In conjunction with each issue of Frame, we challenge emerging designers to answer a topical question with a future-forward design concept.

Sparked by media reports that robots are likely to replace half of all jobs over the next 20 years, for Frame 117 we commissioned five makers to desgin an item, tool, space or service that relates to the anticipated automation of tomorrow's workspace.

Lotte van Velzen

You’ve moved from the Netherlands to New York City. How did this influence your concept?  
Lotte van Velzen: Living in a different city is a wonderful experience and has widened my perspective, although the question 'where do I end up?' has also became more important. My concept is a response to this topic: it basically eliminates the importance of location in the workplace.

What is it?
I call it the Augmented Office Environment (AOE), a future workspace that’s built around a virtual experience rather than a physical presence.

How will it work?
You log into your system in the morning, navigate to your personal work platform and take a seat behind your computer. Your co-workers, who are logged into the same platform, are in the same virtual space. You can attend meetings, participate in brainstorm sessions and have eat lunch with them.

Which professions do you see benefitting most from an AOE?
It has applications in many fields. Teachers can give classes attended simultaneously by students worldwide. Engineers, architects and manufacturers can develop projects in an AOE, while automated factories and smart machines make their data physical. Scientists can use an AOE to share data, and it's a good choice for virtual-simulation labs as well.

What are the advantages for individual workers?
So many people are denied opportunities because of where they live. A shortage of engineers in one part of the world and an excess in another can be addressed by using AOEs. It can also create a greater diversity in the workforce. If engineers from Senegal and Germany worked together in the same AOE, the result could be a better collaborative network of knowledge, uninhibited by geography. With the freedom to live anywhere, people will leave cities where the cost of living is high. Densely populated areas will spread out, and urbanism will reverse.

What role could big data and AI play in your concept? 
These two developments are moving technology into the realm of ethics. We need to be conscious of the fact that concepts like AOE could radically alter our lives. It's up to us to take responsibility for the extent to which such advances might render ‘you’ and ‘I’ obsolete. The AOE’s human component cannot be compromised. While simulations will improve efficiency, we have to consider why we are making these tools to begin with.

And why do we?
My belief is that they will provide us with the opportunity to more thoughtfully balance our generation's dynamic work demands. In short, technology gives us time to do the things we want, wherever we want.