If working from home isn't the solution, what is?

The days of walking into the office and sitting down every day at your very own desk are coming to an end.

But if you think that will be replaced by an increasing number of work days spent working at your kitchen table in trackies, you may be mistaken, a leading workplace design specialist says.

People have a social need to connect with others, and the home office doesn’t allow this.

Dr Donna Wheatley

Dr Donna Wheatley, an architect and design strategy leader with multi-disciplinary design practice Warren and Mahoney, says working from home hasn't been the success many envisaged. Some corporations are actively rolling back such schemes, once held up as the way of the future.

"Yahoo have already removed the opportunity to work full time from home, because it doesn't encourage morale and they want to become a more innovative and creative company," she says.

Home truths

"The home office is going to be part of the future; but research shows that people will probably only make use of it for half-a-day per week," she says. "The reality is, people have a social need to connect with others, and the home office doesn't allow this. And from a business point of view, a lot of knowledge sharing, innovation and creativity often comes about through face-to-face contact."

A physical presence in the office helps to connect staff to the organisation and to the corporate culture, giving them a sense of belonging. Conversely, Wheatley says, working from home often means "never switching off".

One of the next developments of the workplace is toward a more domestic environment, she says, based loosely on the way we move around at home. "When we do work from home we tend to use our laptops in different locations, from the couch to the kitchen table. Modern workplaces will reflect this in their design."

Domestic appeal

Wheatley says one clear direction for the workplace of the future is a more domestic environment that will see workers move from space to space according to the task at hand, based loosely on the way we move around at home.

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"When we do work from home we tend to use our laptops in different locations, from the couch to the kitchen table. Modern workplaces will reflect this in their design," she says.

"Coming to an office and being told you've got to sit here in some stark fluorescent environment; there's just no need for that. The workplace can reflect the option to roam around to the space where you want to work, utilising mobile technology."

In fact, the concept of a desk – assigned to you and filled with your stuff – is already becoming passé; the new buzz words are 'workpoints' and 'worksettings'. These 'settings' recognise the value of collaboration and teamwork, meaning the office itself is becoming more of a knowledge hub where ideas are bounced back and forth.

Into the Woods

When it comes to the workplace, the future is already here for the staff at Woods Bagot architects. This next-generation design studio has been created more like a warm and appealing home apartment than a conventional office.

Located above Wynyard railway station in Sydney's CBD, the second floor open-plan design with its floor-to-ceiling glazing captures views across the leafy treetops of Wynyard Park. 

Designers set out to produce a studio that would be welcoming and comfortable at all hours of the day, taking into account the long and flexible work hours that are typical of contemporary life. 

In keeping with the home-away-from-home theme, there is no obvious company branding at the front door, and the receptionist sits at a solid timber 'dining setting', with large-scale indoor plants immediately obvious. An adjacent kitchen becomes a bar for Friday night drinks. Visitors step into a 'forum' - a multi-use meeting place - that flows into an exhibition zone and a lounge area for social gatherings.

Team zones are flexible and moveable to promote collaborative working. "Display and discuss" is about benchmarking projects against previous legacies. In this way, the studio has become a place to foster research and development both conceptually and physically, says the project's design director, Dominic Alvaro.

"We are a large organisation and we collaborate across studios. Having flexible setting environments was very important for our local team, but also for our international visitors," he says. "We have many work environments throughout the studio and they shift from being a meeting table or a workshop zone to a social setting for drinks or coffee.

"Our office is a welcoming domestic environment. By using solid materials and shelving that is flexible and moveable, we adjust to teams and projects. It means that no one solely owns one location."

Woods Bagot won a commendation in the 2013 NSW Architecture Awards (Interior Architecture) for the office design and was shortlisted in the 2013 Australian Interior Design Awards (Workplace).

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