The office: the place to socialise?
You might have noticed it already, but something really interesting is happening in terms of how we talk and think about working at the office.
Have you recently noticed companies - and perhaps even the HR department at your place of employment - talk about the office as being the place where people meet, socialise and connect?
Ten or twenty years ago, this was not something that one would really have heard said about the office. Sure, we all know that catching up with colleagues is part of working from the office, but to hear it being declared by companies is a different thing altogether. Because isn’t the office the place you came to in order to… work?
The fact that we can today unabashedly say that the office is primarily the place where people go to connect with their colleagues, tells us a lot about how our perception of work is steadily changing.
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash
Ethan Bernstein, an associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, notes that we should ask ourselves “how can we use the office to make what we’re doing remotely even more effective? If remote work becomes the default, maybe the office is there for the sake of cementing relationships, introducing people and deliberate relationship-building.”
And this isn’t the only change.
All over the work landscape, new ideas are blossoming and taking shape. Let’s take a look at the most interesting ones.
Working for good
Lenovo has recently launched its ‘Work for Humankind’ initiative. In broad strokes, this is part of an inspiring vision of creating opportunities for people to work remotely for the good of others and the planet. Lenovo has set up technological hubs in remote places - such as Robinson Crusoe Island, Chile - so that people can go and work there remotely and help the local community with their sustainability goals.
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
Although this might still seem a bit unattainable for most of us (it’s not exactly as if such opportunities are plentiful - yet), there are indications that working remotely for the betterment of the planet could become more widespread.
A step in that direction is already found in opportunities to do remote working closer to home. A company such as Workero, for example, has opened a network of coworking locations and encourages freelancers and companies to make use of this network in order to allow employees to work in locations that are closer to their homes. This means less commuting, which in turn means less greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and reduced impact on infrastructure in main cities. When people work from satellite or coworking offices closer to their homes, they also contribute to the development of smaller towns where these offices are situated.
We certainly hope that working and making the planet a better place going hand-in-hand will become mainstream. We’re also curious to see in which creative ways work will become more sustainable!
While we’ve just mentioned doing ‘good’ while working, what about acting a little bit ‘illegal’ in the future? Cue the notion of illegal architecture.
The term ‘illegal architect’ was coined by Jonathan Hill and refers to building or workspace occupants changing their environment in ways that weren’t necessarily intended by the original designers or architects. When applied to workspaces, it means that people will be able to rearrange their workspaces in radical ways.
Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash
For this to happen, however, offices need to be flexible and rearrangeable - from the furniture to the layout of the office.
Multi-space office design, in particular, lends itself to this kind of flexibility. Multi-space design combines silent and social spaces on an office floor, such as silent-work or phone call pods interspersed with open areas for social interactions. Ideally, the furniture and pods should be movable, adjustable or flexible to better allow people to craft the space that they really need and feel comfortable with. Google is, for example, planning to introduce flexible ‘Team Rooms,’ inflatable balloon walls and privacy robots to its post-pandemic office. These will all allow employees to create the spaces they feel most comfortable working in.
Photo by Standsome Worklifestyle on Unsplash
Once again, if this seems like a utopian pipe-dream, know that you are probably already a bit of an illegal architect. People tend to move things around in offices and arrange their desks in ways that make them feel more comfortable. With the rise of human-centric work models and office design, we will increasingly have more control over our workspaces.
The digital world expands
More control over our workspace isn’t just limited to the physical dimension: expect to see a whole lot of control over one’s digital workplace too.
Last year, our attention was drawn to the metaverse. According to Meta, we’ll not only live and play in the metaverse but also work there. This would entail having a virtual workspace that looks just like you want it to and virtually connecting with your colleagues in an interactive and immersive way. How exactly the metaverse will be realised and how it will change the way we work are, however, still subjects of speculation at this time. It isn’t clear yet whether this virtual world will hide the pyjamas that you’re wearing, nor is it clear whether it will be able to filter out the sound of your next-door neighbour’s decidedly very non-virtual leaf blower.
Photo by My name is Yanick on Unsplash
What can be said with certainty, is that companies will increasingly make use of digital tools to improve the way we work.
For now, more subtle forms of digitisation are being incorporated into workspaces. Most of us are already carrying out our daily work tasks via digital applications and cloud computing. The pandemic has further entrenched the use of these tools and has ushered in a whole new array of digital technologies.
Digital tools such as Workspace or Office management software, for example, is becoming popular due to its ability to prevent overbooking at offices. This helps companies to comply with health and safety measures and reassures employees that there aren’t too many people on-site. Workspace management software also gives real-time measurements of how buildings or offices are used: this, for example, can be used by sustainability officers to measure a company’s carbon footprint, or by facility managers to manage their buildings or sites.
Maybe in ten years, Workero will be one of the businesses creating workspaces for the metaverse. Or you’ll use our workspace management software to book a desk in the meta-space. Now that is really meta.
Working from home during the pandemic has also accelerated the adoption of Virtual Reality training. Virtual Reality training acts as a bridge between experts and trainees when in-person interactions might be difficult or impossible. Due to the fact that VR training can significantly lower the costs of standardised training, we will probably see much more of this in the near future.
Yet, while the workplace is steadily being digitised, it doesn’t mean that we will completely do away with in-person interactions. In fact, many people complained during the pandemic that they missed the social interactions and change of scenery that came with working at the office. This brings us to the next future trend….
As this author of a recent article has pointed out: “If work really is a thing you do rather than a place you go, where does that leave the office?”
Architects and building designers predict that our future workspaces will have to be enticing destinations in order to lure us from our homes: hence, the rise of the destination office.
Photo by Standsome Worklifestyle on Unsplash
Whether it’s setting up outdoor work areas, like Google is doing, or nostalgic or cosy spaces, such as library-inspired offices, these designs could soon be pushing the boundaries in the current glass-and-concrete office landscape.
Photo: Workero Wommelgem
Destination workspaces also act as places people can escape to if they have remote fatigue. At the start of the remote work experience, most people relished the fact of being able to work from the comfort of their own homes. Cutting out a commute, being able to do a few house tasks during the day, and not having to dress up (all the way) were some of the perks cited. But as time went on, some discovered that pets, children, partners or roommates prevented them from deeply concentrating on work, or just having a moment of respite on their own. Others simply felt cooped up: not everyone has a garden or another room that they can retreat to when they get tired of staring at the same four walls day in and out.
That’s why beautiful or soothing workspaces that give people the chance to work in peace and quiet, such as a library-inspired space or an outdoor area set up for work, might be particularly attractive.
Screenshot of Chris Herd’s Twitter thread.
Back to Normal? More like embracing the weird and wonderful
These trends all reflect a bigger movement that is taking hold - and probably the only thing that one can predict with certainty - and this is the fact that workspaces will be made for and by people.
This requires flexibility. And yes, the word is thrown around quite a bit and often overused. But perhaps its over-use points to the fact that no one is perfectly sure of how this flexibility will play out and what it means yet. All we know is that we have to be able to adapt to changing circumstances and changing employee demands.
Will we end up having perfect flexibility: that is, work when we want, and where want? Perhaps not in 2022, but we are steadily moving in that direction. Having changed our perception of the office as the place where one works, to the place where we can have meaningful social interactions, is already a remarkable shift.