The Office of the Future

Despite the futuristic vision of humans being freed from the office chains by an army of robot workers, the need to think about the future of the office environment remains and is a constant topic of interest in the world of commercial real estate. Considering how much time employees spend in the company office and the growing mountain of knowledge we have on how this environment often falls short of expectations, the office of the future is certain to be different to today’s.

What can we expect, and what will staff demand of offices in the near future? How will the design of offices will improve productivity and what impact will they have on workers’ health?

1. Offices to be more comfortable, more mobile, and also more productive

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To the relief of all, the traditional backache-inducing desk may not have a big future. While desks are undoubtedly well suited to basic administrative tasks, their static nature doesn’t bode well for people in creative industries. Sitting still for 8 hours can make staff feel tired and slow their thought process, and static desks seem unnecessary when wireless networks offer freedom of mobility? Why not take your laptop to another desk with a different view, a sofa, a collaborative area? Why sit when there are stand-up desks available? Or why be in the office at all? Wireless mobility now means that an increasing amount of companies encourage their staff to work outside the office, saving on space requirements and increasing employees’ flexibility.

There are many benefits to agile working environments , the most obvious being that they promote collaboration. When a developer joins someone from the creative or compliance team in a collaborative work area strange and brilliant things can happen. Unexpected work results can arise from non-traditional experiences or collisions

Not just that, but agile working simply fits with the movement of the world. The work tools of the office – laptops, tablets and computers – don’t need to be tethered to a particular space any longer. Now neither do we.

2. But for those who need their own space, there will be an answer

To balance silence and participation, the universally-loathed office cube’s reinvention may also prove popular. It gives employees who need to knuckle down a space to get away from the office chitchat. Seeming to take inspiration from the 1960’s, creative designs like the bubble desk offer isolation with interaction. An interesting way to curb the less productive results of constant connection, and an acknowledgment that a busy, interactive and collaborative workspace needs balancing with areas of peace and solitude.

Gensler's 2016 UK Workplace Survey found that workers were more likely to be innovative if they had access to a range of spaces supporting different working styles, including private, semi-private and open-plan environments.

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3. Putting the health of staff first

Like any workplace, the office is a demanding environment. Sometimes the demands can become too much and even be detrimental to health. In the optimistic future, however, experts hope that the office will actually improve the health of the people working in it.

The hip offices of Google and Facebook might often be the source of amusement for being so painfully trendy, but slides, games tables and creative activities for employees improve atmosphere, health and output.

Simple but effective design can promote interaction between all levels of staff and a general feeling of wellbeing and change the culture of an organization, for the better.

Music rooms might even become the norm. Fingers crossed!

4. More Greenery

As research has continued to show, spending time around nature improves wellbeing. But that can be fairly hard to do in offices that have not been specifically designed to include greenery. The offices of the future will be heavily influenced by a trend that will continue to gain traction: biophilic design.

This design style, referred to by proponents as the “architecture of life”, is set to become more prominent in the office environment as the understanding of how the natural world benefits our mental health continues. And a Harvard University paper last year found that the cognitive performance of “green” office workers was double that of those working in conventional environments.

For employees and employers alike, this will improve health and staff productivity, reducing time off for illness and improving staff retention.

5. And maybe offices won’t exist at all

Considering the ultra-mobile trajectory of the world, with the growing freelance economy at work and sharing economy for services, maybe the office will have no future in our working lives.

With wireless connectivity rapidly improving there is more and more potential for staff to work from almost anywhere, from the coffee shop around the corner to a sandy beach on a far flung island. One in three Australians now regularly work from home.

Freedom from the restraints of an office can create a more productive working environment. Staff can choose what to wear, what music to listen to, when to have lunch and which colleagues to speak to and are able to work at their own cadence – some people work more effectively in short sprints than in a continuous flow, some work better in the morning, others in the afternoon or evening. Working from home policies can allow companies to benefit from their employees chosen methods of working and to engender a culture of two-way trust and respect.

James Shanks is Co-Founder of Franklin Shanks, a boutique tenant advisory and tenant representation company based in Sydney. Franklin Shanks work with their clients across Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the US to procure the best commercial real estate for their current and future needs.