On one cold winter day, almost two 20 years ago, I handed in my mid-term paper for one of my architectural design classes at a leading Dutch design school. The assignment was to design our workplace of the future. I wrote my paper all around the following picture (or something closely like it, as I gave up looking for it this morning):
The narrative I added was the belief people would be working in places that will make them the most happy, healthy and productive; that buildings as we know them will make room for places where we all really would prefer to be. ‘Work’ would come to us, and we didn’t need to commute in drones to anonymous and soulless towering offices.
Now, I am not sharing this so you think I was a visionary (I was merely a poor designer and couldn’t really think of what a future building would look like). I tried to look at the assignment from a person-centric architectural design perspective and how one individual would perceive and value place and ‘design’. I didn’t worry about how it would be possible–I would have had no clue.
If we fast-forward twenty years from than, the future is here. Innovative and cutting edge technologies–greatly empowered by the Internet (that looked a whole lot different two decades ago)–have provided the tools to those that want to have a more untethered work-style. Working where we want and when we want has become part of our daily reality, company cultures are quickly adapting to the benefits of an empowered and mobile workforce.
Advances in mobility, connectivity, online collaboration, voice and video interaction, and concepts like Unified Communications, BYOD and Cloud, have propelled our thinking of productivity and workforce wellness to new heights. The next generation workforce has long prepared itself for new ways of collaboration and new ways of work.
Cutting-edge innovation in workplace design is experimented by leading architects and furniture manufacturers. But at large, the building and real estate industry will still have to get on board quickly as it seeks to provide a built environment that supports these rapidly and ever-changing expectations and work-styles.
Every decision we make that impacts how and where we work, and every new technological capability that enables it, has an equal or greater impact on its surrounding spaces and places. In order to build for the Future, design and ‘place making’ needs to become even more connected to the context and principles of the Future of Work. The two need to become one.
Just for the record, I failed that assignment. I allegedly had failed to solve the design challenge. Yet come to think of it, my paper probably painted a much more attainable picture of our future workplace than those of my peer students who aced it while envisioning Jetsons-like-space-bound-floating-bubble-structures made of soft-and-plush-materials while suspended from wires and supported by stilts.
Check out this month’s Globe and Mail series on the Future of Work, and join the conversation.