With companies under increasing pressure to accommodate their employees’ preferred working style, the workplace is evolving, making this one of the most exciting times for architects and interior designers...
The world of work is changing, with better, faster technologies keeping people connected to their jobs in increasingly flexible working arrangements.
The traditional productive office environment comprised 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.
Productivity v social interaction
These were considered the cornerstone of productivity and work, until now, says Eugene O’Sullivan owner of London-based office rental agents Morgan Pryce. He says: "Rapidly evolving technology and the vastly more sociable way that in particular 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."
He says: "Rapidly evolving technology and the vastly more sociable way that in particular 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."
A move towards a more open-plan office layout, designed to encourage cross-departmental collaboration and innovation was pioneered by the likes of Google and Yahoo, and the trend shows little sign of slowing down. If anything, the modern workplace is being increasingly designed for employees working en-masse.
"Working from a shared space with more visibility is helping to lessen spatial hierarchy and promote organic group work, with the idea of a totally open office being increasingly adopted across many types of organisations, not just start-ups," says Tanya Grady from workspace provider Hello Work.
"The driving force behind implementing this new structure is to encourage collaboration, leading to more creative ideas and employees achieving greater fulfilment in the workplace."
Privacy amongst the open plan
Alongside this demand for open, collaborative workspaces is a need for some peace and quiet, and privacy, which has led to the arrival of the 'privacy pod'.
A less formal alternative to the traditional meeting room, the consensus among the workplace design community is that more privacy pods will be popping up in the coolest of offices this year.
Some believe that 2016 will be the year of the garden office, a trend that has already become hugely popular with growing numbers of home workers and entrepreneurs who need a dedicated workspace in their home.
Charlie Lear, design consultant at Harrison James Garden Rooms, says: "The ability to do more with less is invaluable when it comes to developing a start-up business. Working from the home in a dedicated environment, such as a garden office, ensures that your most precious assets of time, energy and money are maximised."
Roof gardens flourishing
And many companies are embracing the back to nature idea, by transforming their unused urban rooftop space into a relaxing and idea-provoking working environment, smack in the middle of a concrete jungle.
A 'New Verde' development in South West London is creating six office roof garden terraces, which when complete will make up 20,000 of the 282,000 square feet of office space and provide stunning views across the capital.
Of course, one of the key drivers of change in the modern workspace is technology - not least the gulf that exists between the latest digital technology that people use at home, and the more cumbersome systems they are often presented with when they are at work.
Acutely aware that the next generation employees are digital natives, used to different ways of working, sharing, and collaborating from an early age, employers are under increasing pressure to close the gap and make the workplace as technically up to speed as their employees’ homes.
"We will see large digital smart boards come down in costs and become easier to use," says Matthew Kobylar, director of interiors and workplace strategy at Arney Fender Katsalidis. "Ultimately, the workplace will ultimately have better virtual communication tools than you might have at home."
Architecture influencing wellbeing
The crucial issue of workplace wellbeing and its role in employee engagement and productivity is also giving food for thought for those responsible for creating the workplaces of the future.
"Wellness initiatives are a big trend for many organisations at the moment," adds Kobylar. "This is not just limited to providing a wellness centre but about imbuing wellness as a thread throughout the organisation and the workplace.
"For Deloitte in Montreal, wellness workplace was one of our four design foundations and manifested itself as healthy choices in the Bistro, encouraging movement in the office with an interconnecting stair, single tea points on each floor and special functions spread out across the stack."
With this trend towards agile working, activity-based working and a focus on wellbeing increasingly affecting the nature of space use and ownership within workplaces, what will the world of work look like in 2025?
Dan Pilling, head of workplace at maber architects, says: "Enlightened organisations are realising that rationalising and optimising space to cram the most people and desks into a space as possible is not the answer. With the move away from assigned desks, combined with the successful implementation of supporting technology, HR policies and the way people manage teams, potential exists to unlock massive efficiencies in terms of space usage.
"The real focus then is on how users experience the workspace and on designers creating places that explore the potential to improve productivity, health and wellbeing at work. Done correctly, instead of a model of presenteeism - being at work but not necessarily being productive - people are empowered to work when and where they prefer to perform at their best."