What will the office of 2030 be like? Ergonomic boulders and contact lenses that tell you what to eat

Floating farm: will your office become a facilitator for your health?

Will the workplace really look – or feel – very different in 15 years’ time? Will treadmill and recumbent bicycle standing desk add-ons be normal? And will wearables mean we never have to move to speak to a colleague? Will informal relationships be forged next to AI coffee machines? Will we even be in an office? Here are three recent ideas from the experts which give us a glimpse into the future.

WEIRD AND WONDERFUL SHAPES

Late last year, the chief government architect of the Netherlands asked designers to create blueprints for a new conceptualisation of shared office spaces. Dutch studio RAAAF came up with The End of Sitting – a series of glacier-esque shapes and surfaces designed to replace office furniture. Speaking to Wired, partner Ronald Rietveld asked, “What if we had an environment without chairs and tables, and we don’t think in these archetypes, but in terms of activities?”
This is a workplace where natural movement and poses are prioritised. While standing desks support, well, standing, the RAAAF design is focused on supported standing. Specially angled frames create leaning spaces for workers of any shape or size. To promote activity over sedentariness, there are no fixed desks.
Unsurprisingly, The End of Sitting has its problems. While the roaming-disposed might find themselves in their element, there will be considerable distractions for others. And where do you keep your stuff, or hold meetings?
But as an experiment and art installation more than anything else, the design isn’t really concerned with answering questions like that. Instead, says Rietveld, it is simply “about showing a different way of thinking”.


The romanticised office space

FIELDS OF GOLD

A similar thought process can be found in the vision of the winners of last month’s Workplace of the Future 2.0 Design Competition. Architects Sean Cassidy and Joe Wilson conceptualised an office where augmented reality contact lenses feed workers a newsfeed of information and important updates.
Central to their lofty hi-tech greenhouse design is the prioritisation of health: “we wanted to create a place where nature and man had a symbiotic relationship, and a place which promoted healthy living,” the winners said to Fast Company.
In addition to the abundance of plants surrounding work stations, this romanticised office space will have an urban farm tacked onto its side (see above).
Employees’ contact lenses will help inform their eating decisions, based on an assessment the lenses make of the wearer’s current health, allowing people to physically pick whatever is being cultivated around them – even sending ingredients to office chefs at meal times.

CAFFEINATED INFLUENCE

But not all the latest ideas cook up over-individualised experiences for the office worker. A 2014 report published in Harvard Business Review entitled The Network Effect looked at how the group dynamic of the office will change the way we work in the future.
It found that performance is markedly improved by impromptu face-to-face encounters – in spite of hi-tech developments, it’s the quick chat by the coffee machine that makes the real difference. This view built on research by Roland Burt of the University of Chicago, who has previously shown that people who manage to straddle different groups within an organisation are more powerful than their titles suggest.
Greg Lindsay, one of The Network Effect’s authors, says that the office of 15 years’ time probably won’t be all that different to what we have now. What we might actually see, he says, is a shift that nods to the past – where there are designated spaces for organisations to mingle with each other, like in medieval Venice, or specific conversation corners, like in a Restoration coffee house or Victorian gentleman’s club.

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