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Gyms, cinemas and robots: welcome to the workplace of the future

The rise of trendy co-working spaces along with the adoption of new technologies will have a major impact on where and how we work

Robots also play a role, from machines which challenge your decision-making to devices that observe your behaviour and bring you a mid-morning cup of tea and biscuits. Photograph: iStock

Robots also play a role, from machines which challenge your decision-making to devices that observe your behaviour and bring you a mid-morning cup of tea and biscuits. Photograph: iStock

 

Co-working and flexible office space – where companies and workers rent on a short-term basis in trendy environments – is just starting to take root in the Irish market. James Meagher of Knight Frank says the co-working model accounted for about 6.5 per cent of the market in 2017 – four times more than 2016 – and could account for 15 per cent of office take-up in Dublin this year.

The sector is synonymous with contemporary reworkings of period buildings, cinema conversions and stripped-back industrial premises spruced up for a younger generation .

And new spaces are all the time upping the ante. Co-working specialist Iconic Offices is now branching out into larger spaces and upping its offering to include a concierge service similar to that in a hotel. Its design ethos may soon incorporate gyms, yoga rooms, phone-free zones, and cinemas. In one block, it has installed a small library stocked with 2,500 vintage books to give workers an area where they could go to think and “chill”.

Millennials, apparently, want an interesting office space that allows them flexibility to move from lounge-type settings, to meeting rooms, and back to quiet, hard-working areas for periods of deep concentration. This type of environment also blurs the lines between work and play, particularly as younger people tend to socialise more in their workspace. The idea is to cater for the different tasks office workers need to do throughout the day which a stationary desk can’t accommodate.

This model seems to suit fast-growing, early-stage companies that could benefit from the structure of an office-style environment but one where there is plenty of autonomy and none of the politics. But it may also help larger companies beat the open-plan office blues which one report linked to increases in distraction, reduced productivity and unsocial colleagues.

While having different zones for different types of work sounds great, it may be prohibitively expensive for most companies. But office geography is important to productivity, and managers can use this lever wisely to increase communication and the development of ideas. So expect open space offices to increasingly become divisible, often at the click of a button.

New technologies

This increasingly divisible environment will host a range of new technologies to cater for collaboration with remote and freelance workers. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) devices are tipped to become the norm, allowing “virtual” meetings to take place where holographic data can be seen and analysed.

Artificial intelligence, virtual assistants (Siri and Alexa) and robots will also play a role, from machines which challenge your decision-making to devices that observe your behaviour and bring you a mid-morning cup of tea and biscuits. Telepresence robots, which allow you to see and hear things through a bot without physically being there, are being trialled in some working environments and could make it easier, for example, for a doctor to monitor multiple patients.

Psychology could also play a key role in how the working day is divided up as it’s now believed that people are more creative at certain times – some suggest our peak brainstorming prowess happens in the middle of the day and we should be doing mental warm-up exercises to improve performance.

Well-known architect Norman Foster is on record as saying that future offices will be much greener, as future generations will be more demanding with regard to climate change.

In terms of future office furniture, expect stand-up desks to become the norm, as they already are in companies like Facebook. Many cite these as a way to combat sedentary lifestyles – given that you’re burning about 20 per cent more calories by standing than sitting – while stand-up desk users often cite improved energy levels and back-pain relief.

James Levine, endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic, has linked the cumulative impact of sustained sitting to obesity, diabetes and cancer. He was quoted in a recent Smithsonianmag. com article: “The way we live now is to sit all day, occasionally punctuated by a walk from the parking lot to the office. The default has become to sit. We need the default to be standing.”

Experts are recommending that people pace during their working day. For example, some office workers in the US now walk on treadmills in front of their screens.

In addition to the interiors of offices being different, it’s likely that technology will cause major change in the design of future offices.

The pending mass adoption of drones and driverless cars may fundamentally change the physical appearance of offices, affect allocations for car-parking, the need for basements and alter how deliveries are handled.

Drone taxis

Testing of drone deliveries is already well advanced while pilotless drone taxis for humans are in train.

Kitty Hawk’s Cora, an autonomous personal aircraft which takes off like a helicopter and flies like a plane, intends to be the next commercial network of taxis in New Zealand within three years. Cora will take on Uber and Airbus in the on-demand personal air transport market and Kitty Hawk has reportedly started working on an Uber-like app that will allow customers to hail its air taxis.

Driverless cars are inching ever closer to adoption and this is predicted to disrupt the traditional model of car ownership. We’re set to be summoning (via an app) a car from ride-hailing companies rather than run a car ourselves. Driverless cars will bring you from A to B and then move off to their next job. This begs the question: will city-centre parking spaces become obsolete?

Adoption of these technologies poses interesting questions for office design. A recent documentary by Dezeen, the design magazine, suggested the traditional ground-floor entrance will be replaced by rooftop landing and deliveries will arrive via portals on the sides of buildings, with an office reception on the roof!

However, the pick-up and drop-off nature of driverless cars could increase the need for set-down spaces in front of office buildings while the likely emergence of electric cars will require charging points in parking areas.

Marie Hunt, head of research at CBRE, says future transportation in cities must be considered when designing buildings today. “The way in which these buildings are designed and ultimately used will be very different to today and we need to plan now and future-proof for this paradigm shift. Incorporating design elements that allow for flexibility, such as generous floor-to-ceiling heights and allow conversion to alternative uses, is necessary from this point forward.”