Will Your Next Office Be A High-Tech Phone Booth?

Danielle Beurteaux

indexLike almost everything in life, office design goes through trends. Cubicles, open plan, treadmill desks (which turns out might not be such a great idea)—they’ve all been touted as ideas that will make employees happy and productive. And none of them have completely worked.

The future of the office could be less of an either/or paradigm—as in all cubicles, or all offices—and more of a clever re-imagining of design that considers different work styles, events, and how we interact with technology, to create the new connected workplace.

Flexibility to connect

Employees connect with each other in different ways at different times, so why design an office environment that essentially inhibits that natural tendency? The new office design keyword is flexibility. A recent research paper describes the key foci, including the ability to move throughout the day, to go from seated to standing, to walk around the office, stretch, and interact with coworkers at different places throughout the work space. Technology means that employers interact with each other in a host of ways all day, and design needs to built around that fact.

Cubicles are out, pods are in

Cubicles were meant to be the great equalizer in offices, but they’ve turned out to be unattractive, unpopular, and bad for productivity as well. To create a hybrid private-personal workspace, some design companies have created units that provide an environment conducive to concentration. Steelcase, Knoll, and Herman Miller are all responding to their clients’ requests for environments that are flexible yet offer some amount of privacy. Steelcase’s Brody design looks like a hybrid between a study carrel and a first-class airplane seat.

Refuge rooms, natural light, and phone booths

Office spaces are shrinking—one of the reasons for the popularity of open-plan offices is that they generally fit more people in less square footage—which means companies must get creative when designing interiors that work for employees. Refuge rooms are basically separate offices spaces but with specific uses—one might be entirely off the Net; another might be designated for meetings.

Natural light is also making a comeback. Research tells us that no windows and no natural light increases employee stress. Nature is good, too, for helping relieve stress and improve mood.

The future is phone booths: Etsy, Yelp, and analytics startup Quid all have “phone booths,” which are small spaces designed for private time. Yelp also offers “chill-out” rooms. And then there are office treehouses, sure to be seen in a public park near you. Okay, maybe not.

Design object lesson

Birmingham, UK-based digital product studio 383 adapted an historical 1840s warehouse to work with today’s connected realities. As detailed in this blog post, that meant installing over 6 miles of cable (hidden away), creating an API that would act as the connective platform for all the different technology being used in the office, and some very clever ideas to make negotiating the space easier, like an Arduino-based in board and a iBeacon to make locating employees easier in all that space.

What do you think? Will your next office space be a treehouse?

For more future-focused HR strategies, see 5 Bad Habits HR Needs to Break in 2015 – Just the Facts Edition.

Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.