29 Jul 2018 • Frame 123
Here are the peaks and pits of the future workplace
An increasing number of employees may be unshackling from their outmoded desks as the concept of a ‘workday’ becomes murkier and murkier. The shift doesn’t mean that the office will cease to exist, but it will transcend its former role.
Your future workspace will be a mix of professional activities and all kinds of amenities, like sports clubs, restaurants, shops, health centres, gardens, meditation rooms and apartments. Picture a place where boundaries between work and downtime no longer exist and your leisure interests shape the environment even more than the tasks you perform. ‘Employers will have to adapt and recognise that the idea that “at their desk = being productive” will no longer apply in the workspace of the future,’ says MoreySmith design director Nicola Osborn, as quoted in ‘The Future of the Workplace’, a report by consultancy firm The Future Laboratory, commissioned by MoreySmith. ‘The network is global and communication needs to be open and ﬂuid across many platforms. The design environment will be rich and diverse, filled with optionality.’
Although socially stimulating workplaces evoke visions of what lies ahead, some experts take a cynical view. International corporate HR expert Didier Bille, author of DRH: La Machine à Broyer, dislikes the idea of people spending more time at the office. ‘Corporate bosses probably have the best intentions, but good workplace design can never compensate for poor management. Keeping employees on site longer limits their insights, because creativity is fuelled by serendipity, discovery and random encounters,’ he says, explaining that cut-and-paste doesn’t work with ‘gyms, kitchens and childcare facilities’ that are transferred from the outside world to the office ‘to improve interactions, because [such additions] aren’t business tools’.
The rapid rise of co-working spaces supports Bille’s view that work is abandoning traditional offices. According to Deskmag’s ‘2018 Global Coworking Survey’, the approximately 11,300 co-working spaces available worldwide in 2017 were being used by more than 835,000 individuals. The latter figure is on the rise and expected to exceed a million by the end of 2018.
Generally entrepreneurial in focus, co-working spaces furnish short- and long-term solutions for start-ups, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), freelancers and globetrotting consultants. They provide opportunities for building new networks and loading up on fresh inspiration. Thanks to international organizations such as WeWork, shared workspaces are now a global phenomenon that reveals the nomadic nature of work in the digital economy. Others, such as Station F in Paris and A/D/O in Brooklyn, operate one-off locations that bring creative working environments to local communities. Today, their facilities are rooted in work, but as they explore co-living concepts, each will meet the need for affordable flatshare-style lodgings.
Station F’s new housing facility is designed to accommodate 600 people in 100 shared apartments. The site will open later this year and includes a sports complex, bar and café, as well as direct transport links to the Station F campus. The co-living development reflects Station F’s community-building initiatives and makes it easier for entrepreneurs outside Paris to gain a foothold in the capital. ‘The future workspace will become a dynamic and progressive destination where people will want to spend time, especially those who might be travelling regularly or working remotely,’ says Nicola Osborn in the aforementioned report. ‘It will be a place where people can reconnect with their peer group or industry specialists, share knowledge and reinvigorate.’
A/D/O is backed by car brand MINI, which is diversifying into property development. MINI Living’s Shanghai location interprets the office as a city in itself, complete with services and amenities that deliver the outside world to the workplace doorstep. A former industrial building will be converted into spaces for co-working, co-living, retail and leisure. The project is part of MINI’s global initiative to translate its automotive-design expertise into compact working and living spaces for urban professionals.
‘As colleagues live, work and socialize together, there’s more scope for understanding each other’s motivations, making it easier to form lasting bonds,’ Bille says. ‘It’s clear that people work much better when they know each other on a level other than just a professional one. But boundaries have to be put in place. Should employees actually be encouraged to spend all day and evening on the job? What if workaholic parents start delegating parental responsibilities to the childcare facility? At what point would the use of laptops and smartphones stop and personal interaction begin?’
Architects and designers already understand the significance of such interaction within shared co-working spaces and individual hospitality-style offices. Could they apply what they know to municipal co-working concepts, where all members of a community could sit and work for free in public spaces? The Outdoor Office pioneered by Swedish furniture manufacturer Nola does just that, promoting public co-working for all. The brand collaborated with Gestalt Arkitektur’s Christian Kahlefeldt on its experimental outdoor office park known as Work OUT. Together they developed open-air workstations that attract people to meet and work outdoors. Solar panels generate power for Wi-Fi and portable devices. Nola’s concept can turn parks and other urban spaces into places for hanging out with friends, relaxing and working. Wherever people gather to work can be seen as their ‘office’.
Fresh workplace ideas require well-implemented designs inspired by individual projects, group activities and curated events. Architects and designers are being asked to inject mood and motivation into practical bricks-and-mortar structures. Whether work returns to revitalized office buildings or corporate campuses become the norm, the future is sure to make dull routines and drab environments a thing of the past.