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This is what the office of the future will be like

January 2, 2017

The Edge, a modern office building in Amsterdam. Photo: Horizon Photoworks

If you asked someone in the early 1900s how workplaces would evolve over the next 100 years or so, it is hard to imagine anyone envisaging a world with fax machines and personal computers, let alone smartphones and the internet.

But despite the fact that the pace of technological change in our recent decades has been unprecedented, it is all but certain to get even faster in the years to come. The information age is just getting started – and, in the process, it is sweeping aside traditional ideas about where, and how, people should work.

Subject to the caveat trying to predict the future is a notoriously tricky process, Commercial Real Estate asked a number of experts in human resources, office design and technology what they think our offices will look like in the not-too-far-distant future. Some of their predictions were exciting, others a little unsettling:

Your workplace will probably look more like a resort …

Andrew Schunke, an interior designer at architecture firm Architectus, believes the workplace of the future will resemble an “office-resort”, as workers become more transient and competition among businesses to retain talent intensifies.

“It’s not just about break-out spaces, beanbags and goldfish,” Mr Schunke says.

“It’s more about spaces that have integrated cafes and restaurants, childcare, gyms, and healthcare.”
The Edge, an office building in Amsterdam. Photo: Raimond Wouda, Courtesy of PLP Architecture The Edge, a state-of-the-art office building in Amsterdam. Photo: Raimond Wouda, Courtesy of PLP Architecture

A glimpse of the future can be seen at The Edge, a state-of-the-art office in Amsterdam that includes a number of features aimed at improving employee wellbeing. Every desk is positioned near a window to maximise natural light, the building is equipped with smart systems and sensor technology so that the temperature and lighting can be adjusted through a mobile phone app, and healthy snack stations are situated throughout the office.

… But you will spend a lot less time there …

Aaron McEwan, human resources advisory leader at international business consultancy CEB, says technology is enabling an increasing number of employees to work remotely and choose their own hours.

“Artificial intelligence, automation and the internet of things [a proposed development of the world wide web in which everyday objects have network connectivity] are creating the technological foundations to support a growing desire for Australian workers to have flexibility,” he says.

“What does the workplace of the future look like? I reckon it looks a lot emptier than it currently does.”

The office of the future will be a lot less busy. Photo: Getty Images The office of the future will be a lot less busy. Photo: Getty Images

Despite the growing trend for flexible work practices, however, businesses will still maintain a physical hub where employees can meet with their colleagues in person, Mr McEwan predicts.

“We’ll see people wanting to come into a physical space where they are with their co-workers or an organisation and still retain that connection,” he says.

“Employers don’t currently treat contingent workers that way.”

… and (the bad news is) you could find yourself spied on

Stephen Minnett, director of architecture and design firm futurespace, predicts that businesses will increasingly use technology to monitor the productivity of employees.

There will be more surveillance in the offices of the future. Photo: ThinkStock There will be more surveillance in the offices of the future. Photo: ThinkStock

“Privacy is a really interesting aspect of all this technology,” he said.

“Once workplaces can start to sense people and their movements, there’s a whole lot of data around how you’re working and how productive you are that businesses can tap into.”

According to a Guardian Australia report, global resources group Rio Tinto is already taking such steps, contracting French facilities management company Sodexo to create a technological platform that live streams workers’ movements at remote company-run mining camps back to a monitoring station in Perth.

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