Sophie Stancel reports that what might sound like science fiction, may be coming to an office near you sooner than you think.
When you picture the Office of 2030 it’s not hard to envisage what may have been lost and what will have taken its place. Technological advances, flexible working, games rooms are east to imagine. But how far will it go? How exactly will technology change? and what can employers do to reduce stress and improve health to boost productivity? A new study by Plusnet, in collaboration with 15 futurologists, aims to predict how the workplace may evolve over the next 15 years.
There is one thing it seems almost all the futurists agree on: you can say farewell to your personal office and work space and hello to open plan, informal, collaborative space. Author William Higham predicts that the future office will be less about departments and more about environments. “You won’t go to the marketing department, you’ll go to the workshopping, stimulus or quiet area depending on your needs,” he says.
Indeed the experts agreed that the office won’t necessarily be the place where the “finger wiggling on keyboards” as futurist Glen Hiemstra describes it, takes place. Instead it will become a space where ideas can be thrown around and passion and enthusiasm nurtured. Nine to five is out and flexible working is in. But don’t expect that to signal the end of the office environment. “We have seen a trend of moving employees back into a central office to help foster collaboration and to create ‘change encounters'” says Ryan Hulland, Director of Business Development at Netfloor USA. “Many large tech firms embrace this concept, from Google to Apple to Yahoo”.
So, the physical office as we know it will not disappear but will evolve. Scoot Lesizza, founding Principal of Workwell Partners, believes the inside will begin to look very much like the outside and that this return to nature will reduce stress and increase productivity. “Organisations will continue to compete for the brightest minds by creating spaces that make people excited to come to work,” he says. “I envision a communal workplace, more like a college campus, where colleagues work hard, in workspaces without traditional confines, and within an atmosphere that is much less confined and separated from nature than it is currently.”
Health and mental wellbeing will be of high priority in the office of 2030. The experts predict sit-stand desks will become popular features, while ergonomic chairs and office green spaces will become commonplace. According to one authority, medical advances will mean allergies to animals will be extinguished so dogs and cats will be seen around the office. Experts also predict businesses, in an attempt to reduce sick days and to raise employees can relax, sleep and play games. Sensory areas where walls can change colour and lighting change to enhance mood and on-site gyms will be everyday, while counsellors may even be housed in wellbeing rooms.
And then we come to virtual reality. In the future it seems, your physical presence will be deemed less and less necessary. “We are going to use 3D holograms in more meetings and phone conversations. It’s better in the way that you can see more of the person’s body language” says Sofie Sandell. Experts say they are not only expecting to see continued introduction of robots and machines in manufacturing but also software replacing some of the “knowledge” based jobs such as accounting and journalism. Drones will make your tea and coffee for you to keep distractions at bay and your assistant may well become virtual.
Peter Cochrane, Futurist and founder of Cochrane Associates, agrees. “The notion of an office being a place you go to work and be with people will change. You might be wearing your office or visiting through visualisation and experiential, sensory technologies.” He also predicts the current job market will alter irrevocably, with new technologies making whole waves of jobs obsolete. “Some will find that their boss is no longer human, but a machine embodying decades of experience and wisdom,” he claims. Other experts also suggest artificial intelligence will assist with more decisions than we’ve ever seen. And it won’t just be in the sphere of specialised IT people – AI decision assistance will be part of everyday decision making.
If the predictions are correct, the future office will be a comfortable, open-plan and informal place where employee health is of high priority while the global economy means the notion of 9-5 and the working week will become obsolete. Employees will have more flexibility to work in the best way for them than ever before and the office will be a place of collaboration and ideas where your assistant may only appear in holographic form and a small drone brings you your morning coffee.
Science fiction may be about to arrive.