The evolution of the office workspace
Thursday, June 07, 2018
The office. No, I'm not talking about the sitcom, I'm talking about the phenomenon defined as a place where we work.
Since our work life has moved from outside to in, the definition of what an office is has been pretty consistent. That definition of an office as defined by cartoon characters and TV shows has been pretty much a standard.
Or has it? Where did this definition come from, and why are we seeing more and more companies rethinking their workspaces?
In the late 1960s, office planning was predominately associated with large firms that needed to house lots of people in one building with efficiency.
The open-office plan became a benchmark for creating individual space without doors, ceilings and walls. A large open area could be divided up into smaller squares that allowed workers to have semi-private areas to work on their daily tasks.
By creating these spaces with panels instead of walls and hanging work surfaces that had file cabinets and storage attached seemed so modernly efficient that this became the standard for most office spaces until recently.
The idea of creating a personal office without large pieces of bulky furniture made perfect sense. When the panels became electrified, these cubes became the most desirable way to create an "office" environment; especially as telephones, typewriters, fax machines and computers became the necessary tools to do office work.
But is that still the case today? Not according to a recent article written in The Wall Street Journal’s online daily news briefing, called the "The 10-Point." WSJ Editor-in-Chief Gerard Baker noted in his article, "Musical Chairs," that the office of today is nothing like it was even 10 years ago.
The idea that private offices are a thing of the past has long been the norm, although some companies believe that we all need to have our personal space. Baker notes that the percentage of offices with traditional desks and cubicles are dropping.
Within the next few years, at least 75 percent of office workers will not only be without a space to call their own, but will also be without a desk or even a chair. He notes that office culture and curbing employee behaviors like squatting in flexible spaces will take time.
The idea that we will be seeing less traditional offices such as one described above will be a thing of the past. The design of the office space is changing, but what does that mean for furniture manufacturers who produce office furniture if companies are not buying it?
Office culture plays a big part of this scenario. Baker talks about this, too, in his brief. He mentions that some workers, especially those who are older, and are more comfortable working in a traditional office space will have the hardest time adjusting to this new office trend.
Case in point, during the Great Recession, when office vacancies were at their height, many companies were using remote workforces who were telecommuting and working from home. This became a very popular way to tighten budgets and reduce overhead costs.
Having reliable internet and more access to cellphone service has allowed many workers to continue to work remotely, leaving offices with empty desks and chairs. The idea of just coming in for a few hours a week became so popular that manufacturers and designers started creating temporary work areas with large tables and chairs that resembled a space you might see in a coffee house instead of an office. This idea was called benching or touch down spaces.
As more millennials entered the workforce, the idea of going back to the cubicle became less popular. Millennials were accustomed to working in groups and having their teams in close proximity, so closed offices and traditional conference rooms were not being used.
Designers who were working with these companies were taking note. They began to see that traditional office furniture wasn’t working. They worked with manufactures to create a new types of office furniture that focused on flexibility, collaborative use and comfort.
They also were noting that our personal devices, i.e., personal cellphones, tablets and headphones, needed to be plugged in. Technology was a driving force in every type of office environment. Designs needed to be able to accommodate these changes quickly.
There is no doubt that offices will continue to evolve. The latest idea is to create an office that is more reminiscent of your living room – “resimercial” is not just a quirky term, but a design trend.
Everyone has a new take on what offices should and shouldn’t be. Privacy, noise and just plain space are still the same issues that were addressed in the early ‘60s. Designers, manufacturers and office workers will continue to push the idea of work to new levels.
Each new trend will have some impact on how we view our work environment. With new technology, work styles and multiple generations in the workforce, office interior designers with good space planning skills will be more important than ever.
Each office space will be evaluated not only on the square footage, but on the amount and type of work that actually needs to be done in each area of the of the office. Individual work styles and habits will also play a prominent role in how we design office spaces in the future.
Interior design will become more essential to these new spaces. Jobs and workers will change rapidly as we enter the new decade.
We will need to adjust our idea of what an office is, not just as employers and employees, but as designers who will be charged with the task of creating productive and efficient work environments for an ever-changing workforce.
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