From Past to Present. Intentions of the Workplace of the Future

October 17, 2015


The Workplace of the Future is a term that you might think has been coined just recently — and you’d be right — specifically among global organizations with similarly-named initiatives. However, the concept of a future workplace that is flexible, more productive, and more engaging to top talent, is not a new one. To understand where we are going, it is important to know where we’ve been — and this is very true as it relates to the Workplace of the Future.

It was once said that the open-plan office was a wasteland that “saps vitality, blocks talent, frustrates accomplishment. It is the daily scene of unfulfilled intentions and failed effort.” This was the opinion of designer Robert Propst back in 1960 prior to the introduction of cubicles.

Wanting to solve his self-described open-plan wasteland, Propst created the Action Office II — known today as the cubicle. He believed that office workers needed autonomy and independence, and he wanted offices to encourage “meaningful traffic" among workers. In 1985, the World Design Conference named cubicles the most successful design of the previous 25 years. Unfortunately, cubicles became known for boxing individuals into a small space in which they performed largely repetitive tasks — not the vision Propst had at all.

In 1985, the World Design Conference named cubicles the most successful design in 25 years.

Fast forward to today and it’s clear to see that his vision was, at the time, every bit as idealistic as the Workplace of the Future we are hearing about now. Organizations now are looking for top talent capable of doing more than routine tasks, and in the process they have identified that their cube-filled office space does not support highly-collaborative work. It is for this reason that cubicles are being replaced with more open spaces that foster collaboration and support activity-based working.

Today’s workforce is far more mobile and flexible than ever before. Employees spend considerable time working outside regular office hours and therefore outside the office itself. In an always-on, always-connected world, the office is no longer a place you need to go to get work done. Jacob Morgan, a leading thinker and speaker on the future of work, said in a keynote at EMS Live! 2015 that organizations are starting to realize that they “need to move from creating an environment where we assume people need to show up, to creating an environment where people want to show up.”

The Workplace of the Future is an environment where people want to show up.

Therefore, the Workplace of the Future aims to provide an environment that is flexible, accessible, and supports multiple types of work for the needs of the mobile, flexible workforce. Similar to Propst in the 1960s, the Workplace of the Future is one that aims to inspire and engage employees. It about getting the very best out of people by maximizing the use of your space.

Learn more about the Workplace of the Future by reading the Great Expectations: Driving Factors for a Workplace of the Future white paper.