In many traditional office arrangements, workers arrive in the morning and leave in the evening, five days per week.
With more people working flexible hours and/or working from home, however, much of that is changing. This raises questions about the role of the modern office and what the contemporary office environment needs to deliver from a worker perspective.
One critical theme revolves around social interaction. In a recent survey of 200 participants, real-estate services firm Jones Laing LaSalle found that nine in 10 placed a high value upon face to face human interaction. In that report, JLL said that by 2030, at least 50 per cent of total space will be allocated to co-working whilst many fitouts would be constructed in a modular fashion so as to enable adaptability. Interactive walls would replace individual screens so as to enable greater immersion whilst working labs would act as incubators for innovation and 4D telepresence would enable immersive experiences for those who were not physically present, JLL said.
Socially, concepts such as integrated child care and enabling children space to come in and study within the workspace would also become more common. Placemaking would also be essential. Precincts such as Barangaroo which combine commercial, residential and retail spaces with parklands and community spaces represent the way forward, JLL says.
Brett Simmonds, Workplace Design Leader at Woods Bagot, agrees that the social aspect associated with modern offices is becoming more important. According to Simmonds, this is leading to a blurring of the line between work spaces and social spaces, and greater social interaction is being sought not just within organisations but also with external parties such as clients.
“The social aspect in the workplace is definitely becoming far more prevalent for organisations,” he said. “It’s not just limited to the people who actually work in the workspace, it’s also the way people interact with their clients and how they collaborate. It’s become far, far more important to have that face to face contact and break down some of those traditional barriers.”
From a design perspective, Simmonds said this is spawning a proliferation of collaborative spaces and general work spaces within social spaces. He says a particular area of focus revolves around circulation spaces, which he says are being designed so as to encourage spontaneous interaction, information sharing and collaboration.
In the client space, Simmonds says organisations are replacing the traditional barrier created by reception areas with a more open client interface. Melbourne-based law firm Hall & Wilcox, for example, has the reception area positioned within the middle of the work space with views through to meeting areas and seating which actually positioned at the reception desk itself – an arrangement Simmonds says facilitates a greater feeling of connection to the firm amongst clients.
In addition, Simmonds says reception areas are increasingly being set at standing height, facilitating not only greater ease of movement for reception personnel but also better eye connections between clients and reception staff.
Simmonds says the importance of flexible work spaces cannot be understated and that design strategies need to facilitate a variety of spaces so as to enable people to choose the most appropriate space to suit their needs at that particular time. This can include open collaborative spaces, enclosed collaborative spaces and enclosed solo spaces.
Whilst there are some commonalities, Simmonds says there is no one-size-fits-all approach to flexible workspace design. Instead, he says architects need to understand the daily flow of workers and ensure that the design responds to both the culture of the organisation and the individual work style of employees. Moreover, it was important to enable the nature of these spaces to ‘flex’ and change according to the organisation.
In terms of remote correspondence, Simmonds says the challenge of facilitating experiences which are more immersive is an issue both of technology and of design. From a design perspective, Simmonds says a number of high-end spaces are emerging whereby videoconferencing suites are enabling more immersive experiences when collaborating with people within an alternative office location. When communicating with those outside of an office environment, however, Simmonds says that whilst live camera feeds and other tools can facilitate more immersive communication experiences, any deployment of technology outside of the office environment is more a matter of a technology solution than a matter of office design.
As for enabling connectedness between families and workplaces, Simmonds says the inclusion of features such as crèches or childcare spaces within workplaces is becoming more commonplace, and should certainly be encouraged. A more family flexible organisation has a greater opportunity to attract and retain talent who might otherwise move elsewhere in order to suit their individual lifestyle requirements, he said.
Australian workers, it seems, are looking for more social interaction within their workspaces.
Employers who provide this will have a leg up in attracting top talent.