By Simon Davies
Office demographics are undergoing a period of transition. The baby boom generation is gradually moving towards retirement and in its place comes a wave of Generation Y employees. By 2020, millennials will represent 40% of the global workforce and this could rise to 75% by 2025.
The transition will likely spark changes in office design as businesses adapt to the needs of the new generation of workers. Weaned on social media and mobile technology and immersed in issues such as climate change, millennials will seek work environments that reflect their ideals.
This could see businesses introducing fresh approaches to flexible working, integrating the latest technologies and adopting a morale-focussed culture that moves away from corporate practices. Here we examine how these three areas could change:
Offices will adapt to suit a flexible working culture
Digital technology has revolutionized the way we work, making old practices irrelevant and increasing the popularity of flexible working. Smartphones, WiFi and cloud technologies enable work outside of the traditional office, often from the comforts of our own home.
Three quarters of millennials want flexible work schedules and 45% would even shun a pay rise in favour of remote working. This is largely due to the “work-life integration” philosophy that acknowledges professionals need to blend what they do personally and professionally in order to make both flow successfully.
An increase in telecommuting could therefore see the end of the traditional 9 to 5 working day and reduce the need for permanent office space. More businesses will use serviced offices that offer flexible space and a wide range of facilities for short periods of time. The serviced office industry has already increased by 67% in the UK and is expected to rise globally within the next decade.
Office layout will also change to suit the 88% of millennials that prefer a collaborative workplace to a competitive one. A collaborative workplace sparks innovative idea generation, encourages mentorship and allows colleagues to form friendships and boost morale. Open plan layouts will therefore continue to be popular, and designers will incorporate a variety of optimized spaces such as collaboration rooms, meeting pods and breakout areas.
Sustainability and employee health will be paramount in office design
Not only will office design need to match the ethos of a company, it will also need to consider the values of its employees. Research has found 88% millennials want to work for a company that’s socially responsible and ethical.
Future offices will need to incorporate sustainable design and green workplace initiatives to ensure their building is as eco-friendly as possible. Many companies have already introduced initiatives, for instance Clearance Solutions follow a reuse and recycling protocol and SAP recruitment agency Eursap have pledged to plant a tree in The National Forest for every consultant placed.
Businesses will also look to improve their energy efficiency, largely through going paperless and installing efficient insulation and ventilation, but also through renewable sources. Designers will look to install systems that convert kinetic energy into electrical energy and produce clean energy production via solar panels and wind turbines.
More focus will be placed on employee health as numerous studies have found it to have major influence on productivity. Businesses will encourage employees to get active and combat the sedentary office lifestyle by offering on site gym facilities and enrichment activities such as yoga.
Open Workspace Design have discussed how plants will be used to improve air quality. Poor air quality is the leading cause of ‘sick building syndrome’, a phenomenon that costs UK businesses an estimated £36 billion each year.
Technology will further advance communication and simplicity
In an era of unprecedented technological advancement, some of the most groundbreaking changes have been in virtual reality production, which has, according to the creative production agency Rewind, “finally caught up with user expectations”. The future of work once had us imagining space-age technologies and robots in the future workspace. But in reality, such innovations in technology are more likely to change how we communicate, collaborate, and will be designed around employees’ needs and specific company cultures.
Offices are likely to focus on “telepresence”, a phenomenon made possible by WiFi and digitalisation and one which will coincide with the rise of remote working. Skype already enables us to interact via webcams and computer screens.
Some have predicted we will be able to virtually take part in meetings using holographic images of ourselves. Although we’re more likely to see further development of webcam technology before this happens, it’s certain that we’ll see employees being able to arrange meetings in a more flexible way, without having to leave the office and drastically reducing time and money spent on travel.
Artificial intelligence is also being developed for office use, although it’s not the robot-type humanoid science-fiction films have led us to expect. Touchpoint Group, a New Zealand-based technology firm, is developing an “angry artificial intelligence” to help train phone representatives to prepare for furious customers.
Sensor technology will also become more advanced. Gesture control devices will allow users to control devices with natural hand gestures and a password won’t be necessary as cameras will use facial recognition to keep others out. Furthermore, voice recognition will run during phone conversations to detect context, for example the mention of a meeting which will then automatically be added to your calendar.
Simon Davies is a freelance journalist interested in marketing, tech and small business. Follow him at @SimonTheoDavies.