Published On: Tue, Nov 29th, 2016

The Office Of The Future: Helter Skelters, Music Rooms And Your Pet Dog Sitting On Your Lap

Google leads the world in many human endeavors. It’s a global leader in AI, robotics, internet search and advertising to name just a few. But it’s also long been known that Google is a leader in working practices. For instance, it was Google that originally let its employees spend a couple of days a week just doing whatever they wanted. And it was Google that was repeatedly featured as one of the best places to work in the US, if not the world.

Well, now Google and a bunch of other companies have jumped on yet another innovation in the workplace. It’s called “having fun.”

Google slide, Google HQ

If you go to Google’s headquarters in Zurich, you’ll see this fun in action. There’s a slide that takes engineers straight from their floor right down to the canteen. If you can imagine it, it looks just like a helter skelter you might find at an amusement park.

Other companies are doing similar things. Deloitte, famously one of the most boring companies in the world, now has games rooms. And LinkedIn in California is trying to get its employee’s creative juices flowing by providing a bona fide music room. There are even companies now that are allowing employees to bring their pets to work. Woof!

So what does all this mean? Should we be glad? Or should we be worried?

Some analysts see these changing office habits as a result of changing work culture. The US software company Citrix recently said that by 2017, more than half of businesses would have a mobile working policy. It also claimed that more than 70 percent of people would soon work more away from their desks than at them. So one explanation of bringing more fun into the office might be to try to make them a home away from home.

The another explanation is a little more troubling. We’ve already seen the rise of safe spaces and mollycoddling on campuses. What we could be witnessing here is a failure of adults to actually reach maturity. Instead, companies could be pandering to their staff, allowing them to wallow in their infantile state.

Let’s assume for now that this isn’t the case. What else does the future of the office have in store for the average employee?

The Healthy Office

Perhaps one of the most exciting developments in offices will be the health-promoting features. For decades, offices have been places where people have sat on their bottoms accumulating deadly visceral fat. But now some experts are suggesting that offices could actually extend worker’s healthspan.

Take Theo Maassen, for instance. He’s a bigshot at a Dutch office design firm. He says that in the future, offices will have a bunch of features, specifically designed to improve employee health. One of the ways he’s designing offices is to allow more daylight to penetrate otherwise dark spaces. Daylight, he says, helps to better regulate employee hormones and can help them stay more alert during the day. He also says that his company is working on technology that can help eliminate dust and keep offices at a constant temperature.

You might think that we already have all of this stuff already. But the difference with Maassen’s approach is that his doesn’t rely on conventional methods. Instead, he’s trying to achieve these health benefits by using a geothermal system. The system uses the constant temperatures found underground to heat in the winter and cool in the summer.

The Secure Office

With the terrorist raid on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, office security is changing. Companies are becoming increasing concerned about the safety of their staff. Personnel, it seems, are at risk from actors who want to do them and their businesses harm. This means that in the future, we’re likely to see a whole range of new security features, beyond the current complement.

Commercial office suppliers, like Qualified Hardware, are already supplying firms with keyless door locks. Soon we could be seein things like motion sensors being fitted to office buildings as standard. We already see these sorts of technologies finding their way into home offices, courtesy of today’s modern tech giants.

The Rise Of The Super Desk

The very nature of the humble desk itself may be about to change too. Citrix has already started experimenting with what it calls “genius benches” at its head office. These are long shared desks that use stools, not chairs.

Other companies are starting to experiment with different types of desks. One of the most interesting solutions being tested with right now is by headphone maker Skullcandy. At the company’s offices in Zurich, they’re experimenting with desks that fit together like puzzle pieces. The idea is to allow employees to mix and match the desk setup, depending on what they’re doing. If they need to work together, they can put their desks together. If they need to work solo, they can break a desk off from the main group.

Other companies are taking the concept of hot-desking to the extreme. Lego, for instance, has started a new scheme at its London and Singapore offices. Employees no longer have fixed desks. Instead, they sit down wherever they want in a system the company calls activity-based working. The idea is not to see the office as a fixed environment, but somewhere that adapts depending on what you’re doing. It’s certainly a big change from the power culture seen in other industries. There are no offices for managers. And spaces are divided up by activity. If you leave a space vacant for more than 90 minutes, employees have to take all their stuff with them.

According to the company’s own data, employees love the new system. Their own internal data suggest that more than 88 percent of staff like the fact that they get a choice of where to work for the day. One of the reasons for this is that the Lego offices have different suites with different moods. There’s a quiet library area, places that play music, and other areas with comfy chairs. It’s all very different, isn’t it?