Illustration of the future of the office demonstrating an office designed for employee wellness

6 Trends shaping the future office technologies and designs

Many of us have wondered what we’ll be doing in ten or twenty years’ time. But have you ever wondered what tools and environments you could be experiencing in a typical office in the distant future?

To answer that question, Brother has spoken to experts and uncovered the latest research on the future of office design and technology, illustrating what we might expect in years to come.

Let’s jump right in.

Illustration of the future of the office integrating the Internet of Things

1. The Internet of Things

Nearly every expert in workplace technology expects to see more ‘smart’, connected devices in the typical workplace in future. They expect speakers, microphones and sensors to find their way into the most unlikely of places.

There are already innovations like voice-enabled lamps, which allow voice assistant services like Alexa, Google and Siri into regular office fixtures. You’re even seeing smart carpets under development. Facial-recognition and biometrics for office security and smart toilets with health diagnostics have also been trialled or conceptualised in recent times.

These technologies might not all achieve mainstream adoption, but this does show the more unusual ways in which offices could become more connected.

“Offices are going to start embracing IoT integrations,” says Ana Zuravliova, Interior Designer at Wooden Blinds Direct. “With smart technology becoming commonplace in modern life, people are going to start expecting the same luxuries at work that they’re used to at home.”

Illustration of the future of the office with anti-distraction tech designed for focus

2. Anti-distraction tech and design for focus

The irony in this rush towards the Internet of Things, though, is the potential for an attention arms race. Perhaps we’ll see an added layer of technology and office design to reduce the distractions posed by them.

According to the Staples 2017 Workplace Survey, 35 per cent of workers say the design of their office space creates distractions that make it difficult to work, and employees at companies like Facebook have openly expressed their dissatisfaction with open plan environments. The ‎Bank of England has even called for more research into the link between digital distractions and poor economic productivity.

Distraction-prevention software, remote working and noise-cancelling technologies are starting to help. And design and culture changes are also being made. Some advocate single-tasking in response to multi-tasking, others say we should do away with office email. And some businesses even offer mindfulness training to encourage single-tasking and reduce stress. “Focus spaces” and more private offices could feature in most offices in future, replacing long banks of desks and open plan spaces.

Illustration of the future of the office designed for human interaction

3. Design for human interaction

Some experts expect the typical office to focus more on promoting human interaction, and less on individual productivity. After all, most office tasks can now be completed anywhere with a decent broadband connection. And, as we’ve just heard open plan offices often result in distraction and frequent unwanted encounters with the same people. Ideally, they’d offer the chance to focus some of the time and offer high-quality encounters with different people the rest of the time.

Ogilvy Chairman Rory Sutherland says offices are now redundant except for their ability to offer planned and chance face-to-face encounters with people you don’t normally meet. In his opinion, these lead to ideas being exchanged and true value being created for the business. Business author Cal Newport also credits MIT’s track record of innovation on its ‘hub and spoke’ layout which combines private offices and communal areas to allow focus as well as serendipitous encounters.

Jonathan Webb, VP of Workplace Strategy at KI, supports Newport’s theory. He expects businesses will start deploying university campus design elements in their offices:

“[Collegiate design] attracts and appeals to young professionals -- most of whom have spent the last four to six years learning, growing and working within the campus environment. Examples of collegiate design include a variety of collaborative and private working spaces, use of outdoor areas to work, and supporting technology resources. These changes address evolving work styles – young employees work anytime, anywhere, and with technology on-hand.”

Office designers are already working to make office environments more flexible and optimise them for chance encounters. Harvard Business Review notes how companies like Google, Telenor and Zappos have designed their spaces to include hotdesks and flexible, movable desks and fixtures. Zappos even measures ‘collisionable hours’ to ensure it takes steps to promote innovation through chance encounters.

Illustration of the future of the office integrating AR and VR

4. AR and VR

Some experts expect collaboration and cohabitation will be primarily digital for many workers in future, especially as VR and AR teleconferencing helps overcome problems like road congestion and the rising cost of office space.

“The idea of a physical office will feel quaint to the next generation,” says Riitta Raesmaa, Co-Founder of ContractZen. “Chats by the water cooler will be replaced by virtual reality. Full-time work will become less and less common and will be replaced by per-project teams. This means that most white-collar workers will have varying portfolios of work and employers.”

Illustration of the future of the office demonstrating an office designed for employee wellness

5. Design for employee wellness

At a time when obesity and mental health issues are leading causes of sickness, designers, technologists and business owners are responding. ‘Active’ designs and ‘biophilic’ (nature-inspired) office designs are making standing desks and plant-filled offices more common. Meanwhile Facebook and Hubspot’s offices even have ‘recharge spaces’ and sleep pods to boost employee wellness.

“Millennials want flexibility and a healthy work environment. They want transparency (use of more glass and daylight) in their space and not to be chained to one fixed location,” says Jason Grohowski, Founder of standing desk startup DeskView. “With improvements in technology, we no longer need to be in one location unless we need to be with team members.”

Staples VP of Furniture, Susan Kill says an effective wellness space should serve as a place to escape from the daily stress of the workplace: “Whether a nursing room, meditation space, or exercise room, these spaces reflect the culture of the company and are increasingly becoming key drivers in the pursuit of top talent within a competitive hiring landscape.”

Illustration of the future of the office with smart displays

6. Smart displays

Every year, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas showcases new innovations in screen technologies, with ever higher resolutions, greater interactivity and thinner, more flexible materials. This continued pace of innovation looks set to impact the screens we use in the office in future.

Haptic feedback, transparent, bendy materials and much larger screens comprising entire walls are all under development. And in the age of voice recognition, keyboards and mice could be replaced by voice-led or other more sophisticated input devices.

That wraps up our predictions for the future of office technology and design. For more insights on the future of the workplace, visit our Spark blog. And, if you’re looking for ways to future-proof your office, check out Brother’s range of printers for SMBs – offering performance and service your business can rely on.

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