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How your future office will look

Published on January 11, 2018

Alexander B.

Offices are changing — again.

While typing pools of the mid 20th century were eventually replaced by cubicles to
create more privacy, the open office made a return in the 1990s and onward, being
considered more apt to the collaboration needed for creative work environments.

And yet, open offices has left some longing for the days of privacy and peace and
quiet. Now, as The New York Times recently noted, the trend is toward a 'palette of
spaces' to accommodate the various ways people like to work, whether at a long desk
in the open or in a quiet,
enclosed space or even
at a standing desk next
to colleagues.

The Wall Street Journal


also points out that
shared and communal
areas are growing within
offices — a move that
tries to counter the
isolating effects of
intensely computer-
based work.

That's just the start, says Eivind Karlsen, Head of Design at co-working giant Industrious*.
Karlsen sees the future of offices as akin to set design: ever-changing, modular
configurations, and immersive environments focused on employee happiness and
retention. There may even be a bigger focus on light and sound, a neglected aspect of
even the most forward-thinking offices.

Not to mention, coworking spaces are growing exponentially and even big companies
are taking advantage of the flexibility and geographic convenience they offer.

I spoke to Karlsen recently about how he sees the future of the workplace in the coming
decades.

Can you describe where office design is going and why? Where are we headed?

Office design is changing in a few ways.

Firstly, there is an increased focus on experience, which is tied to metrics around


employee satisfaction, retention and productivity. Office design is accommodating this
by layering hospitality components - food and beverage, concierge services, and other
task-oriented services - to the core offering of traditional office space.
The experience for the tenant, or member as we call them at Industrious, is also
changing. Traditionally, if you had a large team you would go to a broker, find a space,
hire an architect, build out the space, move in and do the whole thing over again. That is
a huge time, money and emotional commitment for a company that has a limited
experience in doing this and a different set of core skills and priorities. As a result, a
“Workplace-as-a-Service” model has emerged and we are designing and delivering
more modular configurations so that a company of any size can come in and find an
appropriately sized space.

Beyond these new service layers, perhaps the most interesting development will be in
designing immersive environments through a more creative application of innovative
lighting and acoustics. It is something akin to set design, where the a thoughtful
composition of lighting, sound, furniture and textiles can create diverse and flexible
environments that evoke strong emotional responses in people. This will test the degree
to which architectural delineations of space will be best method to create our future
work environments.

Companies like Meyer Sound Lab


has been pushing these
boundaries in acoustic
engineering - such as being able
to simulate the acoustic
experience of being in a
cathedral when you are actually
in a 10'x8' room. This acoustic
development is loosely
applicable to office space at this
time, but will start to become a
more relevant tool at our
disposal.

Traditional workspace trends seem to be fading fast. What are they being replaced by?
And what happened to the cubicle?

There are a couple factors why the cubicle and other traditional workspace trends are
no longer viable for companies.

1. The need for more flexible on-demand real estate. Businesses need great work
environments in order to grow and succeed but very few are actually able to
execute on this core necessity due to complicated, opaque and expensive
processes. The standard commercial real estate lease ranges anywhere from 10-
15 years. These long term leases are no longer compatible with how companies,
from the Fortune 500 to small to medium businesses (SMBs), forecast their real
estate needs.

2. A more remote workforce and the need for a regional footprint. Businesses are
recognizing that the perfect person for a role may live in Tampa, even though
HQs are in Seattle. Additionally, large brands keen on expanding to new markets
or building regional sales teams, need to provide employees with a home-base
to work from. Both of these factors drive companies to seek shared workplaces,
aimed at boosting productivity, creativity, and collaboration.
3. The stereotype of who works in flexible or co-working spaces has evolved. At
Industrious, we currently see about 50% of our business coming from enterprise
companies and anticipate to see that grow as the Fortune 500 seek remote
offices for an increasingly geographically scattered workforce. Demands from
small to medium businesses demands will also continue to evolve, as they grow to
recognize the power of working in a professional community, devoid of
distracting decor, skateboards and kombucha kegs in the corner.

There’s a clear aesthetic that seems to represent the Millennial generation (reclaimed
wood, filament bulbs, etc.). Why is that and will that last?

I think this “Millennial design aesthetic” can best be seen in Brooklyn. In part the active
regeneration of post-industrial neighborhoods led to a rediscovery of these elements -
old industrial fans, parsons work tables, steel window frames and filament bulbs are the
staples of that typology.
Naturally, as designers were
beginning to revitalize these
buildings they were
motivated and inspired by
these details.

What began as a genuine


effort to integrate existing
features and qualities, has
over the course of 20-years
become a contrived and
played-out fashion.

That said, there are essential


aspects of this aesthetic that
hold a more permanent value. Firstly that the quality of materials you work with is
important, and the grain, texture and quality of the wood is important. The filament bulb,
for example, is a passing aesthetic, but it to has some essential qualities - the warm
glowing light is easier on the eye, the glow creates an energy, a sense of community, it
feels familiar / approachable. The objects through which these qualities are expressed
will change over time, but the underlying qualities themselves (human and universal,
approachable and genuine) are timeless.

Was the movement to the completely open office just a return to the old typing pools? If
so, did we go too far in venerating and spreading that design?

The movement went too far when it was applied indiscriminately. In some cases and in
some modes of work the open office can be a formidable model, but in most cases it is
not a sustainable way to work. Any model that proposes only one way of working is
going to fail. The office needs to accommodate a breadth of spaces.

How important is one’s workplace design? How does it affect workers?

It’s critical. Not just for productivity but also general happiness on the job. According to a
recent study, more than 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely, including many in
the workplace.
The impact? Vivek H. Murthy, former Surgeon General of the United States, reported that
loneliness can cause stress and higher levels of inflammation in the body, Harvard
Business Review. At work, loneliness reduces task performance, limits creativity and
impairs other aspects of executive function, such as reasoning and decision making.

Why are workers lonely? Exclusively working from home; office spaces that don’t
encourage collaboration (rows of cubicles); lack of opportunities for personal
connection.

Have increased screen time changed the way our office looks and feels? Do you
consider that in your design?

A successful office space needs to


offer a respite from the screen. In a
way it becomes the antithesis to the
screen - soft, calming, analog
and transportive. Not to say you
can’t embed an office with tech -
iBeacons and sensors - but the
overall space can’t feel distracting,
attention grabbing and loud. Even if
the company that works there may
be extroverted and loud, the space
needs to meet the needs of the
employees and support the culture
of work alongside the culture of that particular company.

At Industrious, we encourage our team to think of the spaces as a spectrum of


introverted and extroverted spaces, and as a landscape of spaces that can
accommodate a broad set of workstyles.

Landscapes provide inspiration – they are an aggregation of a variety of spatial


conditions, they are a canvas for culture, they are inhabited by a variety of different
users with a range of needs and they are tested over time.

*New York-based Industrious currently has 25 coworking locations around the country
and plans 50-60 locations by end of 2018.

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