By Marc Sapetti
Technology has enabled us to think in a more minimalistic and personalized way. And millennials, who have now taken over the workforce, are using it to disrupt the way we think about our workspace. Whether it’s the option of having a cup of organic coffee or ergonomic chairs, employers are not blind towards these trends.
Gone are the days of dreaming about a stable corporate job with a cramped office space decorated with fake plants. It’s safe to say that we are witnessing a shift towards a more multifunctional, hybrid, and versatile office. Startups are getting involved in this transformation, bringing in innovations far more revolutionary than an adjustable table.
There’s a clear desire within millennials and Gen Z to work differently. These segments prefer a work-life integration to the work-life balance. This means that personal and family goals are no longer sacrificed for the sake of career growth, and success is measured on all fronts. Productivity is no longer determined by the time spent in the office — but rather by delivered results. Technology is a big part of this: The workplace adapts to the new mobile condition of contemporary life. As workers are no longer tied to a single office desk, traveling and remote work are gradually anchored in our lifestyles.
Seeking fewer responsibilities – but not giving up on the full office experience – millennials and Gen Z workers can be increasingly found in coworking spaces. These are flexible arrangements, allowing workers to opt for a short-term office space rental, in contrast to committing to a long-term office contract. While in 2007, there were only 14 documented coworking spaces in the U.S., now there are over 11,100. The charm of coworking spaces dwells in their dynamic nature: They mediate networking, allowing for social interaction and community-building, while their often urban-centric location and modern design appeal to the eyes of young workers more than the traditional office.
In fact, the design of a space has a great impact on the collaboration and performance of an individual. In the words of Jacob Morgan, a prominent author on the subject, “the future of work is all about employee experience.” And with traveling and flexibility coming to the spotlight, office furniture adopts a different role, becoming a tool rather than a place.
The Office: Reinvented
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the traditional office is dying. Instead, it’s being reinvented to react to some of the emerging needs and trends. With the high costs of real estate, the traditional aim was to cramp as many people in as little space as possible. But with home offices and people on the move, modern offices now often have desks that are not being used all the time. This has led to a rise in desk sharing – or hot-desking – meaning that people don’t own a desk but instead take any available spot. Likewise, the death verdict for common open office spaces has encouraged employers to rethink office planning. Noise control and acoustics play an important role: Seeing their workers wearing their earbuds due to excessive noise levels, we’ve seen more employers introduce privacy pods.
Pleasant environments and employee well-being are no less of a priority. When it comes to design, we have now outlived gray colors and dull decorations. Instead, informal environment with quirky and bold design is the top choice. Combined with bean-bags, refreshing patterns for office furniture, and natural lights, the office is becoming an environment where workers truly want to spend their time. At the same time, welcoming sustainability, greater contact with nature, and using chemical-free cleaning products, can help battle the sick building syndrome, not only making employees happier, but also healthier.
The future of the office setting is likely to have an elaborate Internet of Things set-up in place, while employees will be found relaxing with interactive screens or augmented reality projections. In many cases, it’s startups driving the changes. Stating that the average office furniture is 79 years old, they are bringing refreshing and innovative ideas, including adjustable desks, ergonomic chairs, mice, keyboards, and monitor stands.
Furniture — chairs, in particular — are changing dramatically to adapt to this new scenario: they are becoming easier to use, they adapt to us instantly by self-adjusting to weight, and there’s no need to adjust 20 different knobs to find the best position. But prolonged sitting can have a series of negative health impacts, ranging from back pain, cardiovascular issues and higher anxiety levels.
Finding a healthy balance between sitting and standing all day is a challenge. That’s why recliners, sofas, and lounge chairs are also gaining popularity. But the healthiest position may always be the next one. Sit-stand desks have become a popular alternative that allows employees to adjust the height of their desks. We’ve also seen progress in the field of exoskeletons. With these, the user is free to walk and move around – bend, crouch or sit normally. As these become more accessible and comfortable, jeans with exoskeletons from high street fashion stores may convert into the work attire of the future.
Our workspace is adapting to the lifestyle changes brought by millennials and Gen Z, moving us away from a single desk towards greater freedom, creativity, and productivity. Forget the dull cubicles, the modern office is all about flexibility, ergonomy, and work & play.