Sentient, hospitable and flat-age: the shift from open plan to open work

As a focus on human psychology and behaviour begins to dominate the workplace design discourse, a new report on the future office sets out the forces of change that will remodel workspace to allow people to work at their physical, mental and emotional best

The growing surge to prioritise employee experience and focus on human behaviour at work is heralding a new approach to workplace design, according to a new report from UK-based designers Morey Smith and futures consultancy The Future Laboratory.

The report, entitled The Future of The Workplace, predicts a move away from ‘open plan’ to ‘open work’ environments by 2025 to support an increasingly agile, diverse and multi-generational workforce.

It describes three forces of change that will drive this shift towards more self-aware, reactive, and flexible spaces in which people take greater control over their own environment and wellbeing.

‘A need to address the modern epidemic of digital distraction….’

The ‘optimised self’ is a condition in which people quest to be ‘at their physical, mental and emotional best at all times’ to cope with always-on working; the ‘flat-age economy’ will lead to five generations sharing the same workspace; and the ‘focus filter’ will address the modern epidemic of digital distraction with new design and technology solutions.

This report, which draws on wide body of research sources, goes onto present three workspace archetypes that are taking shape.

Sentient Workspaces

The sentient workplace is built with humans at the core. The environment features natural materials and technology systems designed to optimise performance and sharpen focus. As the report explains: ‘Imagine a workplace that monitors your blood sugar levels and heart rate for signs of exhaustion…’

This is a hyper-performance based environment, but without the sci-fi element. Technology is hidden from workers behind a façade of biophilia and clever designs; workers can choose how they want their immediate environment to respond to them. A key example is Office 3.0 system by Carlo Ratti for the Agnelli Foundation in Turin.

Hospitality Workspaces

The hospitality workplace allows workers to bring their whole selves to work. It is a one-stop urban destination with a civic dimension that houses mixed-use spaces where people can work and live. Employees will be able to explore galleries, pop to the doctors, post a package and go the gym all in one area.

The idea is to create innovative communities that are set to collaborate in different ways and attract the nomadic workforce of the late 2020s. The hospitality workplace is linked to a digital platform to enable autonomy and choice for workers. Examples include Deskopolitan in Paris and Facebook’s new Willow campus development.

Flat Age Workspaces

As organisations continue to wrestle with the expectations of a five-generation workplace, the flat age workplace will acknowledge the needs of different generations and attempt to manage them. Sound-proofed VR learning labs, mentor pods and diversity incubators (addressing autism, dyslexia and ADHD) will help different generations to collaborate in the same space.

This workplace will aim to engage with every individual irrespective of age, ability and workstyle. It will encourage peer learning and promote sensory experiences which spark attention and focus. This space will be an incubator for AI and humans to combine, creating a new type of worker – the bionic-thinker.

Key manifestations of this trend include Nike’s Neuralink app, which merges human thoughts and AI together to develop new ways of thinking, and Yahoo’s Neurodiversity Employee Resource Group in Paris, which uses technology to help people with cognitive differences to communicate with the wider community.

Basis in psychology

All three workplace archetypes described in the report share a basis in the psychology of the future workforce. They are presented as different angles on the ‘open work’ environments of 2025 that will be multi-dimensional, multi-generational and completely immersive and interactive. This will be an area where the three archetypes of Sentient, Hospitality and Flat Age workspaces are positively amalgamated.

Read The Future of the Workplace report by Morey Smith and The Future Laboratory here.