An interview with workplace consultant Filip Muška from CBRE. About how office spaces will change in future decades, and why companies will need just a fifth of their current space. And about the great struggle for better work kitchens.
We just might be the last generation to work in shared offices. Modern technologies have freed all the white collars and pencil pushers from needing to sit at a desk with a gray PC tower. “More and more studies are showing that people will be shifting to working from office hubs nearby their homes,” says Muška.
Current office trends, in his opinion, are often used as a subliminal means for luring in new talent. Yet slides, swings, and rooms full of balloons do not help with work efficiency. “Companies often outdo each other in how ‘crazy’ their environment is. But often these spaces’ design does not go hand in hand with its functionality.”
In today’s situation, employees can dictate how their work environment should look. Sometimes they even determine where they’ll be working. How long is it until they’ll be deciding for themselves what they’ll be working on?
At present truly talented people can dictate the conditions under which they’ll be working. How will things change? It will depend on the economy. But in some people’s opinions, the gap will widen between the group of people who will program and work on automation and innovative technologies, and the other group that will operate services for the elite from the first class.
If the work week were to be shortened in the future to just four days, increasing the weekend by a day, would it significantly affect offices’ organization?
If we’re talking about, say, the year 2040, then I think we’ll more likely see a different scenario—where the difference between the weekend and the work week will be erased. Current trends are showing that people will be working as freelancers and will be deciding for themselves how much time to invest into work. It will be all up to them whether they’ll work the hours they’re selling for seven days in a row, or work for just one day a week.
This new work paradigm already applies for the rising millennial generation?
Yes, in part. Millennials will be rewarded based on tasks, not on their time spent at the office. In five years they will be society’s main workforce. And they just might want to head to work at 8 p.m.... I’ve encountered situations where certain IT firms needed to buy couches because the programmers there worked overnight.
YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE
Why in fact is there a flood of interest right now in how to make offices better?
It’s closely tied to people’s flexibility in the broader sense. One of the impulses leading to the construction of modern work environments lay in modern technologies. They reached the point where a notebook, once charged, can run practically all day; you don’t need a power socket; wi-fi is everywhere. You’re no longer tied to a workplace. Why insist on a bond that makes no sense anymore? Let’s take advantage of mobility and flexibility. So thoughts returned to what people really want in a work environment, and how it should look.
Being able to do something is one thing, but why in fact should we do it? What is the motive or the effect it will bring in the end?
The first level here is a shallow one — it’s money. When a company is switching to an innovative concept where for example working spots start to be shared to some extent, the proposal is usually one where there are fewer spots than workers. So there’s a possibility for them to rent less space and thus spend less on rental and maintenance.
Or, if they’re in a phase where they can’t give back a part of their spaces, they can change them and reinvest them into something to help people. Here you’re not saving money, but you’re increasing your offices’ quality and usability.
These are primarily benefits for employers. How about the employees’ side? Will people have better offices where they can do even more work?
When clients ask me where the advantage actually is in sharing desks, I answer that the advantages are many, and the biggest one is choice. You know, paradoxically it looks like the employer is forcing you to think about where you’ll be working today. So, you lose your comfort zone. But this is a first, defensive reaction. Once someone experiences it, they find it’s about something else.
What exactly? Can you give us an idea through the example of your offices at CBRE?
At CBRE, we use an Activity Based Concept, which utilizes different work areas for different activities. In the morning when I need to go over an important contract, I find a closed room with peace and privacy. Later when I need to consult on something with teammates, I sit down in the open space to be near them. Nobody, not even our CEO, has their own office anymore. This brings the CEO more in touch with the company; our pyramid is flattening, people are closer to each other, and communication is easier.
HOW TO BEHAVE AT WORK
Together with the transformation of companies’ managerial structures, the vertical utilization of office buildings is changing. If the top management isn’t sitting on the top floors, who should be sitting in these premium places?
We talked about this recently with one client. In the original plan for their building, the top floor had one closed room after another. We proposed that meeting rooms or a client zone be created there instead.
More and more studies are showing that people will be shifting to working from office hubs nearby their homes. Companies will hire specialists from around the world and virtually interconnect them using modern technologies. Offices will transform into image-making spaces. You won’t be able to work there individually anymore; their meaning will shrink down to being places to meet.
This is a vision for 20 years from now. Related to this is the fact that you’ll suddenly need only a fifth of the spaces you have now. And you’ll be able to rent offices in more attractive places.
The Activity Based Workplace is a very popular concept right now. But does it work in practice? How is it for you personally? Do you switch among different places, or do you have a favorite one where you sit the most?
I’m the type of person who enjoys it; I switch places. It’s a sort of mechanism for avoiding monotony. On the other hand, I understand that there are people with other personalities who will prefer to have a stable spot.
It’s not simple, this concept, because during move-ins to new premises we establish for example rules on how to behave in them and how to move around in them. The final result is very much about being obliging and considerate.
What are some examples of specific rules that you recommend?
That’s one of the elements of change management. When a company decides for a transition from a traditional office layout to a shared one, this is a culture shock for many people, and you have to work with them.
Among the tools for this are workshops with ambassadors from various groups. At each of these, rules for collective behavior are composed. Each company’s rules are a little different. At CBRE specifically, we have the “10 Golden Rules.” For example, no eating at your desk. And that when you leave a desk at an open space for over two hours, you should clean your things into your locker. If somebody ignores this, the best thing to do is to take their things and put them aside or go straight ahead and bring them to the lost-and-found.
10 rules how to behave as an employee at CBRE offices.
A KITCHEN RENAISSANCE
If you were to relocate your business, is there some aspect of your offices that you’d like to come with you to your new premises?
So, taking it generally, our people really like our kitchen. The last time we expanded, we changed it. We moved it from a windowless room over to a window, we put a live wall in it, etc. Now it’s pleasant to sit in.
You’re quite a crusader overall against kitchens being clumped into the cores of office buildings. Why, actually?
The kitchen is one of the things that tends to get handled last when designing offices. First you occupy all the spaces with work desks, and then you realize that people might want a place to heat up lunch. But then your kitchen ends up between the elevator and the storage room. In a dark room, with hard materials inside that ruin the acoustics; the space isn’t cozy overall, and it’s small... And yet the kitchen is a place for socializing. If you meet someone in an informal environment, it’s much better for creating relationships.
With many things in companies, someone’s already thought them up; you don’t have to. If you know who’s working on a problem, it will boost your professional productivity. Spreading information and know-how is immensely important. That works if bonds among people work.
Is there any other office area that’s underestimated or neglected like kitchens are?
A company should definitely have some kind of space that supports creativity. You might imagine a meeting room with a markable wall or a big screen, but in my opinion, you’ll support creativity more when you create a room where people feel good — where it’s cozy. One where people are happy to hole up and feel safe.
The floor plans of new buildings are often designed with common or shared spaces centralized in the middle of the building so that a maximum of daylight reaches the desks.
Every firm has different priorities. If we’re talking about companies where meeting, creative activity, or innovation is a key element, then people should have a good space for doing that. Creative spaces shouldn’t be stuck into dark corners; they should be more generous. All the same, if “no-daylight” spaces are left somewhere, that’s OK — but then have an expert help you set up quality lighting so that they feel good.