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Where we work, how we work, and even why we work is undergoing a transformation. Workspaces are changing and the days when each employee had their own desk are on their way out.
“In the future, people will be incredulous that we once insisted that everyone in a company lived in the same metro area, which often entailed spending hours commuting each way to an office park where they sat most of the day communicating by digital tools” Blair Reeves
We’ve come a long way in the last 20 years. Just the other day a government organization asked us to fax something to them. “A fax?” we all muttered looking around. “Does the new printer have fax functionality?” “Is there an online service for that?” (we ended up mailing it to them in the end). We don’t notice the creep towards the future until the past comes back to haunt us and we realize how far we’ve come.
Did you know that 20 million people worldwide use “third places” (cafes, libraries, flexible workspaces) as part of their workweeks? Is the office is in danger of becoming extinct?
There is a tug of war going on between employees wanting flexibility and employers wanting to ensure that there is effective communication and collaboration between employees. Businesses are beginning to look at what employees need to be comfortable, productive and inspired so that working in the office is more appealing.
When I began researching this article, my plan was to write about the future of offices, but I quickly began to see evidence of change throughout society.
My local library was transforming into a collection of working, reading and collaboration spaces, including a maker space with a bank of 3D printers and living room with fireplace. Other libraries have resident entrepreneurs or recording studios.
My children’s classrooms are beginning to look like a very different environment from the one where I learned.
In the classroom, we’re starting to see different heights of seating, wobble chairs, smartboards, flexible furniture. Storage rooms and teacher’s desks are starting to go by the wayside.
“No longer are we in the day where students have to sit in straight rows and have their hands folded on their laps…We don’t live in that world anymore and these kids don’t live in that world.” says Tara Kramer, DCC.
So what will our workspaces of the future look like? Here are just some of the changes you can expect to see…
Varied Working Areas
Employees will have more control over how and where they work. Expect offices to include hot-desks, desks at different heights, collaborative areas, space to socialize, quieter private spaces for work requiring concentration, and space to rest. Personally, I tend to move to a new location every hour or two. Each time I relocate I feel like I’m able to settle down and work more productively.
Automation and the use of AI
CEOs are now considering the integration of automated processes across every job category. Some jobs will be eliminated because of this and many more jobs will bear little resemblance to what they once were.
The vision is that by leveraging the power of AI, us humans will be freed up to work on more fulfilling work such as strategic and creative endeavors and more social interaction.
Many millennials expect a response within 10 minutes of reaching out to a consumer brand, and we can only presume that these expectations will continue to grow.
Enter the chatbots. Businesses are increasingly utilizing chatbots to enable them to respond almost instantly to customers anytime, day or night. Jassim Latif also wrote a great post detailing how he’s using slackbots in his everyday office life. It’s a compelling read and demonstrates how these types of interactions with bots will quickly become the norm.
AI will also be used as teaching assistants, and in recruitment, data and medical analysis, health monitoring, data reporting and much more.
Some of these AI capabilities will be embedded in robots, but most people will not be sitting at a desk next to a robot. Most of the AI will be hidden in the software we use. Vast improvements in speech recognition will mean that we will be interacting with machines without even noticing it.
VR headsets and augmented reality
The possibilities of VR and augmented reality are wide ranging. They can already be used to demonstrate new designs or environments to clients, they could also be utilized for training, for looking at real estate, or just for working in immersive worlds both alone and with our co-workers.
Inclusion of Nature and Natural Light
My boss once asked me, if I could have anything at all to help me in my job, what would it be. I answered that I would really like a window. At that time we were a startup, two years into working in a glorified closet and I craved daylight. My wishes came true, and we moved to a bright office with 180-degree views of the mountains. For weeks I would find myself just staring out of the window in wonder! As humans, we crave daylight and function much better when we have access to it, so it makes sense to bring green space and natural light into work environments. Let’s just hope not all the employees find themselves staring at the view instead of working!
“Businesses want to attract and retain talent by focusing on health and wellbeing… with natural light, showers, open spaces and everything that employees increasingly expect.” – Kaela FennSmith
Co-Working Spaces as the Norm
Traditional offices may head towards more collaborative, cross-team, environments, but the massive shift towards contractors rather than employees will mean there will be greater and greater demands for co-working spaces which already tend to provide quiet rooms, private office spaces and clustered shared workspaces depending on what their tenant needs that day.
Different companies, especially startups, are already beginning to share office space and form symbiotic relationships. Entrepreneurs are more honest about what they do and don’t know and are more willing to look for partners who fill those gaps.
There is a great scene in the show, Silicon Valley, where Gavin Belson has a holographic representation of himself in a meeting (spoiler alert: it doesn’t go well). Can we expect to see holograms of our co-workers popping up in meetings? Maybe, but at the very least employees are quickly coming to expect video conference capabilities where an unlimited number of people can be participating from anywhere in the world and are able to share and edit files while in these meetings. Of course, if they get bored of their office setting, there’s always a VR beach waiting!
Environmental Control – Individuals will have more control over their environment including light and temperature.
Environmentally Friendly Buildings – Younger employees are more concerned about the environmental impact of their employers, so building materials and business practices will become increasingly environmentally responsible.
Much Less Paper – We’ve already seen a dramatic drop in the amount of paper used in offices and we can expect that to continue declining. Deloitte has been experimenting with an entirely paperless office in Montreal. Feedback has been positive, but that’s probably a stretch for most.
Larger Offices Becoming Villages – You’re likely to see showers, bicycle storage, restaurants, fitness facilities, dry cleaning, car valets, hairdressers and more open spaces.
Bye Bye Desktop Computers – I started a contract with a new customer recently, and they wanted me to work on a desktop. It was such a shock to my system after working remotely for a few years and being able to relocate myself as I got bored of a particular location.
What we know for sure is that businesses are going to have to work hard to retain employees and we can certainly expect change to come faster than ever before. There is a generation of millennials who are ready to expect and embrace change and globalization and assume they will have control over where and how they work. I just wrote the majority of this article on a dyke in Richmond BC glancing up at mountains and glistening water, so employers definitely have their work cut out to encourage us to sit in an office and work!
In this post I explored where we will be working in the future. Next time, I’ll be exploring how we will be working in the future.