The workplace of the future will include beds integrated into desks and opportunities for staff to play at work. Or so suggested the keynote speakers at the recent 2014 Work Place/Work Life forum held in Melbourne and hosted by Architecture Media. With around 200 people in attendance the forum focused on the issues shaping the workplace of tomorrow and included a range of case studies from around the world.
David Gianotten of global architectural OMA (founded by Rem Koolhaus) presented recent workplaces undertaken in Asia, including the new Beijing headquarters for internet giant Tencent. This project utilizes a 180 meter x 180 meter floor plate (or 32,400m2/324,000sq ft for a typical floor). The sheer scale of this project was astounding and is representative of an emerging building typology – one that includes shops, a supermarket and a swimming / sporting complex. These building typologies are unique to the Asia Pacific region. Such enormous buildings cannot be built in Europe as the floorplate depths would not meet regulatory requirements for access to natural light.
This notion of a “city within a city” is perhaps a reaction to China’s poor air quality and harsh external environment; and surely a result of the country’s emphasis on their continuing phenomenal growth. (Gianotten’s case studies also included a project where each workposition had a roll out bed so workers could sleep in the office!)
Perhaps the most refreshing speaker of the forum was Dr Timothy Sharp (aka Dr Happy), founder of the Happiness Institute. He compellingly argued the case for a greater focus on fun in workplace design and its resultant benefits in engagement and productivity.
Sharp quoted research showing conclusively that happier people are healthier people. They are more productive, live longer, and are more creative and more resilient in coping with setbacks. Sharp also argued against the idea that “play” in the workplace is counterproductive. Instead he believes play is an essential ingredient of the highest performing workplace cultures worldwide.
Sharp also spoke on an increasingly important component of the future workplace; health and wellbeing. As our population lives longer and “work” becomes increasingly sedentary the integration of health and wellbeing issues in the workplace is now critical. Proven interventions into our physical environment that increase peoples’ health are access to views, natural light, plants, diversity of spaces, physical movement and the growing realization that “sitting is the new smoking”. Sharp also argued that working longer and increasing pension ages gives people purpose, provides ongoing social connections and leads to a longer life for individuals.
While the conference posed the question “what will the workplace be like a decade from now?” and there were many interesting viewpoints on this no one speaker was really able to offer a credible vision of the future workplace. The way we work has become so intertwined with technology, and as technology continues to evolve beyond many of our wildest dreams, it is simply impossible to predict how we will work in 2024.