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How the Office Becomes Home

Work.Home Pic

Photo via Formaspace

Do you consider your coworkers family? If not, you might have to start, as current trends push the office to be more like home, and the separation between life and work blurs even more. For years, the buzz has been about the formula for optimal work/life balance. Advising busy professionals on how to achieve it has become something of an industry in itself. Maybe this will no longer be necessary, as the office becomes home, and the home (and vacation home, and commute) becomes an office.

Take, for example, several comments from executives describing the work world of the future.

The future of office space is simply less office. Work environments are already bridging the gap between work and personal life and are now more fluid spaces with a variety of areas catering to different needs, from relaxation areas to common rooms, game rooms, sleeping stations, fitness, etc. It’s all going to become more jazzy, more comfortable and less and less formal until office spaces become integral social spaces in the lives of individuals, families and society as a whole. So less office not less office space. 

There will be a seamless experience between home, commute, building, office and the people that occupy the space.

In the next decade or two, technology will also play an even bigger role in the office. Expect conference meetings to include holograms, while the CEO is on vacation with his family. The increased connectivity, however, will make it more difficult for workers to separate work life from home life.

The trend is driven not only by technology but by architecture and a “residential interior design infiltrating commercial office spaces,” as design company Formaspace notes. Symptoms include the “convenient placement of ‘chillax’ areas” and “communal dining tables,” gyms, kitchens, laundry, etc. Businesswoman Media encourages employees to contribute, with advice on “how to make your office feel like a home” a theme popping up all over.

We even see it in a strange hybrid of work and leisure wear, as companies like Lululemon and other athletic and yoga outfitters get into making work pants, shirts, and blazers that stretch and breathe and do all the things your gym clothes do. Designed for long, uncomfortable commutes, these clothing lines also ostensibly mean that you can go to work in your sweats… or go to the gym in a suit.

What is the upshot of offices turning into residential spaces, combined with mobile office tech and the proliferation of home offices and remote work? On some accounts, it may ease anxieties about work/life balance, as office situations become more flexible, relaxed, and informal. We might notice, however, that while future homey office spaces have bars and couches aplenty, they include little mention of playgrounds or nurseries. Childcare, and spending time with family and non-coworker friends, are problems that may not be solved by more chillax spaces.

John Harris at The Guardian has a somewhat more dystopian take on the trend. “In a world of digital nomads,” he pronounces, “we will all be made homeless.” Work, in other words, will not balance with home, but swallow it up altogether in the “fading-out of any meaningful notion of home.” He points to the coworking giant WeWork’s new venture, WeLive, “a range of tiny studio flats and slightly bigger dwellings, built around communal areas, kitchens and launderettes—in the same building as WeWork office space.”

“This, apparently is the future,” Harris writes. “WeWork’s chief executive, Adam Neumann, insists that ‘WeLive is going to be a bigger business than WeWork.’” Of course, Google and Facebook are building their own similar developments. Harris makes it all sound a bit like the company town married a high-end version of the nomadic existence of depression-era drifters (or today’s harried migrant workers). He calls for a “new Politics of Home” to reclaim the space of non-work as sacred and inviolable and a “fundamental right.”

But whether or not it’s possible to resist this tidal wave of technological, economic, and architectural change remains to be seen. And whether these shifts are uniformly negative is arguable. In any case, get prepared to be a lot more comfy at work, or home, or “workhome,” or whatever.

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