Office work is changing. The transition to the new era requires spaces built around the needs of those who work there and the development of employees
From the old desk…
If you are in your office, look around: how smart is your workplace? And no, the computer doesn’t count to manage the 3.0 era. According to the eleventh edition of the Edenred-Ipsos Barometer (2016), 63% of employees rated positively their quality of life at work in Italy, in bottom place in Europe. What emerged from the survey was that in Italy it is the workplace environment that primarily impacts occupational well-being. Now, without the need to bring up the uncomfortable image of Fantozzi’s under-stair office, it is common knowledge that for many workers the office is not a stimulus for creativity and productivity. Indeed, sometimes the work areas are not even that healthy, given the issue of indoor pollution. The Italian Ministry of Health, for example, identifies various sources and substances which can significantly worsen indoor environments, from materials to construction up to air conditioning systems, to toner dust and biological agents from moisture. It’s no wonder then that Officair study (officair-project.eu), funded by the EU and conducted between 2010 and 2014, discovered that in offices of the eight European countries analysed the rate of pollution was often higher than the outside one.
…to roof-top mini-golf
However, while many companies are mired in old models, many others have taken the path of smart working and the smart office, a cultural revolution that is completely transforming the concept of the office, making it a space to meet workers’ needs. The idea is that the workspace should be optimal for liveability and the sharing of information and knowledge, basic requirements to increase productivity and employee development. One of the undisputed champions of innovation in the office is Google, which made the union of coolness and smart working a real trademark, with breakthrough solutions at the service of workers, according to worker-centred design principles. Some examples? It would be too predictable to mention Googleplex, the famous Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, so let’s take a brief jaunt around the world. The offices in Zurich have football fields and basketball courts, while in Dublin the employees can relax among bookshelves and green spaces. If the Toronto office boasts roof-top mini-golf, in Washington there is an indoor climbing wall and in Chicago meetings can be held while swinging on the hanging pods, à la sofa-hammocks.
Moving on to Amazon, in 2018 Jeff Bezos installed the Spheres outside the Seattle headquarters, three domes made of glass and steel for company employees – but with limited public access – that house coffee shops and shared spaces nestled in over 40 thousand plants.
In New York the offices of Kickstarter, the famous crowdfunding platform, are focused on sharing and multi-functionality, not only for its employees but also for the community that makes use of their services. For example, inside there is a room for film screenings by independent artists funded through Kickstarter. On the roof there is a large garden defined by communications head David Gallagher in an interview with “Artsy” as “a place that you can hide out in and forget that you even are in New York City”.
In Italy, mention should be made of the Microsoft headquarters in Milan, a 10-million-euro structure in Herzog’s pyramid, with 832 windows and six floors – three open to the public – in which the prevailing idea is the philosophy of smart working, without assigned desks.
The smart office as a tool
Smart working was a topic of discussion at the Milan Salone del Mobile 2019, during Workplace 3.0. The biennial event dedicated to offices showed how the course is paved by four key concepts: liquid space, privacy, smart office and, indeed, worker-centred design. This revolution is a change of perspective in which spaces are built around the worker and their needs, and not the worker having to be lowered into a predefined and unchangeable space, assembled only on economic or sterile practical criteria – and this also brings us back to the problem of indoor pollution, with the need for eco-friendly furnishings and healthy environments. Rigidity is today replaced by versatility and dynamism: the union of functionality and appeal allows the worker to move in an environment which is always more and more open which, at the same time, is useful, welcoming and liveable. In this sense the office is no longer just a place, but a tool, the network that facilitates those casual collisions so dear to Google and that allows collaboration and information sharing well beyond the hierarchical structure or the old desk-packed spaces.
di Beniamino Franceschini