We are living in such a fast paced environment that it is difficult to be able to predict the near future let alone further away than that. What we do know is that technology will continue to impact and alter every aspect of our lives.

The Weapons of Mass Distraction that we have at our fingertips will increase and it will take a great deal of self-management to deliver concentrated work. The cultures of organisations have to change to allow distraction-free working if they are going to deliver the outcomes required. People need to be released from the constraints of responding immediately to emails, texts and other forms of communication. This means that boundaries have to be established and, in some cases, enforced as technology should be an enabler not a distraction. 

Does the 9-5 working day really exist today? In the majority of cases it’s more like 8-7pm and then there is the average commuting time of an hour to and from work each day. When designing workplaces, we’ve seen people come into the office already buzzing from their second espresso of the morning and usually having completed emails and tasks on their way into work. That’s on the days that they’re in the office.

Add in the fact that international organisations have to work across multiple time zones and you’ll often find people conducting conference calls with San Francisco at 10pm in the evening.

Employees are already shifting to more flexible work patterns and this will continue. If they’re to retain their people, organisations have to take into account pressures such as childcare, care of elderly parents and indeed the desired work-life balance of their employees, as much as actually needing to get the work done.

Smaller, more agile organisations are leading the way. If the larger companies want to continue to have access to top talent, they’re going to have to accommodate the needs of their workers. It’s slowly changing and flexible and remote working is an area that will continue to grow. This requires a great deal of trust from both sides. What we do know is that if organisations enforce working hours that they are seen to be less trusting and less caring. That means employees will be less willing to go the extra mile for their employers. And we all know that greater productivity comes when people are engaged and willing to put in discretionary effort. 

[insert a quick coffee break, or nose at Facebook]

So, how will this impact on the need for office space, and the type of offices people use? Will there always be a need for a main central office, or could we see a totally virtualised environment where people work from hubs, shops, hotels etc? 

And what kind of people will still need to work in an office? Is there a need for a core group of people while others work virtually or remotely? Or is the reality that most people will still want or need to come into an office most days? 

I don’t think that we’ll ever do away with office environments completely. Humans are collaborative beings. We like working together. We like sharing spaces, ideas and striving together for a common goal. Of course there are some people who will just work for their pay packet at the end of each month. These are the very type of people who need a structured work environment.

What has changed is how space is utilised inside of offices. While we used to have 100 desks for 100 people, this is no longer the case. Collaborative workspaces, hot desking, café environments, informal work areas now cater for the more flexible working person. This means that although the overall square footage of a building might not change, how the space is utilised will be radically different. This gives companies the ability to flex and adapt quickly. They can bring more people on-board. They can include a more remote workforce but still have space to accommodate them centrally without desks sitting empty in the office.

The size of organisations is also changing. The number of small businesses increases year on year. They are tending to work in partnership and collaborate together to rival larger, more static organisations. There’ll be an elastic band effect where younger, dynamic companies pull more static organisations forward and set future workplace practices.

The office redesign of a global insurance company in London looks nothing like an office. Walking into their offices is like walking into an upmarket hotel. Sofas and armchairs create informal meeting areas. The reception area feels like a welcoming hotel lobby with the concierge waiting to offer help and advice. Beautiful lighting and gallery style art placement evoke a very different feeling to the concept of a traditional office. 

What will the office of the future look like, in terms of both design and the technology within it? Are there elements of home technology (smart homes, remote control via apps etc), which could be applied to the office environment? 

People and technology are becoming integrated and in business, organisations have access to all different types of data. Your catering card monitors your diet. Your usage of sit stand desks can be collated. Computer usage, as well as search history, is already being analysed. Companies are beginning to use this data for workplace design and if they’re not already doing so they will need to.

Space utilisation is also being monitored. Are people using the meeting rooms? Is that square footage working as hard as it could be? Where is there demand? All of these are great questions that can inform workplace design. There is a caveat though. Data only provides a rear-view mirror approach. For successful workplace design you need to consider the future, especially if you’re about to sign a 10-year lease. That’s where understanding the goals of the business and talking to a cross-section of individuals from all departments and at all levels makes a great deal of sense.

Very often we have clients who give us their views and opinions. That’s great but they tend to be senior level people. We need to know what it’s like to work in the space from the people who use it every day. That’s why every workplace refit or redesign has to involve a cross-section of people throughout the organisation. How else will you know if what you’re proposing will be fit for purpose now and in the future?

What will this look like from a productivity/wellness/happiness perspective? Will we see more emphasis on areas designed to encourage collaboration and reduce stress? What other initiatives could we see as organisations seek to get the right work/life balance?

The best way to get a highly productive, engaged and happier workforce is to involve them in the creation of the space that they’ll inhabit. You’ll always get better results if you include people.

Like any new initiative though you’ll have a honeymoon period where the space is new, interesting and exciting. This typically lasts about 6 months before people become conditioned to it. We always advise clients to give the space a lift every six months. This doesn’t have to be big and expensive. Rental art schemes can change the walls. Designing a graphics wall where items are updated keeps people engaged in their environment.

There’s interesting thinking on biophilic design, which brings humans together with other living species in the workplace. Some might see this as a luxury but there is growing scientific evidence to supports the fact that plants and yes animals have a positive affect on our psychological well-being and therefore have a part to play in workplace design.

Light is one of the key attributes of successful office design. The existing building stock that with deep and dark interiors has had its day. They are being replaced by architectural designs where light plays a key role. One of the principles of workplace design is that people who spend the most time in the office should have the easiest access to light. Out with the large corner office for the chairman who is never in. Use this place instead for your customer service operatives and see productivity increase.

There are some things that just don’t work and negatively impact on our well-being. Clean desk policies are one of these. Make your people clear away their desks at the end of each day and you cut their umbilical chord of thought. Don’t let it get out of control, but don’t enforce this. Equally, personalisation of workspaces improves productivity. You hire people as individuals. Let them express their individuality.

Organisations are beginning to see the link between office design, well-being, engagement and productivity. It’s been a long hard slog to get there but finally the light is dawning. Design your building around the needs of your people and you’ll see the results. 

We love to categorise people. Accountants enjoy one type of workspace. Baby boomers another. Generation Y? Well as long as they’re connected, autonomous and collaborative then they’ll be happy. Perhaps this type of thinking might get you someway down the line but you cannot blanket categorise for successful workplace design.

As an organisation you need to identify how your individuals and teams want to work. You’ll need to look at the type of work you’re doing now and what you want to be doing in the future. You’ll have to assess the culture of your company and what will work for you and your people. 

Will there be a lessening of the need to work in a city centre office help other regions prosper, and/or other cities outside of London? 

Personally, I hope that the physical and technological infrastructure will reduce the reliance on major conurbations. Certainly, cities outside of London are offering a lot more scope and opportunity with cost effective locations, cheaper travel and a more affordable cost of living.

Smaller companies are resisting the urge to move to city centres, basing themselves instead in their local communities. As these companies grow, opportunities for employment will be created. This will see an increasing trend away from the urban environment.

For city centre locations, we’re already seeing the development of multi-use spaces. Buildings are beginning to offer coffee shops on the ground floor with co-working hubs existing alongside fixed office space and pent-house hotels. Google have already created this within their own building as they have the scale and scope to facilitate this type of development.

Hopefully, soon we’ll all be able to benefit from this type of development to create a new and better type of workplace that’s designed around us as individuals, rather than dictated by the out-dated cultures of large organisations.