People are rejecting the uninspiring sea of sameness that has come to be known as “the office.” Standardised for efficiency, this uniform approach limits the potential for inspiration, expression and social connection. This office rebellion is causing organisations to rethink their workplaces — from a singular focus on efficiency toward a pluralistic approach that enriches the emotional, cognitive and physical well-being of people. Thoughtfully curated destinations blend design, materiality and performance, and give people the freedom to choose where and how they work. These destinations deliver a more human experience, while still providing the tools and resources people need to actually get work done.
Despite emerging technologies, the office has not gone away. Instead, it’s evolving into something fundamentally different. People are looking for inspiration and creativity at work, as well as human-centred technology that makes life easier instead of complicated. Designers saw this shift years ago but now we’re in an accelerated evolution and those ideas are being embraced and adopted at a rapid pace.
A cultural movement
The office renaissance began to change things around us, gradually at first, and then suddenly it seems like everything is different. Steelcase designers and researchers have found the key forces that have accelerated this change.
Where and how work happens has changed: Rapid advances in technology allow people to work anywhere, anytime. It’s clear that the old paradigm does not support the ways people work nowadays.
The shift to creative work: New pressures to compete and grow businesses shifted organisational emphasis towards work that requires creativity and a new, team-based innovation process. “Breaking rules and breaking patterns is where new ideas come from,” says Bruce Smith, director of global design at Steelcase. Many workplaces don’t make room for creative collaboration a priority.
The war for attracting and retaining talent: Employees with coveted 21st-century skills, those who can help organisations innovate and grow are a limited commodity. They often choose organisations that offer the most meaningful work and the best working conditions, rejecting anything that makes them feel like a cog in the wheel of industry.
Employee disengagement: Over one-third of workers in 17 of the world’s most important economies are disengaged, according to “Engagement and the Global Workplace”, a study conducted by Steelcase and global research firm Ipsos. It found that the most disengaged workers were also the most dissatisfied with their work environments, citing a lack of control over where and how they work. Workplaces with a strong focus on uniformity don’t empower people. This creates a crisis for organisations that need to be agile and resilient.
The promise of technology: Consumer technologies are a game changer for offices. People are accustomed to technology that helps them drive better, manage their home appliances remotely, walk more, sit up straighter or connect more with friends and family. Then, they come to offices where technology largely exists on desktops or mobile devices, and no one has thought about embedding it in the physical environment to help make the workday better. But when it’s thoughtfully integrated into the walls, floors and furniture, technology holds the promise to actually make the work experience more human-centred.
The anti-corporate backlash
As all these forces converge, individuals and their organisations recognise that something fundamental has to change. The ‘anti-corporate’ backlash i.e. the rebellion against the space created for the benefit of the organisation and not the employee. It’s putting pressure on the system to change. The design challenge is to meet business needs while we’re serving the needs of humans.
Designing for the well-being of people
Emotions have no place in the workplace – at least, that’s how the office has always been perceived. But the renaissance in workplaces is a cultural movement that recognises the critical role human emotions play. New research shows a connection between emotions, cognition and physical wellness – and the importance of understanding human behaviour at work to motivate and inspire people to achieve more.
1. Engaging people’s emotions to boost motivation and engagement:
- Nurture a sense of belonging and foster strong connections between people
- Thoughtfully blend spaces for socialisation and collaboration with spaces for individual focus and rejuvenation
- Provide for moments of respite throughout the day to help people cope with “fight or flight” stressors, which generate cortisol and other hormones that compromise health
- Help people see their relationship to the organisation, which leads to a sense of purpose in their work
2. Priming the brain to think better:
- Support people’s need for focus and rejuvenation so that individuals and teams can concentrate easily, solve problems and generate new ideas
- Promote social interactions that stimulate the brain and improve creativity
- Provide easy ways to offload information to avoid overtaxing
- Reduce the threat of “group think” by supporting needs for privacy and solitude, so that people can absorb information, generate their own point of view and become better collaborators
- Allow people to practice mindfulness and build their mental muscles to stay focused on the task at hand
- Integrate sensors, large-scale computing technology and other devices to make working easier
3. Enhancing vitality:
- Support frequent movement throughout the day for physical and mental vigour
- Encourage a range of postures that help people stay comfortable and energised
- Promote ergonomic and active sitting so that people can move and shift postures to prevent stiffness and pain, especially if a movement isn’t inherent in their jobs.