“The social side of work may soon be the only reason we have office buildings” – so says Scott Wyatt, chairman of architecture firm NBBJ, in a recent BBC interview.
“Getting together with people in teams is where innovation happens, and makes us happy,” he says. “You’re not going to be happy holed up at home doing all your work.”
We’ve already seen the impact of this claim at street level, in fast-growing coworking spaces and the emergence of ‘cofficing’ (using coffee shops as an office). We saw it in high-profile places like Yahoo’s decision to ban remote working, and in the BBC’s new Broadcasting House, which actively encourages (or enforces) hot desking across its open-plan newsroom. And business centres are seeing it in demand for hot desking and third spaces.
Of course there is a line between socialising and collaborating – but in many cases it’s the desire for human company that sends business owners and remote workers scuttling into coworking spaces.
And as we found earlier this week, various applications are now getting in on the act by actively helping users of shared space to get to know each other – virtually speaking – through a network.
Socialising and collaborating isn’t just a bonus for flexible workspace operators. It presents another benefit – namely movement.
The 21st century is a highly sedendary place to live and work, which has become a major health concern. However, collaborative workplaces are helping to improve members’ wellbeing in a number of ways. Getting up to grab a coffee, to chat over the water-cooler, to network, to cross paths with someone – these are all actions made possible by collaborative spaces.
“Movement charges your brain, which is really valuable and part of work,” said Ryan Mullenix, an NBBJ design partner.
Or as Mr Wyatt puts it: “If you sit at your desk for more than twenty minutes, you start getting stupider.”
NBBJ seems to be a staunch believer in movement, as they also reportedly post maps around their offices, suggesting outdoor walking routes for meetings of various lengths.
So, is desire for movement becoming a significant part of new building design? It certainly seems that way, particularly if you browse the vast open-plan spaces springing up across the corporate landscape.
For instance Facebook’s new HQ, designed by Frank Gehry of Spain’s Guggenheim Museum, features a vast open-floor plan. On top of the enormous campus lies a nine-acre rooftop park.
Amazon’s futuristic new Seattle offices, set to open in 2016, will sport a boundary-bashing collection of glass biospheres, each housing five floors of flexible workspace and a network of open green spaces.
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And just look at the enormous light-filled spaces of the new Googleplex.
Whether or not a more active lifestyle is the driving force behind such large, airy spaces, it is nonetheless a welcome move. We’ve already seen the advantages that green biophilic design can bring to office-based workers, not to mention the benefits of bright, light-filled spaces. It remains to be seen whether or not the social side of work will indeed be the only reason for office buildings in the future. But if collaboration, movement, and innovation are intrinsically bound – all of which offer a recipe for employee wellbeing and enhanced productivity – it seems the workplace of the future could well be designed with socialising and wellbeing in mind. And who’s complaining?
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