Two major types of change have occurred which shape the modern workplace. What that workplace is like depends largely on decisions made by those who dictate the goals of the workplace.
One component is a company’s willingness to adapt to the latest advances in furniture, technology, and space. Understand and adapt as necessary to align the workspace with the company’s mission statement and business/monetary goals. Secondly, understand the culture which makes up the identity of their business/employees - and the culture they wish to foster/create.
Office workplaces, the design of which has been driven by technological and ergonomic criteria, have become smaller and simpler. The processing power of workplace technology has grown exponentially. Visual displays have become lighter, require less power, produce less heat and are less sensitive to the lighting of the local environment. Problems of physical connectivity have simplified. These factors have led to progressive reduction in the size, weight and mobility of workplace hardware. At the same time more data is stored electronically and paper volumes have reduced dramatically. The technology is less bulky and less dangerous and the furniture that supports it requires less surface area and less capacity for carrying and distributing cables. Workplace furniture is becoming domesticated as it is liberated from any specialist demands of the office.
However, the laws of space efficiency remain unaltered. For some organizations the changes above have allowed more staff to be accommodated in the same space. As the highest densities are achieved with open plan layouts which maximize contiguity and rectilinear planning the morphology of layout is often little changed from the factory model. We also need to recognize that for some types of office user the changes have been even more dramatic. When we ask what does the modern workplace look like? - one of the answers is more different from each other. The reason for this is the potential of the other mechanism for change.
Secondly, as work has become less routine and more of these functions are performed electronically, office workers need to be able to perform a wider range of assignments and to be able to work in a less structured environment. They are less tied to particular workplaces and need a working environment that supports a range of work activities - particularly those that support communication and creative teamworking. The balance between workspace and support space is changed with a higher proportion of the latter in the form of meeting and social space (and also shared private space). If workplaces are not only reduced in size but also in number (by sharing regimes in their different manifestations) then the potential to change this balance is very marked. We can see before us the evolution of some considerable variety in how workspace and support space are arranged in space (clear zones of each as opposed to a patchwork of workspace and support).
Lastly, the line. That line being where we decide as businesses and people – how to shift from work to non-work as a digital and mobile age increasingly blurs the line between the two. With pool tables and skate ramps inside our offices, cafeterias and commissaries gracing our halls – do we decide to live where we work? To call that our ‘ home away from home’? Or is it an amenity to grab the best and brightest and make ‘life at our desks’ easier and more convenient?
As the impact of being ever connected continues to evolve, I think we need to (on occasion at least) look up from our ‘i’s’ and look with our eyes.