Watch Mad Men or take a look at old photos of offices of decades past and what do you notice? Things don't look all that different. Sure the gender ratio has (hopefully!) improved, the typewriters have been replaced by computers, and open areas are no longer just for secretaries, but the basics remain the same--desks, chairs, a lunch room, conference tables and chairs, etc.
Are more radical changes afoot? That's what British broadband provider Plusnet wanted to know, so the company rounded up a group of professionals whose job it is to foresee the future of the office, including design pros, futurists, and real estate execs, and asked them for their predictions. If this diverse group is to be believed, by 2030 your office may be home to a few jaw-dropping innovations. Here are some of their more offbeat predictions.
- Driverless cars and automated car stacking car parks
- Artificial intelligence assistants--hologram receptionists to meet and greet visitors
- Fully ergonomic chairs--using biofeedback technology, they will know which position will be most comfortable and will automatically adjust
- Biometric rotating refrigerators--upon touching the handle, the fridge detects who you are and a carousel rotates to show you only your food [Finally, science has a solution for rampant office sandwich theft!]
- Drone tea trays--you program the robotic tray and it goes to the kitchen, makes your drinks, and brings them back
- Diagnostic toilets that analyze your health
- Changeable walls--wall surface that can change color
- Nap space [Please, let's hope this doesn't take until 2030.]
- Wireless power: no need for plugs.
- Nano paints allowing the walls to be used as screens on demand
"While some of the technology is a long way off and outlandish in some respects, it is fascinating to hear and see just what the mix of experts suggest how workplace environments change," commented Plusnet CEO Andy Barker.
Besides a bullet point list of sometimes far-fetched but definitely intriguing tech advances, the report also includes longer interviews with the experts, offering their takes on top office design trends.
Biophilia, concentration-boosting wearables, and telepresence robots
Scott Lesizza, founding principal of Workwell Partners, for instance, foresees that "in 10 years, what is currently in the office will look much more like what is outside the office. We are already starting to see this with 'biophilia,' the idea that humans have a natural instinct to want to be closer to nature. By increasing natural sunlight (perhaps through greenhouse-type spaces, and bringing plants, trees, and flowers into the workplace), we are replicating what is naturally a less stressful environment and a more productive one."
"Wearable technologies will end the cycle of constant interruptions from emails, calls, and colleagues," predicts Owen King, a workplace consultant at Unwork. "Monitoring our levels of concentration, these devices will wait for us to get into the flow of a task before filtering out all but the most important communications." (Personally, I'd like one of those interruption-killing wearables right now. You?)
"Holding meetings in virtual reality, offices that people 'visit' by donning a stereo headset are a distinct possibility five years from now," predicts Christopher Barnatt, associate professor of computing and future studies at Nottingham University. "Alternatively, workers may remotely attend physical meetings by inhabiting a telepresence robot."
What's your take on these predictions--totally unlikely or basically inevitable?