Our minds are changing and so are our workspaces

Offices have come a long way. The days of segregated cubicles have been replaced with open plan layouts, snugs and mobile working. What does the office of the future look like; and what does it tell us about ourselves?
Expedia Market Hall design with open plan layout, plants and wooden furniture
Expedia are championing mutual work spaces. Image: Expedia

The office of the future

We’ve all heard of super cool hipster companies using bean bags instead of chairs. Walking desks with built-in treadmills, anyone? The thing is, that futuristic offices might actually be the best possible work environment for productivity.

With the unveiling of American Airlines’ new HO in Fort Worth, Texas, last month, the topic has come up again. Herman Miller, the iconic American furniture design company, has custom designed their desks. These, rather fittingly, meet the most-voted for employee wish – to have more leg room…

So, are these new architecturally designed offices a way for high performing companies to boast their wealth; or are they genuinely better workplaces?

Aerial view of the Apple Austin campus
Apple are investing $1 billion in their new Austin campus. Image: Apple

Space not place

Taking a look around some of the most innovative modern workplaces, the key similarity is spaces and not places.

Having an assigned working space might, for some people, be key to feeling comfortable and settled. However, newer ways of working are far less formal and allow for a more communal culture.

American Airlines’ new HO has no private offices – instead, they have over 1,000 meeting spaces.

Stanford University reports that 66% of companies allow remote working, and a whopping 16% are fully remote.

Jonathan Pierce, Director of Culture and Change, explained to the Wall Street Journal that the HO has ‘outdoor meeting areas wired so PowerPoint presentations can be beamed on large weatherproof monitors‘. There will be a pool and cricket pitch added later.

Hosting meeting outdoors is a novel idea, but perhaps cutting out the distraction of ringing phones and breathing fresh air might be more conducive to capturing the attention of your audience?

Traditional office layout with grey carpets and segregated cubicles
Traditional office cubicle layouts do not inspire loyalty or creativity. Image: Flickr

Collaborative working – buzz word or reality?

In the modern workplace, most of us work remotely for at least a proportion of the time. Stanford University reports that 66% of companies allow remote working, and a whopping 16% are fully remote.

Offices act as a hub for the company, but creating flexible workspaces is more effective to allowing staff to work in the right setting for the task at hand.

Need to compile a complex business plan? A quiet office is your best bet. Need to discuss a complicated problem and need advice and help? A free flowing conversation area is a much more creative space.

Man relaxed in an ergonomic office chair working from a laptop balance on his knees
Relaxed work atmospheres affect better employee creativity. Image: Unsplash

What’s the latest?

At the McDonald’s Corp HO in Chicago, staff have an app which allows them to control the temperature of their working area. The Senior Director of Workplace Solutions, Sheri Malec, says, ‘when people are uncomfortable, they’re not as productive‘. Simple problems always have simple solutions!

Expedia Group is constructing a $900 million site at their new Seattle campus and the theory behind it is called biophilia. This is the concept of making workers feel more in tune with the outdoors.

The campus features sliding glass doors and hiking and biking trails around the perimeter. Hidden wifi spots in fibreglass stones allow continuous connectivity. Mark Nagle, VP of Global Real Estate, says that, ‘these are simple human needs that we haven’t been great at in the workplace‘.

I can’t wait to see what quirks Apple will announce within their new $1 billion Austin campus!

Now we don’t all have the budget for an in-house swimming pool. But simple things like natural light, vibrant colours, comfortable desks and a touch of nature are all it takes to bring more energy to your place of work.

This is a far cry from the working conditions for Amazon warehouse staff, who are crumbling under the stress of the holiday season.

Office walkway at Expedia Group with glass panels and wicker seats
Natural light and comfortable seating are key in modern office design. Image: ZGF

How does this reflect working cultures?

As crazy as some of these designs might sound, they are right! An analysis of workplace environments shows how we work best in ‘clan culture’ work spaces or in an ‘adhocracy culture’. Hierarchical culture is destined for history.

Clan culture is created by promoting teamwork through shared spaces. Everybody is equal, and each idea is as important as the next. No more skating through a meeting without saying a word!

Adhocracy is the next level, whereby relaxed and informal work environments are a strategic choice. This encourages a supportive team dynamic and helps creativity to flourish.

Happy and relaxed staff will keep working for you for longer, work harder, and therefore take more pride in their combined successes.

Google office with brightly coloured walls and games
Firms such as Google pioneered new ways of working. Image: Google

I think this is long overdue, which perhaps seems easy to say as a freelance working parent. But really the days of clocking in and out are now antiquated, and in honesty the concept of sitting in an assigned cubicle for the rest of my adult life makes me a tiny bit nauseous.

People are not machines; humans need inspiration, encouragement and passion to produce their very best work. Whether you work in finance or in creative design, you are always going to be the best version of yourself when you are relaxed, feel appreciated, and can work in your own unique way.

Bring on the beanbags, I say!

What do you think; is it all a load of nonsense, or would you work better in a more innovative workplace? Are there simple things you do which make your place of work more relaxed? Can we all learn some tips from these giants of tech, and bring a little more joy to our working day? Let us know your thoughts!

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