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For Business
September 17, 2014

What will the workplace of the future look like?

It’s easy to see that technological change will have an impact on our working environment, and the jobs we do in the future. But trying to actually envisage what that change will look like is a lot harder.

Only the smartest few were able to anticipate the huge changes the microprocessor would bring about back in the 1970s, and since then the advent of the internet and mobile technology have shaken our working routines even more.

Can we look into the future? It’s not easy, but we can examine trends, see how leaders are changing our workplaces, and recognise our own needs, in order to get some good ideas.

So, what will the workplace of the future look like? Here are four ideas:

1. Different from each other

Companies will hire their own ‘tool builders’ to give them the edge. In fact, some big companies already do.

We work with companies that build their own Windows Phone apps to give their staff the tools they need on their mobile device.

Elsewhere, newspapers are now hacking together their own tools to meet their needs. Writing a newspaper article at the Guardian and the Financial Times now means becoming familiar with different systems, built by their own in-house teams. Some of these tools could start a second wave of automation, to take advantage of new software paradigms. Take the automated financial reporting being rolled out by Associated Press1, or the robot journalism the LA Times used to report an earthquake, just three minutes after it happened.2

Those custom tools could be physical too. Wearable technology will make offices – and other places like factories, hospitals, construction sites – even more unfamiliar. BMW’s 3D-printed ‘super-thumbs’, customised for each worker to provide support on the production line, are an example. They’re designed and built by BMW to meet their workers’ needs, providing muscular support in the form of a custom exoskeleton designed for each worker. 3

2. Different everyday

Moveable walls. Frostable glass. Smart displays. These are ways that changeable environments can help people get the most out of their office space. Desks which adjust their height, like StirDesk which uses software to help you stand more throughout the day, are proving popular in places such as Twitter’s new London HQ. 4

Your office needs to be private, or collaborative, when you need it to be. Uber, the technology-driven taxi firm, has a ‘war room’ with a fog effect for its glass walls in case meetings get too heated. Otherwise they’re transparent so visitors can appreciate the openness of the company.5

Brookfield, an asset management firm, has giant video walls that use Xbox Kinect technology. The screens automatically display information of Brookfield’s portfolio, and when somebody stops to look at something, the screen will show additional information on the topic that caught their eye. And it has meeting rooms that let you know who’s booked them, too.6

3. In different places

Flexible working is on the rise – it’s great for employee wellness and gives companies the opportunity to save on office space.

The rise of flexible working is leading to the creation of new kinds of informal workspaces. Hotels, such as the Ace Hotel in New York, are vying for workers to come, not just to their conference rooms or business centres, but also to their lobbies. People can relax and have a drink, while meeting other professionals around long communal worktables. Start-up hostels also offer attractive workspaces for entrepreneurs and students who want to combine work and travel.

What is clear is that our phones will play a crucial role – communication is the crux of flexible working. It’s not just about sharing documents and using apps, but being able to speak clearly to colleagues and send messages with ease. In a world of working from wherever, our communication and clarification efforts will be more important, so connectivity and good skills must come together.

4. More windows

Carbon-reduction targets are real around the world, as is the will to be responsible and sustainable among business leaders. So sustainable workplaces should be as commonplace as sustainable homes. But what does that mean?

At its most basic, fresh air and natural light make for better workplaces. Noise and pollution stopped lots of office workers opening windows to cool themselves down and feel some ownership of their building – but new environmentally-friendly vehicles are making cities quieter and cleaner – so we won’t have to shut ourselves off any longer.

That’s not it of course – it’s all part of smarter design. Using thermal mass to regulate building temperature, smart ventilation to keep air fresh, and generating energy on-site. Pavegen, for example, is a floor tile that generates energy when people walk over it. 7

How is your workplace adapting to change? What changes are you making in your workplace to increase productivity and attract a new generation of workers? Let us know below.

Image by bjornmeansbear | CC BY-SA 2.0