Where once the idea of ‘the office’ was a fairly fixed notion – fluorescent lighting, bland, utilitarian furnishings and a cubicle-like desk set-up – the landscape today is varied and ever-changing. Over the past 10–15 years we’ve witnessed the rise of flexible working hours, freelancers and home working, and alongside them the development of coworking spaces, offices designed for agile work environments such as start-ups and tech organisations, a more relaxed attitude to design, such as the rise of open brickwork, and other workspaces tailored to varying needs.
As designers, we respond to that evolution. The demands and needs of the worker have changed and with it their expectation of what their workplace feels and looks like. Priorities have shifted: sustainability and well-being are two important factors that now come into play in working life and office design and the responsibility companies have to furnish their offices sustainably and provide environmentally-friendly facilities has become a requirement jobseekers ask of their employers.
Offices are no longer just a place of work: they are a reflection of a business’s culture and values, a place we spend a significant part of our lives, and therefore the space itself has the potential to attract or drive off potential applicants. Companies need to ensure they’re making the right statement with their workspace – using the optimum design language and furnishings, and that’s where interior designers can provide a time-saving, invaluable service, providing not only the design and layout of the office space but furnishings and fittings that tell the right ‘story’ and have ethics at their heart.
Through my own work at Forster Inc, I’m addressing these new priorities and needs in two different ways. I have always been driven by working in an environmentally-friendly way, being careful with my choice of materials and energy usage, but with the rapidly-evolving consciousness around the need to be sustainable, this has become an even bigger focus in the spaces I design.
I do feel a regret that in innovating and designing, designers can often compound the world’s environmental problems by adding more for people to purchase, so I do a lot of work in sourcing carefully, opting for previously-owned items, reusing and repurposing to create newness from old and to ensure that workers can feel confident I’m not adding to a company’s environmental footprint.
One of the biggest criticisms of flexible working patterns has been the loss of individuality and the feeling of security that comes with having one’s defined space. In collaboration with Hotbox I have launched a device that allows agile workers to store their belongings practically and move them around efficiently. But it also enables them to bring a sense of their personality to their work environment in place of the desk belongings that did so previously. Hotbox’s aim is to give workers back that sense of identity and ‘home’ in order to improve their working life.
So where is all this leading and what can we do to prepare for the next trends in working patterns?
Online freelance platform PeoplePerHour has estimated that half of the UK workforce will be freelancing by 2020. It’s up to designers to predict and offer the solutions that will meet the needs of both companies and individuals ten years from now. We also need to continue to become less wasteful and find ways to help protect the planet – and I think this all presents a real opportunity for us.
Wellbeing remains a huge trend in the UK, with workers considering the implication that the time they spend at work has on their health, so I do think there’s going to be a huge emphasis on the ‘health’ of the workspace. I’m a firm believer that we might one day be looking at the death of the seated desk entirely. Standing desks have been linked to health benefits, such as decreased anxiety levels and reduced back pain while sitting for long periods has been associated with heart disease and obesity, so for me, the desk itself could be a very different proposition in the future.
Could we be looking at spaces that are divided into areas for standing work, sofa-based areas for lounging and additional spaces for physical activities like yoga, tai chi, volleyball, to create interiors that promote productivity and wellbeing? I certainly hope so.
With London Design Festival on the horizon, it’s an exciting time to begin considering these questions, examining our current practices, and providing the solutions to optimise workspaces for all.