New Voices - Can You Envision the Office of the Future?

Spring 2012
Boston Consulting Group employees engage in a knowledge sharing session. Millenials, Gen Y and Gen C workers view work as an interaction where teaming spaces rank highly.

As technology continues to evolve at a dizzying pace and the face of the workforce becomes younger and more mobile than ever before, the office can no longer be seen as just a place to “park your briefcase.” To accommodate a changing workforce, the office of the future must be conducive to enhancing productivity and encouraging connectivity as well as act as a key recruiting tool for an organization.

A NAIOP Solutions Series program, “Beyond the Cube: Being Ready for Tomorrow’s Office,” addresses the unique needs and demands of the changing workforce and delivers innovative strategies developers and designers must consider when envisioning office space in the years to come. During this session, Zach Edwards, AIA, of Gensler Dallas, provides a history of conventional office space while delving into the trends that will radically change how developers, owners and tenants build and occupy the workplace of tomorrow.

Moving Beyond the Cube

In the early days, employees were pushed out of offices into workspaces – also known as “cube land.” This impersonal setup, created to save money, has long been the subject of fodder in mainstream entertainment – from the 1999 comedic movie Office Space to today’s Emmy-winning television series, The Office.

According to Edwards, as the Boomers (1946-1964) start to retire and the numbers of Gen X (1965-1980) and Milliennial (1980-1995) workers start to increase, the focus of office design will shift from the solitary “me space” cube environment to more adaptive and collaborative “we spaces.” In their office design experience, Gensler noted four office work modes that determine how to best configure a space:

  • Focus space – Best for individuals needing to focus on a task or project.
  • Collaboration space – Pertinent for group strategizing and facilitating idea exchange.
  • Socialization space – A place for employees to connect on a more social level such as employee lounge or cafeteria; this is a “must have” for the younger generation.
  • Learning space – A separate space for employees to attend various learning functions.

To accommodate the preferred work styles of the younger generation, the new focus will turn toward the collaboration and socialization spaces. In the years to come, Edwards says we will see work station footage minimized in order to contribute more room for casual and impromptu meeting spaces. Developers and designers will be asked to offer more team meeting options – smaller and more adaptive – versus today’s large and bulky traditional conference rooms.


The office of today has fewer private offices and more open spaces for collaborating, socializing and learning. Photo courtesy of photographer David Joseph.

Connecting the Workforce Dots

With a median age of 35, Millennials will soon account for nearly half of all employees across the globe, says Edwards. This unique group has demonstrated a desire to connect with others and they seek this from their workplace – thus, incorporating plenty of space for informal socialization within an office is essential. In the office of the future, we’ll see more walls and barriers coming down and more comfortable alcoves and relaxing gathering spots being incorporated into design plans. Incorporating movable walls, plug-and-play systems and modular HVAC and lighting systems will serve to better accommodate the new face of the workforce and ultimately, reduce turnover for this highly-sought after demographic.

Research has found that the younger generation of workers is seeking a “reason to come to the office” and their surroundings should speak to them and meet their growing needs for flexibility, convenience and social opportunities.

To meet these needs, this group will require top-notch amenities, as the office sometimes functions as a second home. Developers need to be keenly aware of a building’s proximity to transit, shopping, restaurants and fitness facilities. Within the office of the future, employers should strive to create a more employee-centric environment by offering amenities such as workout areas and dining options within their buildings. To win the competitive war for talent, locations considering transit-oriented and walkable mixed-use developments must be included in the decision mix.

To no one’s surprise, the office of tomorrow will be equipped for the latest and greatest technological advances available. Millennials and Gen X workers expect the flexibility of being able to work anytime, anywhere and they demand cutting-edge capabilities. The streamlining of technology will result in a continuing trend of smaller workspaces. Desktop computers will eventually give way to laptops and tablets, eliminating the need for large desks while complex phone systems will be replaced by a need for cell phone docking stations.

Finally, Edwards stresses that it will be essential for the office of the future to be strategically “branded.” Branding and reinforcing the company’s identity using imagery throughout the design fosters a strong emotional identity for employees. Consistent and creative branding throughout the office space lets employees know that they are valued and, for clients, separates a company from their competitors. Branding also contributes to curb appeal for owners by creating a solid identity for a building, differentiating it for potential tenants from all the others on the block.

Considering the endless possibilities in designing and building office space for the Gen X and Millennial workforce, today’s developers and designers face exciting challenges as they pave the way in revolutionizing the office of the future.

For more information on this Solutions Series program visit the eLibrary.