees at its heart, it was built around concepts of stimulating communication and partnership between employees, and has influenced workplace cultures ever since.
So what are some things we could expect to see in an office of the future?
With flexibility and home working becoming ever more popular, companies have started to reimagine the role of a desk in an office. Rather than assign each employee an individual desk, workstations are allocated as they are required, or sometimes even using a rota system, increasing mobility and interaction within the office with an aim to maximise collaborative opportunities and the pace of productivity.
Designers are introducing some of the benefits of working from home into offices, in order to encourage employees to make use of the office space and make the most of interacting with other employees but not to become exhausted by the longer hours and higher demands that so many industries are seeing.
Companies are creating more comfortable spaces, private pods for working, relaxation spaces and softer lighting, such as Turnstone’s Big Lamp that mimics sitting around a campfire and creates a cosy ambience not seen in more traditional offices. Some firms are even introducing recreational facilities such as games rooms and gyms, like Google’s famous slide, or the incredible video game space at Facebook.
Incorporating outside spaces and encouraging physical activity
As working hours increase, it is becoming ever more important to ensure employees are as stimulated and productive as possible when in the office. Evidence shows that productivity is boosted when an employee isn’t just static for the duration of the working day, but moving around and on their feet. Of course all this movement further adds to the possibility of interaction with other employees, and hopefully to the spontaneous collaboration that is becoming so popular. Some companies are going so far as to remove desk chairs while Turnstone even designed a treadmill desk and NBBJ post maps next to lift doors that suggest outdoor walking routes for meetings of various lengths.
Despite the explosion of open offices and sociable working environments, there has been some resistance to the format, particularly from older generations who are used to working in more seclusion and find the sociable nature of open offices difficult and stressful to work in. So flexibility and variety in design is key. According to Dr Vinesh Oommen, at the Queensland University of Technology “It is the ability to create different areas within a campus and building, catering for different working styles that is important”.
Office design is no longer just a case of partitions and water cooler conversation. It is a complex and holistic process that must take into account a myriad of different elements and working preferences. The format of a company’s working space and headquarters is the cornerstone of their success, and organisations are reacting to the changing environment in increasingly innovative and startling ways.
By Eugene O’Sullivan, Director, Morgan Pryce