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Apr 17, 2024

How can the future of office design enhance our workplace?

Is the traditional office on its way out? Despite predictions of its demise, the office not only remains but also thrives.

Undoubtedly, it is undergoing rapid transformation, driven by digital technologies that are reshaping work and workplace design. Automation and AI are changing job landscapes, making some roles irrelevant while creating new ones which require innovative design solutions. 

Meanwhile, WFH patterns, amplified by COVID-19, show a lasting shift towards remote work, highlighting the need for designers to craft both home-based work environments and more flexible and cosy post-pandemic offices. 

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However, amidst these changes, human interaction and collaboration—the core of the office—remain vital. Indeed, it’s this human-centric approach that defines this new era.


The Future of Office Design

In essence, workplaces remain deeply intertwined with our lives with emerging principles and perspectives on office design prioritising sustainability, well-being, and environmental consciousness.

Companies strive to meet workers’ demands for high-quality, flexible, and tech-savvy spaces, often accompanied by good coffee.

As we contemplate the evolution of office design, we must draw lessons from the past and envision a future where innovation harmonises with human flourishing. The goal is to create environments that inspire creativity, foster collaboration, and promote fulfilment. How can designers shape the future of office design to create better spaces for collective productivity and well-being?


The Nightmare of Open Office Culture

The open-plan office settings we’ve grown accustomed to have been around for over a century, mirroring the organic flow of natural spaces and urban landscapes. The Great Workroom, an early open-plan office designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright for the S. C. Johnson company in the 1930s, was intended to boost productivity.

Initially hailed as a breakthrough in enhancing efficiency, the open-plan layout revolutionised productivity and laid the groundwork for modern workplace culture. Yet, was the open space culture truly a golden future for workers?

However, it was not without its drawbacks. While aligned cubicles and rigid hierarchies became emblematic of the 20th-century office landscape, their lack of privacy and noise and distraction levels affected workplace well-being at its core. These environments left employees in search of a sense of belonging and purpose.


From Towers of Power to Coffee Shops

As workspace culture progressed towards a human-centred approach, office buildings started to incorporate spaces for community interaction, which gradually became a symbol of corporate power.

In the 1990s, life and work became more integrated, and as a result, even office design was reshaped to suit the changing working culture. This redesign included the addition of ‘quiet areas’, where people could decompress and relax amidst their busy schedules.


What Do Workers Want from the Future of Office Design?

“In many ways, the workplace has come full circle over the past 300 years: from the local communities where people worked, lived, learned and grew food together to today’s vibrant mixed-use city quarters with offices, homes, restaurants, gyms and spaces for relaxation or play,” wrote author and architect Nicola Gillen, a global practice leader for workplace strategy, in “Future office: Next-generation workplace design” published by RIBA-Royal Institute of British Architects.

“But the office and people’s ways of working have changed significantly in between – and continue to disrupt the world of work at pace. Much of the change we expect to see tomorrow is already happening today,” Gillen continued. We must trust her expertise as she specialises in the relationship between design, people, behaviour, and the built environment. She draws from 25 years of experience in delivering workplace strategy and innovation internationally.

As we navigate the evolving landscape of work, what does the future hold for office design? More importantly, what will the workers of today demand for tomorrow’s workplace design?


Space for Collaboration, Innovation, and Well-being

The surge of freelancers working on laptops has ignited a new trend called the ‘coffee house renaissance’, involving the use of café tables as makeshift office desks. Taking inspiration from this trend, what if we elevated community spaces within corporate offices to promote collaboration while emphasising functionality, aesthetics, productivity, and wellness?

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Office Design Balancing Workers’ Well-being Needs with Un-corporate Corporate Interiors

Today’s office design is a dynamic, ever-evolving concept, embracing diverse typologies to inspire creativity and leisure. Companies now recognise the significant impact of space design on business and prioritise employee well-being. 

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An excellent example of radical redevelopment can be seen in the relocation of Boston Consulting Group’s largest office in New York City to 10 Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s West Side. Designed by Gensler, the project aimed to create a drastically different work environment, with a focus on increasing the ‘collision coefficient’ to encourage interaction among staff across six individually-themed floors that are full of energy. Gensler’s design embodies a paradigm shift towards ‘un-corporate corporate interiors,’ complemented by breathtaking views of Manhattan’s newest neighbourhood.



Silvia De Vecchi
University Librarian, London