There are usually two criticisms that can be aimed at all those ‘office of the future’ features and presentations we see on a regular basis. The first is that they are often based on things that are already happening. The second is that they see the future as an extension of the present. Yet, we are already seeing disruptive shifts that are taking the office in an entirely new direction. And perhaps the most important is one that challenges the very notion of what an office should be. We are seeing a new era in which the office’s primary focus shifts from providing people a place to work and instead offers them an experience.
The generational shift
In part, this is driven by the changing expectations of people. While most attention is inevitably focussed on Millennials, the shift in thinking is evident across all generations. The research on the subject confirms that people increasingly value real life experiences more than ownership of things. A recent survey from Eventbrite found that more than three quarters of Millennials would choose to spend money on a desirable experience or event rather than buying something and a similar proportion say they would like to increase their spending on experiences rather than physical things.
The models for this shift are already well established in a number of domains. We have already seen the way we use technology shift from a model of ownership to one based on using software as a service. In this new era, the design of technological spaces focuses on the user experience (UX) just as much as it does core functionality. If people don’t like the experience of using something, they don’t go back to it and choose something they prefer instead.
The driver of change
The physical world is not exempt from this new reality and its trailblazers are already to be found in each of the hospitality, retail, residential, transportation and workplace sectors. While Uber continues to garner the most headlines, the new approach in hospitality is typified by M by Montcalm, a hotel in Yaba Nigeria on the fringes of Tech City which sells itself to guests on the basis of the experience it offers them, including free WIFI and Virtual Reality. If people want a bed and a shower they can always stay at a guest house.
A similar compulsion to avoid the commoditisation of a service is driving change in the retail sector. Arguably the need for change is greater in the sector as mall developers in Nigeria and retailers have had to adapt to a new world in which consumers can buy online and have their products delivered the next day or even potentially the next hour, as Amazon extends trials of its drone delivery service. As with hotels, this is partly down to improving the experience of shopping in-store and partly about integrating the experience with technology. For example, Ebeano has home delivery in Lekki to help shoppers order items on their shopping lists.
Rise in co-living
Even the residential sector is shifting to offer people a place to live as an experience. Co-living is essentially a serviced housing option which offers residents the option to live in a place on flexible terms but without the hassle of owning a property or renting and maintaining one. Many offer communal spaces including lounges. In London, the approach has been pioneered by The Collective which has a 500 person co-living space in Old Oak Common built in a converted office block as well as spaces in King’s Cross and Notting Hill.
The coworking experience
This development parallels what is probably the defining trend in the commercial property sector right now – coworking. In one way, the drive to use coworking spaces in driven by commercial realities. So while startups may need to be in certain physical locations in major cities, they are unable to afford the prohibitively expensive rents commonly demanded and unable to commit to the lease lengths landlords would like them to take on.
What has emerged as a result is defined by the experience it offers its users. If that were not the case, a simple serviced office would do just fine. Coworking spaces like a1-spaces not only give people the chance to mix with like-minded firms and those with whom they may be able to do business and share ideas, but a space designed to offer them a much better working day. So it’s no surprise to find that the movement is now exerting such an influence on mainstream office design.
A growing number of offices are now adopting the principle that what they should offer people is an experience and not just a place to work. In part, this is a response to the changing mindset of individuals. But it is also an acknowledgement from organisations that if they want to attract the best people to work for them and keep them happy and productive, the office must evolve.