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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? Let us know your view in the comments below.

October 2011

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Hannah Muzee
29 April 2020

I did definitely prefer to work from home. Obviously, you run the risk of work odd and long hours but it also does help with productivity as some things are cut out like time spent traveling to and from work, not to mention the expenses.

Bob Etemiku
29 April 2020

How I wish African work places will quickly adapt. I work from home, surrounded by trees, with sweet fresh breeze blowing and I sometimes listen to the Twitter of the birds. Even though I sometimes chance upon snake, they just slither along to mind their business and I mind mine.
It's a good thing.

Dr Branka Živanović
29 April 2020

I have started to work from home during writing my PhD thesis and it was very productive and efficient in comparison with working in the office together with 5 persons in the same space. Also I used to work from home when I am writing a paper from the same reasons. Everything that I need is my LP, internet and access to the library, which all I have. Working from home is a big advantage, because the expenses are lower for transportation, avoiding of wasting time for travelling, I am not using my car, which is environmentally friendly, and in general this is benefit for our institute and for all society. This is the case when do not have experimental work, so I can afford this type of work. I found out this combination of work from home and in the Lab is optimal for scientists.

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