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Bad Office Lighting is Killing Our Souls

Office Lighting

Photo via Lux Review

We’ve arrived at the point in discussions about workplace health where we can compare sitting to smoking and no one bats an eye. We’re likely well versed in the various recommendations: Get a standing (or biking or treadmill) desk! Take walking meetings! Don’t stay in one place too long! All good advice. But while the conversations about physical positioning have advanced over the years, it seems that talk about lighting ergonomics has just begun to filter into the general public. If “sitting is the new smoking,” spending long hours in badly-lit environments may be the new “slowly sapping your life force”—or at least, your ability to stay awake, alert, and engaged.

“Vision has become the most neglected of all our senses in the workplace,” writes, despite widespread, chronic eyestrain, headaches, and fatigue attributable to poor lighting conditions and “computer vision syndrome,” a form of repetitive strain injury with symptoms including blurred vision, irritated eyes, and neck and back pain. Various apps—and some operating systems—have features that dim or brighten computer screens automatically depending on the time of day, and adjust color balance for a softer, more pleasing appearance.

But many office spaces still make unintelligent use of lighting. Business efficiency expert Andrew Jensen cites a study conducted by the American Society of Interior Design which found that 68 percent of employees complain about office lighting. “The two most common scenarios for poor office lighting,” he writes, “are lights that are too dim and lights that are too harsh.” Both inadequate and overly bright, especially fluorescent, lighting can lead to eye strain, headaches, and other unpleasant symptoms.

Most researchers suggest that natural light is best. It keeps our body’s circadian rhythms, fostering alertness and feelings of well-being during daylight hours.

Natural lighting renovations have been shown to result in happier workers, less absenteeism, and fewer illnesses, and, because better lighting encourages satisfaction among workers, it also results in increased productivity.

Large windows aren’t always an option, and too much sunlight can cause irritating glare if located too close to computer screens. Of course, even office spaces with large windows need additional artificial lighting. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety offers a tutorial on lighting ergonomics, with a tour of the varieties of lighting schemes and fixtures. If in doubt, determining the best lighting scenario for a particular space might be best left to professional designers like Sabine De Schutter, an award-winning Berlin-based lighting architect, who offers some general “lighting hacks” for the non-specialist.

De Schutter’s first recommendation is to use lighting to “create atmospheres where your ideas can develop,” by using a combination of “direct and indirect lighting” and avoiding “having only downwards-directed illumination.” (Studies show that indirect lighting has the best effect on employee health and happiness.) Up to a 36 percent increase in productivity can result from lighting improvements, according to Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering. Lighting temperature is as important as lighting direction, and different spaces within a single office can be optimized for different uses with the right lighting.


Image via UNC

UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School offers the recommendations above as a guide. So-called cool or cold lighting temperatures, bluish-white light over 5,000 degrees Kelvin, offer the best simulation of daylight, and thus improve alertness and lower the amount of melatonin in the system, reducing short-term sleepiness and long-term fatigue. Conference rooms may benefit from slightly warmer temperatures, which can be more welcoming while still keeping people awake. And more intimate, relaxing settings like break rooms benefit from warmer, comforting red to yellowish-white lighting up to around 3,000K.

“If you don’t have access to daylight,” the researchers note, “studies have also found that working under ‘blue-enriched’ light bulbs that are 17,000K actually increases work performance by supporting mental acuity, vitality and alertness.” In general, using the best available research to improve lighting conditions seems like a highly effective way to make an office happier, better-rested, and free from debilitating eye-strain and headaches that contribute to stress and soul-killing burnout.

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How Better Collaborative Technology Supports the Trend Toward Remote Work

Work from Home

Photo via Summit Business Technologies

This is the year, predicts Cisco’s Roland Trollope, that “’working from home’ will become just ‘working.’” How’s that? “The trend towards people working from home or other locations is unstoppable.” And the technology that drives remote work continues to improve. This does not mean the demise of the central office location, far from it, but it does mean collaborative teams will continue to develop across geographical distances, leading to a rapid decline of “‘place-ism,’ the discrimination against people who aren’t in a central office.”

As remote workers get their due, the ways that headquarters communicate with them will have to change as well. Older videoconferencing technology can be alienating and glitchy. Most remote workers connect through the web, but “pulling in to a conference room with a few co-workers and huddling around a laptop to connect a remote worker isn’t a good experience, Trollope writes. “People will begin to ask for more team-friendly tools in more work spaces.”

They’re already asking, as Microsoft’s Office blog pointed out in 2016. As technology enables more working from home, the trend then pushes technology forward. Younger workers especially, “expect high-quality video conferencing services… as an almost default collaboration tool.” A new generation entering the workforce has become accustomed to exponential advances in technology and easily acquires new tech skills with little need for training.

Apps like Slack bridge workplace communication tools with a more informal chat spaces, making the office even more mobile and adaptable. Of course, online videoconferencing tools all integrate chat features. Microsoft cites a Redshift Research survey that suggests the ways more business-oriented videoconferencing technology may increasingly integrate social networking tools:

Fifty-four percent of respondents showed interest in customizing the viewer’s experience with social media sharing tools. Twenty-one percent would prefer real-time language translation and pop-up bubbles that provide LinkedIn and Salesforce information on meeting participants.

As improved videoconferencing tech becomes commonplace in meeting situations, it also becomes standard for applications like job interviews, now frequently conducted remotely with out-of-state and international applicants. But regardless of actual physical distance, videoconferencing can create a psychological distancing effect, a “continued feeling of separation.” How do you stay connected with colleagues when gestures may be hard to interpret, eye contact difficult to maintain through a webcam?

Microsoft suggests that VR meetings might foster a greater sense of physical presence, and some experts believe VR conferencing will become the norm in a matter of just a few years. This all depends, however, Samantha Cole writes at Fast Company, on “where the trends in remote work go.” Some companies have turned against the practice, hoping to rebuild an onsite culture: “IBM, one of the pioneers for remote work, recently gave its scattered workforce an ultimatum: Come back to the office or quit.”

Nevertheless, most signs point toward businesses accommodating more remote working situations, not less, so that distantly-located employees can relax in their homes while still collaborating productively with coworkers in the central office. (As this happens, Trollope, writes, “the conference room will become the living room of the office.”)

The global videoconferencing market is projected to expand 7.9% between 2018 and 2026. And given the diffusion of projects among teams scattered over multiple states and countries, and the reliance on contingent employees and younger, tech-savvy workers, it seems that even corporate mandates like IBM’s can’t stem the tide of remote work for long, nor hold back the tech developing to support it.


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The Crisis of Chronic Stress in the Workplace

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Chronic stress, the Mayo Clinic writes, “can wreak havoc on your mind and body.” This is not an exaggeration. The effects of sustained, elevated adrenaline and cortisol levels have, in study after study, been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, sleep problems, digestive problems, joint inflammation, diabetes, depression and anxiety, and other serious and potentially fatal conditions. Combine stress with the widespread deadly effects of prolonged sitting and diets high in refined sugar and processed foods and we have the makings of an epidemic of chronic disease that places a massive burden on the health care system, generally making people sicker and creating serious problems with memory and concentration.

What does this mean for the workplace? “For many Americans,” writes Anne-Marie Slaughter at The New York Times, “life has become all competition all the time. Workers across the socioeconomic spectrum, from housekeepers to surgeons, have stories about toiling 12- to 16-hour days… and experiencing anxiety attacks and exhaustion.” The current workplace culture, argues Carolyn Gregoire at Huffington Post, is no longer sustainable. And the problem goes beyond employee health.

Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business has issued a dire diagnosis in his new book Dying for a Paycheck. “We are harming both company performance and individual well-being,” he says, addressing CEOs and business leaders, “and this needs to be a clarion call for us to stop. There is too much damage being done.” Pfeffer refers to a culture of long hours sitting in front of computers, increasing job insecurity, and a decrease in health benefits.  “The business costs are enormous,” says Pfeffer.

Companies have problems with presenteeism — people physically on the job but not really paying attention to what they are doing — with lost workdays from psychological stress and illness, with high health care costs. Seven percent of people in one survey were hospitalized — hospitalized! — because of workplace stress; 50% had missed time at work because of stress. People are quitting their jobs because of stress. 

Pfeffer’s criticism is harsh, and he places the blame on executives, who may themselves be subject to the same kinds of debilitating pressures. Are there ways to mitigate the effects of chronic workplace stress that don’t involve a total overhaul of the global economy? There are several recommendations for reducing workplace stress, including taking walking meetings and making sure to get enough sleep. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has been shown in dozens of high-profile studies to significantly reduce chronic stress, such that most major medical centers now have MBSR programs.

Interventions like meditation, diet, and exercise can certainly work wonders at the individual level. But this systemic problem requires institutional change as well, whether it be a company-wide focus on prevention or the redesign of office space around wellness. One company, Work Well Win—founded by a former executive of the co-working chain We Work—has built its business on both of these principles. With five locations in major U.S. cities, including New York, Chicago, and Santa Monica, and 20 more “in the pipeline,” the company offers spaces “built around core elements of wellness that addresses not only the design and operations of our buildings, but also how they impact and influence human behaviors related to health and well-being.”

Work Well Win’s design solutions include “purified air and rooms for yoga and meditation,” notes L.A.-based real estate new site The Real Deal. The company “joins a handful of other smaller co-working firms in Santa Monica that are competing with giants like We Work.” Given the expanding popularity of co-working spaces in the gig economy, as well as their increasing use by established companies, it’s possible that the Work Well Win model will catch on and spread, not only forcing We Work and other competitors to center wellness in their work spaces, but also bringing such focus into more traditional offices. Design solutions cannot alleviate the intense market pressures driving overwork, but they can significantly help workers constructively manage stress on the job.

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How VR Is Changing the Real Estate Game

Matterport Dollhouse

Image via Matterport

For decades now, sci-fi visions of virtual reality, from The Matrix to Ready Player One, have been packed full of action and adventure—virtual car chases and virtual kung fu. In the popular imagination, VR is a place to live out fantasies, and while increasing sophistication surely creates no small number of opportunities for wish fulfillment, the practical applications are just as important for driving innovation forward and solving problems in everyday life. From VR art galleries to movie theaters, campsites, karaoke bars, and comedy clubs, the tech bridges distances between people and places. Nowhere is this more useful, perhaps, than in real estate, where buyers often have to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to view a property before they buy—or buy sight-unseen and prepare for unpleasant surprises.

For the past couple years, both start-ups and well-established giants have offered VR technology as a means of touring properties in far-off places, or still in development, or currently rented to tenants and not quite in the shape an agent would like. Using Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Amazon’s Sumerian—a new VR and augmented reality tool—or real estate-specific VR services like Matterport and Transported, potential buyers can not only get a sense of different layouts in properties still under construction, but they can also get a sense of “space and depth” that is impossible to convey with 2-D video and photography, notes Stephanie Davis of Virtual Xperience, a company that creates VR experiences of properties still in development or under construction, with both 2-D images and 3-D walkthroughs and flythroughs.


Image via Matterport

While VR is obviously a boon to developers, sales agents, and purchasers, if also offers incredibly useful applications for existing tenants, who may soon be able to browse VR libraries for (virtually) hands-on tutorials answering such questions, notes Venture Beat, as “How do you work the laundry? The security system won’t work for me! Where is the switch board and how do I use it?” With VR technology, potential renters and buyers can also populate empty properties with their own choices of furnishings and décor to personalize before they commit.

As Forbes notes, the “virtual staging technology” company roOomy draws “from a catalog of more than 100,000 furniture and household items…. This is the future of open houses and online property marketing.” Available on Google Play, the roOomy app mixes real-time live views of properties with customers’ own selections of interiors design ideas. These kinds of applications can sell apartments in New York, and they can sell office space in any major city, allowing companies to see first-hand, in a way, how various spaces can accommodate their needs.

While it grows more sophisticated every year, VR still has a way to go. Moving too quickly through some virtual environments can sometimes cause glitches, and while some VR renderings are photorealistic simulations, some still resemble computer game environments. Nonetheless, as Andreas Johansson, of Berkovitz Development Group says, the technology is “a game-changer…. You no longer have to rely on basic renderings to showcase your project, clients can now see through VR what they’re buying, and developers can get deals done quicker.”

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The Limits of Tracking Tech in the Workplace


Photo via Digital Trends

While the quaint phrases “punch in” and “punch out” live on in the lexicon, the now-vintage image of employees sliding cards into a timeclock has given way to fingerprint scanners, facial and voice recognition systems, key cards loaded with monitoring tech, and GPS and biometric tracking software installed in company vehicles and mobile devices. Surveillance technology is becoming so commonplace that PC Magazine now puts out a guide for “The Best Employee Monitoring Software” and the site GetApp posts the cavalierly-phrased list: “5 Employee Tracking Apps for iPhone to Spy on Your Staff.” It maybe goes without saying that employers should be cautious and diplomatic when introducing surveillance software, biometric data gathering devices, and other kinds of tracking technology.

As employee monitoring becomes increasingly sophisticated by the year, human resources and legal departments have to move quickly to address legitimate privacy concerns. The Atlantic reported last year on the “murky… legal landscape around tracking employees,” which might reasonably make people shy about surveillance technology. Amazon’s patent for employee tracking devices, for example, made many negative headlines recently. Several lawsuits have already been filed in Chicago under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), which “limits how companies can collect and use biometric data of individuals,” reports Bloomberg.

Part of the problem is that “biometric timekeeping vendors are selling systems to employers without discussing the legal obligations that go with the technology.” The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) issued a guide for employers in January for the implementation of employee monitoring programs. These should all include “clear policies, effecting training, implementation strategies” and “tactics for handling sensitive employee information.” Avanti software adds guidelines like, “Don’t surprise your employees with a biometric clock.” Transparency is key. Employers, they note, should give workers the opportunity to voice concerns and should clearly show how personal data will be kept secure.

As with every rapidly progressing technology, legal limits will likely always trail behind the limits of the tech. One company, Humanyze, “an MIT spinoff,” reports Digital Trends, “aims to overlay biometric analysis and analytics over the traditional employee badge technology.” Their ID badges are equipped with RFID, near field communications (NFC) sensors, Bluetooth, “an infrared detector capable of tracking face-to-face interactions, an accelerometer, and two microphones,” writes Digital Trends. The microphones “creep frighteningly close to Big Brother territory,” but the company assures potential users that “they don’t have the ability to record conversations. Instead the mics measure tone, volume, and speed, along with potentially monitoring stress.”

The last function listed for Humanyze’s tracking tech points to one possible employee benefit of tracking programs—the potential for reducing employee burnout and health-related issues. Workers with elevated heartrates or blood pressure, for example, might be encouraged to take a break, take a walk, meditate, or take other de-stressing measures. Other benefits “range from accounting for employees in emergency situations to protecting employees and employers from unfounded complaints” by creating an evidentiary trail. Whether or not benefits outweigh the risks—including the risk of hacked devices—employee tracking tech has inevitably expanded far beyond monitoring internet use and reading employee emails, and it will inevitably continue to do so.

The tactful implementation of a monitoring program involves multiple considerations, not the least of which, writes Susan Heathfield at The Balance, “is the potential damage to a work culture that fosters trust and employee commitment and motivation.” As Manny Avramidis, senior VP of the American Management Association, puts it, “99% of the population will be fine without electronic surveillance; fewer than one percent of employees are causing the damage that allows all of the bad stuff for employers to kick in.” Heathfield recommends that employers have employees sign off on company security policies, “then, take a deep breath and—trust them.” Her advice might sound just a little too altruistic to many security experts.

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WeWork and the Evolution of Co-Working Spaces: From Hackers and Activists, to Scrappy Start-Ups, to “Enterprise Clients”


Photos by Lauren Kallen, via OfficeLovin’

Contrary to appearances, the trend in co-working spaces popping up in major cities all over the world did not begin with tech start-ups, but rather with a “relatively small, scrappy set of independent contractors and do-gooders,” notes Laura Bliss at The Atlantic. “Its history might begin with the European hacker spaces of the 1990s, where independent programmers swapped coding skills in dark basements with an air of techno-anarchism.” The original “co-workers,” in other words, probably included no small number of squatters.


“Americans caught on a few years later. The first true co-working space, so called, emerged in 2005, renting square footage from a feminist collective in San Francisco’s Mission District.” Enter companies like WeWork to monetize the concept and create what WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann calls a “capitalist kibbutz.” Opening their first location in New York in 2010, the Brooklyn-based start-up has, in the last eight years, come to dominate the co-working world with a business model based on “rent arbitrage,” as a research report from CBInsights puts it, “charging its members more than it has to pay its landlords.”


How much more? CBInsight relates an anecdote from a 2014 event at which Vornado Realty Trust’s chairman Steven Roth sarcastically remarked, “Adam [Neumann] always says, ‘No schmucks and no assholes, but the definition of a schmuck is someone who rents a property at .5x and then turns around and rents it at 1.5x.’” In reply, Neumann “reportedly held up two fingers, indicating he actually charges members double.” Jokes aside, the strategy has paid off big-time for the company, which was valued last year at $20 billion after raising $760 million in its latest funding round.


The question investors and market watchers have asked for several years is whether WeWork has been overvalued. Functioning more like a tech-startup than a real estate company, WeWork first crafted its appeal to gig economy workers, an “eclectic mix,” writes Bliss, “of freelance writers, labor organizers, financial consultants, and app developers hustling for investors.” The problem with this approach is that the company’s selling point—creating community for workers choosing, or forced into, contingent labor—is also its greatest weakness, since many of its members lack security and, writes CBInsight, “can pick up and leave if they want to, leaving WeWork on the hook.”


To hedge risk, the company has begun purchasing properties and targeting more “enterprise clients,” with 30% of its members now fitting that description. In a planned WeWork space coming this fall to Durham, North Carolina, for example, 55,000 of 130,000 square feet of office space will be leased by Duke University. Corporations like Salesforce, HSBC, and Facebook are also major clients. The demographic shift as a whole in co-working has been away from individual contractors and freelancers and toward large firms and small businesses, meaning that the anarchic, freewheeling feel of co-working spaces is beginning to give way to the more organized, workaday feel of the traditional office.


It makes sense in a certain respect to compare WeWork to a tech company. They achieve “maximum efficiency” in part through the use of machine learning. “To decide how many meeting rooms to construct” in each location, “researchers at WeWork created a neural net that collects information on its existing building’s layouts and meeting room usage.” This enables them to make predictions about usage for layouts yet to be built. And each of their spaces is unique. As you can see you can in the photos here from its quirky, homey Long Beach offices, WeWork spaces include such welcoming accommodations as a secluded “Mothers Room” (above) and a “Phone Booth” (below) that can be sealed off from the hubbub with a glass door.


What is it like to work in WeWork spaces? Bliss shares many positive impressions from members, but also notes the degree of overt corporate capitalism evident in the “capitalist kibbutz”:

Members are encouraged to mingle, network, and leverage one another’s talents, frequently under the auspices of a corporate sponsor: Witness taco pop-ups promoting internet phone service; talk-therapy circles sponsored by a women’s activewear brand; cocktails served up by the payroll-software giant ADP. Billed as community-building programming, the events can feel more like exercises in targeted advertising, with members as the marks. 

The net effect, she writes, “can feel like an all-inclusive cruise.” And when it comes to getting work done, “cruises, of course, aren’t for everyone.” Additionally, WeWork has sold its enterprise clients on productivity schemes that involve monitoring employees with “data-harvesting sensors and facial-recognition software.” WeWork promises this data will not be used to track individual employees. Such promises should be taken with the appropriate amount of skepticism given many other companies’ carelessness or misuse of such tracking data.


In any case, it remains to be seen whether an aggressively corporate version of the improvised spaces once created by anti-corporate activists and hackers will have long-term success. But for now, WeWork is thriving, expanding into smaller cities in the U.S. like Durham, and across Asia with WeWork Japan, WeWork Pacific, and WeWork China. The company, notes Forbes, is “now worth about the same as hotel operator Hilton Worldwide and more than commercial real estate giant Boston Properties.”


Do their offices encourage more partying and promotion than productivity? Or more marketing than creativity and innovation? Or more surveillance than office freedom? Have they “humanized” work, as they promise, or created trendy, expensive rental digs for more of the same? It’s hard to say. Bliss concludes with some incisive observations about WeWork and the direction of the co-working model more generally: “A future where co-working is made entirely of big fish and little fish content to swim in one transactional bowl is a future that seems to leave out a lot of other fish: the vegan-meal-kit makers, the community bail fund, and hey, the journalists. We, too, are working here.”

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The Office of the Future Will Still Have a Coffee Machine

Trumpf Logistics

Trumpf Logistics Center, Ditzingen (Photo: Ina Reinecke)

When it comes to office design, it seems that few styles stick around for long. “We have been repeatedly planning working and office environments for almost 25 years,” says Berlin-based architect Regine Leibinger, “and hardly any ‘trend’ was really lasting during all these years.” In an interview with the site World-Architects, Leibinger and Martina Bauer of Barkow Leibinger discussed the “Office of the Future,” with the general proviso that “it’s primarily the way we work, the way buildings are used that is changing—and we have to react to this.”

What exactly does this mean for working architects? “In addition to maximizing floor space,” says Bauer, “increasing flexibility and the associated provision of conversion options and technical installation is becoming ever more important.” But creating modular designs that can accommodate any number of possible technical or “smart” scenarios comes with aesthetic, and human, costs.

“On the one hand, it is an exciting task… On the other hand, this also means that everything becomes more and more interchangeable the more it is subject to pre-defined extension grids and consensus-oriented equipment and furnishings. An office world with character, an environment that is really tailored for a company, its employees and their work processes is becoming increasingly rare.”

The huge new offices of companies like Salesforce and Apple show that the bespoke office is alive and well, but also perhaps a rarified commodity. Leibinger and Bauer speak to the recent phenomenon of high-tech offices as de facto playgrounds: “there are, of course, some industries where such lounging areas or a ball pool really do fit,” says Bauer, “In our experience, however, everyday life—which is much rarer to see in magazines—looks different.” Bauer sees the necessity in most situations for “a good medium” between the extremes of distracting arcades and dystopian cubical jails.

The primary concerns for the designer remain, as they always have, an integration of form and function that centers basic needs: comfort, light, air, acoustics, social interaction. “What good is the greatest open space if everyone wears headphones to concentrate?” Leibinger asks. “How far do we want to push the depth of rooms for efficiency’s sake? To be healthy and motivated at work, you need light and air. And atmosphere. We certainly do not find the right solution at the lower limit of the workplace directive.”

Leibinger and Bauer do not address “biophilic” design trends, which aim to bring natural air, light, and growth into the office environment, or bring the office further out into nature. Perhaps such offices, like the toy-store lounges of many a tech start-up in the past couple decades, will come and go, like every trend architects have seen over the years. In any case, the basic design of the humans who work in offices is unlikely to change much in the near future.

“Perhaps the office of the future will not be so different from the office of today—who knows?” says Bauer. “We will certainly benefit from ever new technologies… but tables, chairs, windows, a coffee machine—I can imagine all this in the ‘Future Office.’ We strongly believe in the future of the office as a physical space of encounter and interaction, and not so much in science fiction.”

Read their full interview here.

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Designing Future Offices Around Future Workers


We can’t talk about the office of the future without talking about the worker of the future—or the worker of the present, for that matter, often in a radically different position than even a decade ago. In 2016, for example, 35% of the U.S. workforce was made up of freelancers, a number expected to climb to 43% by 2020. With so many workers moving, and being moved, into the gig economy (and with the number of people who telecommute part or full-time having increased fourfold since 1995), traditional office spaces serve a rapidly decreasing number of employees.  


We need radical new visions of what, exactly, constitutes an office. Bypassing urban glass and steel towers, ex-urban office campuses, the local coffee shop, or the home office tax write-off, one proposition for a mobile office would likely have appealed to Buckminster Fuller. Jie Zhang’s FoAM—inflatable office bubbles of various sizes and shapes—even includes a geodesic dome model, perhaps in tribute to the great architectural innovator. (Other concept designs include an umbrella shape and what appears to be just a bubble that inflates around one’s head.)

“It is impossible for architects and designers to ignore the needs of 30% or more of the US workforce who are freelancing,” Zhang, co-founder of design startup OPT, told Metropolis magazine of her proposal. FoAM‘s ingenuity earned it the runner-up spot in Metropolis‘ Tomorrow’s Workplace Design Competition, which asked the question, “what will the workplace of 2021 be like?” A massive shift in workforce demographics “presents tremendous opportunities, but also a challenge for us to think beyond the conventional client-designer model for office designs.”


Zhang’s quirky design anticipates a need to recoup urban spaces like parking lots, notes Metropolis, which may become largely abandoned “with the widespread use of shared autonomous vehicles.” FoAM might also be called maximally biophilic design, if set up in the right environment, offering “office” space with a direct experience of nature. Each FoAM would be equipped with wireless charging options, powered by a transparent solar cell. Additional amenities include a “360 projector/camera,” a “radiant floor pad” for heating and cooling, and “modular inflatable furniture.”

Anyone who has gone camping will immediately note some of the possible problems. These include not only the hassle of set-up and tear down, but also concerns about long-term structural integrity, and the nuisance of lugging around a massive lump of heavy plastic that may never fold neatly enough to fit back in its carrying case. But the intentions behind this brief acknowledge societal shifts taking place outside the office that may render most traditional spaces obsolete in the near future.

Co-Gen Space

The winner of the Tomorrow’s Workplace Design Competition, Co-Gen Flex Space by Ethelind Coblin Architect, also began with a demographic shift, this time toward a multi-generational workforce comprised of seniors and semi-retired people and working parents in need of childcare. The architects designed their co-working space by “taking into consideration that there is also a growing number of seniors that are not simply retiring but that choose to (or have to) participate in active social and work life.”

A “co-generational work environment,” proposed for New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, the Co-Gen Flex Space incorporates a coop-funded daycare facility, “work spaces of varying privacy and size,” and all of the technical services any modern office might need, including on-demand 3D printing and conferencing technology. In both the Co-Gen Flex Space and FoAM, we see office design that begins with the reality of a rapidly changing workforce—increasingly mobile, contingent, multi-generational, and with a variety of needs and schedules that cannot be easily accommodated in outdated 9-5 office spaces.


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Zen and the Art of Worker Bliss

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In my neverending search for the ideal office layout,  I’ve pored over countless articles riddled in contradictions. Workspace designers often reference the Harvard Business Review study heralding the death of the cubicle in favor of open designs, yet there’s recent research by Fuze and others stating that open plans completely destroy productivity. Who’s right?

Adding to the confusion, an increasing number of people are working from home these days, yet numerous companies believe that innovation comes from serendipitous in-office collisions. And then there’s the reality that in-person brainstorming sessions totally matter. Oy Gevalt!

I think where all of this is headed is employee choice. Balance is required, and just like in the real world, we need places for seclusion, quiet work, open community, and smaller social/collaboration areas.

I really like where Knoll is at in this regard.

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In the Knoll-provided graphic above, “Primary spaces” are defined as areas where you have your permanent office home. Sure, call it a cubicle or small private office. The point is, it’s yours and for concentrated work time. This eschews the trendy “hot-desking” concepts where employees never have their own permanent workstations.

They also have places for assembly, community, enclaves and refuge. “Activity” areas are all those places that are not your primary home.  Here we see a blend of about 50/50 between Primary and Activity space.  Historically, private areas have been at a ratio of 70% and higher.

What all of the aforementioned research appears to leave out is that we all work totally differently. Doesn’t this help explain the controversy? And we also change over time. Some of us prefer working in social areas all the time and some of us really want to be left alone.  It’s important for managers to recognize this. Aside from meetings or brainstorming sessions that require groups to gather, let people choose what’s best for them.

You may be familiar with the Myers-Briggs test, which made huge leaps in better defining our personality types. It was based on Carl Jung’s recognition that humans experience the world using four principal psychological functions – sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking – and that one of these four functions is dominant for a person most of the time. From my perspective, this begs the question: Where are the studies that map Myers-Briggs personality types to preferred office environment? Introverts want constant privacy. Extroverts would rather be dead than spend all day in a cubicle.

Forward-thinking companies need to finally get on board recognizing and catering to the plethora of personality types and what drives each of us towards productivity bliss.





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Ground Control to XTX: A Sci-Fi London Office

Open the pod bay doors, Hal… it’s time to design an office for robots.


Stephen Bennett / Peldon Rose

London-based trading firm XTX Markets has built a new office space that’s all about the future. They know a thing or two about it: all of XTX’s traders are self-learning machines. Don’t worry, we’re not in Matrix territory yet… there are still plenty of humans keeping those machines in line. So XTX’s Kings Cross workspace is all about the blend of sci-fi tech with creature comforts.


Stephen Bennett / Peldon Rose

Design firm Peldon Rose took inspiration from movies like Tron and Blade Runner to create XTX’s new space, putting machines and servers on display behind glass walls with glowing blue lights. One hallway looks like something from Star Trek, with a working airlock door, a Battlestar Galactica cylon, and a moving mural of more than 30,000 LED lights. The company’s restaurant even has a replica of the Apollo 11 landing capsule, complete with seating inside. But there are also plenty of cozy spaces that are more living room than space station, with egg-shaped lounge chairs, inviting leather couches, and bunk beds.


Stephen Bennett / Peldon Rose

Maybe we can learn to live in harmony with machines… or at least, maybe we can design offices with that idea in mind. Take your protein pills, put your helmet on, and check out XTX’s new space in this video from Peldon Rose.


Stephen Bennett / Peldon Rose