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Office of the future

Have a look round: at this moment, you are probably sitting on a chair at a desk, with a computer screen displaying this text for you to read. There may be a few cupboards or shelves on the wall. If you’re lucky, you might have a window that gives you enough daylight.

Is this really the kind of environment where you want to spend the rest of your working life? Probably not. Perhaps your dream is to work in a completely different kind of office, where there are no fixed seating arrangements or hierarchies, where a flexible design encourages creativity, and natural elements are integrated into the workspace.

Movement and calm

An idle dream? The Fraunhofer IAO research institute has already made the dream a reality. Many of Fraunhofer’s researchers are already working in a very different kind of environment – in ‘Office 21’ in Stuttgart, and in the ‘NextOfficeLab’ in Duisburg. It’s an office – but not as we know it. Here, no one has their own desk – instead, workers use whichever room is most suited to their current activity. Tomorrow’s workspace does not just consist of offices for one or two persons or groups: there is also a convivial ‘Partnerport’, an open space with special islands for meetings and grouped seating to encourage informal discussions. Anyone who needs to stretch their legs can use the small but well-appointed gym, with its own shower facilities, and if some quiet time is called for, there is an area with loungers, where workers can relax with the colour ambience and music that match their mood.

Pure luxury? Not at all – for we are spending more and more time in the office. In Germany, 17 million employees – a full 50 per cent of the workforce – are now working in this kind of environment, compared with just 10 per cent 50 years ago. As the workload increases, a pleasant office environment with a good atmosphere becomes more and more important. Companies know that the investment pays off. Where knowledge and creativity count, staffing costs are generally very high – amounting to as much as 80 per cent of all costs. So if an attractive ‘office of the future’ boosts productivity by a few per cent, it is a more effective option than cutting staffing costs.

Anne-Sophie Lohmeier, a multiplier for Alumniportal Deutschland in Buenos Aires, Argentina, believes that in future, the number of people working in shared office spaces will steadily decline, however. In her view, people will only meet at the office for some social interaction. The ‘office of the future’ is just as likely to be found in a domestic setting, with more and more people working from home.

‘In industries where a personal presence is important, offices will need to provide a stress-free environment,’ says Lohmeier. ‘So there will be recreation areas, restaurants and massage rooms, all of which are meant to enhance workers’ wellbeing.’ What do you think? Can you imagine having a fitness trainer and a ‘quiet room’ at the office?

The office of the future is green

In tomorrow’s working world, sustainable and efficient use of energy will become increasingly important. The Fraunhofer IAO is setting a trend here too, with the construction of the new Centre for Virtual Engineering in Stuttgart. This state-of-the-art building uses geothermal energy for heating, with air conditioning supplied by a concrete cold-air storage unit. The ‘Green Office Lab’ is designed to generate more energy than it consumes, ultimately producing enough electricity to power the electric cars that staff will use to drive to work in future. Or perhaps not – for the greatest energy savings are made by workers who stay at home to work. For Janimin Bonifa from the DAAD office in Jakarta, Indonesia, however, a third option is more likely: ‘In future, there will be far more mobility in our working lives. We will always be on the move, so we will work in whichever space appeals to us most at that moment – in a café, in the park, or on the train.’

What do you think the ‘office of the future’ will look like? Could you work permanently from home, or do you think this would be too isolating? How important is daily contact with your colleagues – for creativity and your career? Having a home office sounds very appealing in theory – but when does work stop and free time begin? Would you ultimately work even longer hours, because you’ve ‘brought your work home’? What kind of office environment do you work in at present – and what kind of office would you design for yourself if you had a completely free choice? Why not join our community to discuss these and many other issues?

October 2011

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S. A. Sosu
14 November 2011

It is a good idea! I long for the day I will set up and work from home full time because in our part of the world vehicular traffic jams are terrible and roads are bad. But the home office needs to allow enough formality when you need it. The bottom line is your mental, physical and emotional state while at work (home or away)should be at it zenith. The set up should be invigorating. So its a matter of organizing your life and health needs to fit into your 24hrs each day.

Dr. Raymond van Diemel
9 November 2011

The only constant is "change", ask anyone who still has an old tv or cell phone. Adapt or face being left behind. This is what employees (and some managers) have been dreaming all their lives. Seems to be a good investment in workers; wellness.

5 November 2011

The output that one can give depends on the freshness of the brain. We can keep a fresh brain if we avoid working under pressure. This of course depends on our organization. We can then work even at home and just come at the office to present report or to take part to meeting. But every one is judge by the results that he (or she) brings in the enterprise.

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