We’ve been engaged in “future office” discussions for a few years now, usually around such concepts as “The App Economy” and “The Sharing Economy” and “The Knowledge Economy.” We’re consistently led to believe that millennials will want a vastly different set of working conditions than their parents did. In between discussing the rise of freelance and how Uber’s latest genius idea, one aspect we speak less about is the actual office layout itself.
There are discussions around co-working spaces and how they’ve evolved, and most people could probably tell you that Google has a cool campus where employees can eat cereal whenever they want. But we’ve had workspaces defined by the cubicle concept since the late 1960s, when a man named Bob Propst popularized it:
(Ironically, the initial rationale for cubicle-centric offices was that they were ‘action offices.’ People don’t generally feel that way these days.)
There’s some belief that any futuristic innovation around actual office/working space will probably come in San Francisco or another coastal innovation hub, and that the really big ones are still a few years off. In fact, neither is true — workplace innovation is already happening, and it’s taking place everywhere. Here are a couple of examples.
Acuity’s Ferris Wheel
Acuity is an insurance company — one of the more traditional industries — based in Wisconsin, which is often considered a more traditional Midwestern state. They have a 65-foot tall ferris wheel at their HQ.
Lest you think this is just a frivolous spending move by a company with strong revenue growth, there’s actually a very important underlying business principle here: their employee loyalty is through the roof. Their voluntary turnover is 2% annually (an absurdly-low figure), and they came in No. 3 on Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work. This video might help you understand a bit more, too: their employees created a 4-minute guide to why it’s such a great place to work … themed around zombies taking over the world.
Corus Quay’s whole setup
Just take a look at this:
Corus Quay has a 500,000 square foot future office labeled “Toronto’s smartest building.” That’s a five-story atrium with a three-story slide that you’re seeing above. One of the biggest advantages of their futuristic workplace thinking is that it increased unification of a previously-scattered workforce. 1,100 people work in this office, and those 1,100 used to be farmed out across 11 different Toronto offices. By the way — that five-story wall to the right? It’s a living wall with actual plants, and they also have a gray water recycling system.
Inventionland Design Company
You’d hope a design company would move away from the dim overhead lighting and rows of cubicles, and ‘the world’s largest invention factory’ (based in Pittsburgh) certainly has done that with its space. Here’s a series of desks situated in a massive treehouse:
And here are some in a reconstructed pirate ship:
They’ve been featured on BoredPanda’s coolest office spaces, and if you want to peruse it yourself but don’t have a current reason to go to Pittsburgh, they offer a virtual tour of their offices on their site.
White Mountain Office
Take a look at this:
What’s the first thing that comes to mind? We’ll give you a quick second.
Did you say “an action movie villain’s secret lair”? That was one of our first thoughts. White Mountain Office is home to a Swedish ISP and is located 100 feet below the surface of Stockholm. It was once a nuclear bomb shelter.
This is located in Los Angeles in an old warehouse space. Their architectural firm, Clive Wilkinson Architects, had worked with other companies based in warehouses previously. For this one, they used shipping containers and tents to create this vibe:
Those are essentially self-contained, air-conditioned ‘islands’ that each department owns and manifests with its own identity. The firm won an architectural award in 2002 for creating a lively work environment in a warehouse with reduced energy usage despite a low construction budget.
This is in Heidenau, Germany. It’s set up so that the building barely has to rely on structural supports. Circulation patterns outside actually determine the building’s shape!
The building also has multi-radial windows and capillary tube thermal control. Pretty wild, eh?
We tried to avoid using Google on this list, because they’re so well-known for thinking outside the box in terms of future office spaces — but we’d be remiss if we didn’t. It’s hard to pick from various Google offices. Their Tel Aviv space has orange groves, for example. But one of the most forward-thinking Google HQs is Zurich, which has this insane slide:
… that drops you into their cafeteria:
The Bottom Line about the Future Office
There are countless examples of these types of offices around the Internet. Thankfully, the trend is growing — but in less-than-stellar news, most offices around the world are still… well, the way we tend to picture offices. The physical structure of an office isn’t the primary aspect driving ultimate employee engagement — that would be management and purposeful nature of the actual work — but the idea of ‘urban physics’ can have a major impact on organizational culture. Urban physics refers to various concepts around the design of cities and office spaces.
For more crazy ways you can liven up your workspace or make your office a more efficient and fun place to get business done, check out the Office Pains blog.