Why office designers must view workers as consumers

As Aristotle said so many centuries ago, “Man is by nature a social animal”. Never has this rung so true – in an age dominated by digital and social media we are constantly online and connected to our friends and colleagues.

By the year 2020, an entire generation, known as millennials, will have grown up in a digital world. Mobile technology is not only transforming the way we consume services but has facilitated a revolution in the way we work. Instead of simply going to work, work can now follow people, wherever and whenever they choose.

Despite this increased mobility and flexibility, organisations still prefer to bring their staff together under one roof, in an effort to encourage a cohesive culture. At the same time, these so-called millennials have taken the workforce by storm, bringing with them their expectations of what the workplace should be, driven particularly by those in the TMT (technology, media and telecoms) sector. The social aspects of work are being prioritised; the modern office is far from being simply a place in which to get the job done. However, these fundamental changes – a faster-paced, less formal environment with a stronger social agenda – are coming together to have an impact on the traditional view of the office.

In current flexible-working environments we see around 40% of floor space can be given over to places other than desks, places where people can come together to collaborate, eat, play and learn. In addition to this are the implications of providing additional services. On-site food, shopping, personal care, and health and fitness are becoming increasingly common.

With this in mind we need to re-think office design, putting employees, or perhaps more accurately, consumers, at the heart of the workplace. It’s all about experience. We need to build a holistic system of services, technology and physical places that enable productivity. Putting an individual’s experience first will force the enabling functions of an organisation such as HR, IT and FM to work more closely together.

Yet our research shows that few organisations are keeping up with the pace of change. We suggest those with a brief to shape offices for a more productive future need to keep open eyes and an open mind. The way I envisage the office of the future is much more like a hotel, or city quarter, where the 9-5, desk-based drudgery will be consigned to history.