Everything about the Way We Work is Changing. Here's How.

A to Z: Your guide to the new, diverse workplace.

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G for Generations

Workplaces today are adapting to the needs of Baby Boomers and Millennials. Are we prepared for the next generation?

70% of officegoers today predict that Generation Z (14– to 19-year-olds) will demand more flexible working arrangements.

62% of employees worldwide want to learn about technology from Generation Z.

39% agree that Generation Z could teach them a thing or two about work-life balance.

59% of all employers encourage their older employees to mentor the younger ones.

65% of employees think their companies should be listening to Generation Z to be truly innovative.

This information is derived from the Randstad Workmonitor Global Report, December 2014. The study was conducted online among employees aged 18–65 in 34 countries. The minimum sample size was 400 interviews per country.

H for Hacking

Inspired by Silicon Valley’s DIY culture, Vitra took a step into the unknown, asking whether users could create alongside designers. The result: a personalizable system that could change everything we take for granted about office furniture.

At the Orgatec fair last year, Vitra showcased the Hack system in an installation that highlighted its spirit of constant improvement. Developed with and designed by Konstantin Grcic, Hack can assumed several different postures, all of which were on display at the fair, as were details like the cable-management tray.

Courtesy Eduardo Perez/ ©Vitra

The birthplace of start-ups and tech giants alike, Silicon Valley has become virtually synonymous with innovation in the modern workplace. This is why designer Konstantin Grcic and Vitra’s chief design officer, Eckart Maise, toured the region in 2013 to understand how these companies operate. “What we found was the need for super-flexibility, as these companies grow extremely fast and the workplace constantly changes,” Maise says. “We also found open space as a dominating workplace concept and, as a reaction against this concept, the need and desire for visual separation.”

Other aspects of digital culture, they found, had seeped into the workplace as well: “Offices have become much more dynamic; they are undergoing constant changes—often these changes are executed by the users,” Maise says. “The office is never done; it is in a ‘constant beta version,’ constantly about to be improved.” It was this observation that led to Hack, an innovative table system designed by Grcic for Vitra.

With its raw wooden panels and unfinished aesthetic, Hack stands out amidst Grcic and Vitra’s refined oeuvre. But it is a highly deliberate form designed to provoke the question: How can the design industry create products together with its users? “When you see Hack for the first time, you might take it for a work of carpentry,” Maise says. “At second glance, you will notice many functional parts that are well engineered and designed, made from die-cast aluminum or injection molding.”

One of the key features of Hack is its ability to fold down, making it easy to change office layouts when needed. The Allstar office chair (pictured here), also designed by Grcic, was paired with the installation at Orgatec.

These functional mechanisms allow Hack to be personalized and improved upon, depending on each user’s specific needs. The main design features reflect specific trends Grcic and Maise noticed in California, such as a predilection for standing desks. The tabletop can be adjusted from sitting to standing height—from about eight inches to 49 inches—through a recessed crank. And, since the table collapses for easy storage and transportation, Hack adapts to any office scenario, from conference rooms to lounges. It can even be equipped with cushions to become a sofa.

Once the hidden design details are unpacked, it becomes apparent that Hack’s incomplete look is precisely why the system is able to address the needs of emerging companies, down to its environmentally conscious materiality. The wooden parts are locally sourced and assembled by Vitra on-site, while the manually operated mechanisms use prefabricated metal hardware. “There is a culture of the unfinished,” Maise says. “The workplace reminds people that they are still on the way to reaching their goals. At the same time, the digital world is balanced with a desire for natural or ‘honest industrial’ materials, like wood or steel.”

True to its bold name—the computer science term first coined at MIT in the 1950s—Hack is not only a translation of the contemporary work ethos and a highly responsive industrial product, it might be capable of radically subverting the larger system of office design. —Alexandra Alexa

I for Individuality

“Our motivations were always about the macro changes happening in the working world,” Brian Boyer, cofounder of Makeshift Society in San Francisco, says of the coworking space. 

Courtesy Mark Wickens

Designers, artists, writers, and other independent creatives—a growing part of our information economy—seldom require more than their laptop, a work surface, and a convivial atmosphere to thrive. And while there are plenty of coworking spaces for app developers and digital entrepreneurs, San Francisco’s Makeshift Society was unique in its focus on creative types when it opened in 2013 and grew to more than 300 members. Having secured this market, the Society opened its doors in Brooklyn last year, in a former pencil factory adapted and redesigned by Dash Marshall.

“We’re now a community of about 100 creatives,” cofounder Bryan Boyer—who is also a strategic designer at Dash Marshall—noted on the occasion of the space’s first anniversary last month. “The front door is still propped open when the weather’s nice.”

Inside the Makeshift Society, you might discover a movie screening or an event celebrating typographers, but more often than not, you’ll see a bunch of people quietly snuggled into modern furniture, each of them busy on a laptop. “The challenge is, if we are all freelancers, then all our projects as a society are at the scale of individuals,” Boyer says. “What’s the infrastructure that we can build so people can cooperate without giving up their autonomy?” —Avinash Rajagopal

The first floor at the society has a custom communal table, with Bell lamps by Normann Copenhagen. “Those lamps are the most commented-upon element in the space,” Boyer says. This summer, sunlight began to flood the space, prompting requests for blinds.

J for Job Satisfaction

Last year, studio O+A designed the san Francisco office of Livefyre Studio, a company that helps media clients aggregate and curate online content. The space reflects Livefyre’s ethos in its thoughtful details, from the original mural by local artist Erik Otto, to the stitches on the upholstery from Camira Fabrics.

Courtesy Livefyre

“Now more than ever employees are not just seeking a job, but something that they can support wholeheartedly, and that in turn supports them. So, when we design a space, the interior has to reflect the underlying narrative, from layout to FF&E (furniture, fixtures, and equipment). It has to be about the culture and community being fostered in the environment. This is why the workplace has become so important to recruitment and retention—because it mirrors the company’s soul.”—Primo Orpilla, Studio O+A

K for Keeping It Real

Authenticity might be the Holy Grail for offices of the future. Shih Hua Liong, director of workplace strategies at IA Interior Architects, explains why.

An example of the merging of one’s workstyle and lifestyle, and the shift towards a more authentic workplace experience

Courtesy Shih Hua Liong

The world of work has dramatically changed over the last decade. We have a new generation in the workforce, composed of not just knowledge workers but also digital natives. There is also a new group of companies that are disrupting how we work and interface with technology. The spheres of work and life are realigning—not just in space typologies (cafés as workplaces, for example), but also in terms of health and well-being.

People are looking for authentic experiences. Just as they make choices in where they live, what they eat, and where they shop, they are also evaluating the places they work in. The design and experience of a workplace plays a large part in that. Employees no longer just come to the office and complete the tasks at hand. They want their work to feel like a natural part of their lifestyle, their interests, and their life goals. That is the essence of an authentic workplace.

In his book Work Rules!, Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations at Google, talks about making work meaningful and people happy, because we spend more time working than doing anything else in life! I’ve had the opportunity to work with Google over the past several years, not just in planning their workplaces, but also in working with people within the organization. The level of intellectual engagement and collaboration is quite amazing, and that’s a kind of authenticity intrinsic to who they are as a company and culture. To match this, in their offices you’ll see all the elements of choice, freedom, and places to do your best work—planned and unplanned, apparent and ad-hoc.

Workplaces today must support all work styles and lifestyles.

Another marker of this new era is the success of coworking spaces. The authenticity barometer is high in these places. They are open-source offices, with a sense of community at their core. There is less hiding behind the work, and more sharing of ideas, learning from one another—without barriers. Many of our workplaces are migrating toward elements of what we see today in coworking culture.

The vital characteristic of an authentic workplace is a combination of space typologies. At the leading tech companies that IA Interior Architects works with, we are seeing a redistribution of space for different environments, experiences, and even postures. In the design for LinkedIn’s New York office, for instance, we found we had to add in open-lounge seating for a more casual meeting experience. The variety of elements we have incorporated in other projects is mindboggling—spaces to perch or huddle, rooms for a quick touch-down, booths to duck into for one-on-one conversations, sun-drenched seating areas for coffee, comfortable quiet zones, or amenities such as respite lounges, treadmills, walk stations, fitness/yoga rooms, and bike areas.

Employees want their work to feel like a natural part of their lifestyle, their interests, and their life goals.

The reason for this variety is that workplaces today must support all work styles and lifestyles, coupled with a sense of “I have a choice in how, when, and where I do my best work.” Other things that this diversity promotes are a sense of community and collaboration, a spark for imagination and creativity, as well as a deliberate focus on employee health and happiness.

In the future, maybe our offices will be smarter—they can learn and recommend the type of environments we need based on our individual states of mind, need for the day, or task at hand. Our workplaces will become more rewarding, incorporating the softer aspects of comfort and happiness, while supporting personal productivity.

L for Living Office

How to deal with the growing pains of a rapidly expanding business and still keep all the employees happy? A unique collaboration between the start-up Harry’s and Herman Miller is both an evolving workplace and an ongoing research project.

At the turn of the millennium, Office Space became a cult classic film for its depiction of widespread antipathy toward standardized work spaces. Satirizing the operations— and spatial organization—of a tech company, the film shows banal office interiors as a catalyst for employee unhappiness. “Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day,” complains one protagonist. “We’re gonna need to go ahead and move you downstairs into Storage B,” a company vice-president, the film’s villain, tells a subordinate. “We have some new people coming in, and we need all the space we can get.”

Harry’s, a shaving products company that does business online, is proof of how things have changed. The young start-up is implementing Herman Miller’s Living Office approach—a three-phase plan that contains myriad flexible work spaces and also accounts for the business’s rapid growth. “We’re going to expand the company dramatically over the next few years, both from the revenue perspective and also on a people basis,” explains COO Will Freund. After outgrowing four spaces in just over two years, the company recently moved into a 26,000-square-foot office in downtown Manhattan. The space will need to house twice its current staff of 80 by late 2016.

This is the sort of challenge that the Living Office was developed for. Though Herman Miller has long been a supplier of office furniture, Living Office was developed during the last five years to provide clients with comprehensive spatial solutions, not just desks and chairs. “It’s a process that informs how we put the products in your space,” explains James Cesario, a member of the growing team of Living Office specialists at Herman Miller. “It’s a way to do placemaking,” he adds, “to help companies make their office a vital tool.”

A Danskina rug and an Eames Walnut stool lend a cozy air to an area screened by Yves Béhar’s Public Office Landscape furniture (above). “We do a lot of one-on-one chats that we don’t need a conference room for,” says Scott Newlin, head of product design at Harry’s, so Béhar’s Social chairs come in handy.

In-house experts like Cesario engage with clients by using visual aids and terminology, tools created by a research team at Herman Miller to address a client’s present needs while planning for future expansion. Cesario explains that Living Office specialists ask a variety of questions to help clients “identify their company character, how they want to change that, and how that character is going to impact the way their space will get designed.” This “discovery process” uses a taxonomic breakdown of ten basic modes of work (including chat, contemplate, and create); ten various workplace settings (such as haven, clubhouse, and forum); and six key sources of motivation (security, autonomy, and belonging, for example) to begin synthesizing employees’ responses. Character traits are plotted onto a four-part chart, which is then plugged into a formula to generate an initial, abstract floor plan that shows how high-priority traits can be supported in the space. That floor plan is translated into an architectural document and specified with Herman Miller products to facilitate the kind of work employees will perform in a given area. The resulting office designs are “very specific to each organization,” says Cesario.

People keep personal belongings in these felt restore baskets, made by Muuto and available through DWR. Design moves of this kind came out of the rigorous Living Office process. Specialists used questionnaires and visual aids to help Harry’s transition out of its Union Square space. “We had gone from twelve people (who were already pretty cramped) to something like thirty,” Newlin says.

Herman Miller has been collecting quantitative and qualitative data about Harry’s since early autumn of last year, speaking with at least half the company’s employees during discovery meetings. When Harry’s moved into its Living Office System just before the winter holidays, the company had an interior fine-tuned to its employee preferences and managerial style. An executives’ table stands near the office entrance, to emphasize that anyone can approach the company heads. “We wanted to foster openness,” explains head of product design Scott Newlin, who led the office design process from the Harry’s side.

The graphic designers have their own area, with a Locale furniture system designed by Sam Hecht and Kim Colin. The adjustable desks provide standing-height surfaces to display and discuss work. “This group does a fair amount of ‘Come over and check this thing out,’” Newlin says. “They’ll often pull the desks up and just have the whole crew come by.”

“Casual conversations are really helpful in our business,” he adds, and indeed, a survey of the office reveals several two- and three-person groups, huddled over laptops in problem-solving formation. Some sit at banquette-style tables facing one another, others sit on couches, others yet at tables—it’s impossible to ignore the sheer variety of activities occurring simultaneously within the space. Small and mid-size conference rooms are at the center of the office and separate two “halves” of the space: designers and engineers on one side and administrative and marketing teams on the other. Herman Miller worked with Harry’s staff to customize colors on worktables from the Public line of office furniture, and created custom-size editions of the Locale tables. Both systems support individual and group work, giving Harry’s an essential: flexibility.

Even now that move-in is finished, the process is far from complete. Phase II will involve rearranging and adding furniture to create additional seating for new employees. The HVAC system will be moved to the roof for phase III, and an in-office photo studio, among other amenities, will be built out in its place.

Though Herman Miller keeps ties with all Living Office clients after completion, Harry’s is one of very few that has become what the furniture company calls a “place lab.” Part of a research effort that runs for at least a year after phase I is completed, place labs work closely with Herman Miller’s team to study post-occupancy usage. “We’re going to continue the research as we expand, because that’s leading to better space utilization,” explains Newlin. He adds on an essential phrase, underscoring how both the goals and environments of company life have changed in the last two decades: “And to higher employee satisfaction.” —Anna Kats

Edit ModuleEdit Module

Jun 22, 2015 09:19 pm
 Posted by  JOEL Y.

Love the article!

I strongly believe that the home office can be be the WORST place to work, ergonomically...but, it can also be changed into one of the BEST places, ergonomically...because you, the freelancer is in control of how you work.

But I am puzzled by what you mean by "Freelancers understand how to make work more human." Could you explain this further?

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