Viewpoint: A note from your future office in 2032

by Ryan Anderson
Director of Future Technology, Herman Miller


Ryan Anderson is director of future technology at office furniture specialists Herman Miller. His work focuses on developing offices in "an era of mobile, connected work". Here, he imagines what working life could be like in 20 years, in the office of 2032.

For decades, the notion of going "to work" meant a person being assigned a little space inside of a large building in some pre-determined location.

But in 2032 the "workplace", or more specifically the local array of immersive spaces we now consider optimised for work, is as valuable as ever - even though many thought it might become a relic of the past.

People used to be willing to pick up and move their entire lives to be nearer to that building and have access to a small physical address within it, in which they were assumed to do all of their work.

But after mobile technologies gave rise to "work anywhere" norms and strategies, which often created great disruptions in employee work-life balance, employees and employers began to mutually embrace the notion that there should be easily-accessible spaces where work is optimised - to both enable work and to promote the enjoyment of it.

Thus, a new generation of workplace was created, allowing workers to immerse themselves in local spaces offering a wide array of highly cocooned or interactive settings to support their needs.

These spaces, which vary in location and theme not unlike neighbourhood restaurants, have allowed corporations to shed much of their captive real estate portfolios in favour of workspace subscriptions, and have provided workers the freedom to choose when, where and how to work.

Gaming inspiration

In addition to helping workers restore a better balance between time at work and home, this decentralised approach to finding a workspace has drastically reduced the carbon emissions historically associated with commuting.

Interestingly, it was gamers - those who were once considered to be chronically unproductive - that helped to usher in this new era of work space.

image captionThe future office may be inspired how online gamers manage teamwork over long distances

After observing how gamers were able to virtually match skill sets and collaborate to achieve shared goals without ever having met one another, HR leaders began implementing project-based prototypes in which work was structured as games.

And since so many existing workplace hardware and software technologies had their roots in gaming technologies, it didn't take long for the gamification of work to be fully realised.

Eventually, real estate and facility professionals embraced the notion that the future workplace would constitute a new spatial typology, deeply influenced by the hybridisation of arcades, hotels, homes and restaurants.

The immersive nature of these spaces, which is one of their most notable characteristics separating them from past generations of work places, is achieved via a new generation of connective technologies.

Wearing your tech

Whereas "mobile phones in bags" and laptops being dragged around in "roller bags" were once considered mobile work technologies, today's mobile work tools constitute an array of interconnected, wearable devices that provide instant access to people and information required to be productive.

When a worker enters a workspace and docks himself or herself in a chair, their wearables easily connect (save for the common connection glitches which the tech companies will likely never fully iron out) with the technologies resident within the workplace and worn by others, transporting them to either an interactive or private virtual space.

image captionMr Anderson says face-to-face meetings will still be a big part of working life, even far into the future

Workplace holography plays an important role, allowing people to convey verbal and non-verbal nuance in virtual discussions, while streaming translation services allow for someone speaking a different language to be instantly heard in one's native tongue.

Despite these virtual advances, there are key elements in these spaces that remain valuable ties to past modes of working.

Private dining spaces remain popular, as most companies promote "table-time" policies.

These policies, which originated from the world of e-dating, encourage employees to meet face-to-face with one another in person over food and drink whenever trust relationships are being established or, if needed, restored.

Likewise, nearly every workspace provides a comfortable and rich social space known as an IRL (In Real Life) Lounge, which are daytime living rooms for people to interact in person within a local workspace.

These spaces are a reminder that even in a digital age, there is no substitute for the meaning and richness that is derived from interpersonal interactions.