Historically, the evolution of the technological, productive, economic and social dimensions has had a huge impact on the concept of work, on the nature of the labour market and ultimately on the models with which companies organise their business activities and working spaces. The fluidity of the economy and the professional relationships which we are currently experiencing can be the starting point to try to understand and anticipate the trends that will define the office over the next few years.
In order to keep factories functioning, the Industrial Revolution required workers whose values needed to be different to those upheld by the craft guilds. Thus the concept of “work ethic” came about; a motto which included promoting discipline and the loss of independence necessary to accept the harsh industrial regime of nineteenth century factories.
But the appeal of work ethic lost part of its centrality with the arrival of Taylorism. In Taylor's view, workers’ commitment had to be stimulated mostly with monetary incentives. According to philosopher Zygmunt Bauman, this new vision shaped the subsequent history of modern society, which stopped being a community of producers to become one of consumers.
Being a consumer means using things (goods or services) to satisfy personal needs and desires, and to appropriate them to turn them into our exclusive property, forbidding other people from using them without our express consent. But nowadays this concept is changing. In the twenty-first century - thanks to the explosive development of mobile technologies, including the Internet andsocial media boom, a new way of understanding consumption has begun to gestate: so-called collaborative consumption.
Young digital natives are leading the charge towards this alternative way of consuming, based on shared use rather than ownership. And part of this socioeconomic and cultural change began with companies like Spotify, Netflix, Airbnb and Uber. The model upon which these digital platforms are based entails significant environmental benefits, since it increases the efficiency of our use of goods, helps to reduce waste and surplus generated by overproduction and overconsumption, and encourages the development of better products.
And now we have reached a turning point where these same principles and behaviours are beginning to be applied to other aspects of everyday life; from car sharing to bike and scooter rentals for commuting to coworking spaces. Even the way companies are organised and the very concept of work are changing. This trend is manifested in the extinction of “life-long” jobs and trades, which have been replaced by temporary, part-time, or project-by-project contracts, usually combined with other occupations.
In addition, the ubiquity of the Internet and the growth of mobile devices, together with the independent work platforms and collaborative digital tools which emerged in the last few years, have made it possible to work anytime and from anywhere. In turn, companies are also breaking with the traditional paradigm of the full-time employee and are starting to harness the talent of a much more wide-ranging labour universe.
Today, flexibility is the Holy Grail.
The New Exponential Organisations
Exponential organisations are a new paradigm built upon information technologies in order to transform the reality of the physical world into a digital counterpart available on demand for consumers. The quintessential examples of this type of organisation are Uber, Waze, Netflix, Airbnb, and so on. They don't require a large amount of staff or huge facilities to operate. Instead of managing physical assets, they leverage the ubiquity of information and external resources to fulfil their goals. And while the practice of renting or sharing resources - as opposed to owning them- has been widely exercised in many time periods, the tendency to externalise any asset, even mission-critical ones, has accelerated only in the last few years.
Indeed, with every passing year it seems less necessary to own a factory, a laboratory or an office. The age of information allows companies to access physical assets anytime and anywhere (just-in-time inventory) instead of owning them, which simultaneously gives them enough flexibility to easily scale these assets, both locally and globally.
In this world of accelerated change, traditional companies are quickly becoming obsolete. Those which possess large facilities distributed around the world are now facing the challenge of having to operate with agility in a fast-paced world. But in order to compete in today's fluid and uncertain world, one must be able to manage change and develop within it.
To achieve scalability, these new exponential organisations maintain a very small number of core employees and facilities by harnessing existing and emerging infrastructures instead of trying to acquire some of their own, which grants them a huge degree of flexibility.
According to Salim Ismail, director of Singularity University, non-ownership is the key to the future. The fact is, during this time of exponential transformations, companies which want to survive will need to embrace change in order to keep their place in the market.
Workplace as a Service
As we have seen, consumer trends are shifting people's habits towards on-demand products and services at the expense of ownership, and yet this trend is rarely applied to the workplace.
Companies have traditionally designed and built their offices as a capital investment meant to meet their long-term goals. As both working styles and consumer habits evolve, space remains unchanged, resistant to the rapid changes taking place in the world markets.
Thus, a new trend has emerged in the world of work, driven by technological advancement and new social and consumer habits: workplace as a service (WaaS), a model which constitutes a unique opportunity for the companies of the new millennium. Just as it happened with the adoption of cloud-based information technologies, collaborative work technologies and the increasing availability of freelancers, nowadays companies do not need to own offices in order to be efficient.
WaaS is a paradigm shift whereby companies go from owning real estate assets to accessing a workplace - which includes all the services necessary for operation - for an agreed-upon time and a monthly fee: a custom-made office in the right location without having to worry about upkeep and without spending large sums upfront. But unlike coworking spaces, where companies must adapt to their environment and share the facilities, WaaS provides access to a space tailored to the specific requirements, the identity and the culture of each organisation.
The WaaS model aims to offer companies a service that allows them to implement spaces that can be updated, transformed and adapted as markets and operational needs change. In this way, the use of space can be assessed, and any changes or improvements necessary to meet the requirements of the organisation can easily be made. This allows them to focus their resources on the areas which have proven more important to reaching business goals.
But when we analyse WaaS from the user's perspective, ever since the emergence of the gig economy, with many more people working independently or carrying out their tasks from different geographical locations, it has become plain that the workplace must deliver all the technological resources necessary for the new generation of mobile workers to perform their tasks - no matter where they are located. In this way, anyone who needs to can access the applications or documents they require as a cloud service from any location with an Internet connection, and work with them as if they were in the office.
Undoubtedly, the growth of flexible work will also call for flexible space, marked by an increase in shared areas at the expense of private ones, versatility for the reconfiguration and adaptation to different requirements, and spaces that favour casual encounters, informal meetings, teamwork and collaboration. In short, many factors are converging to accelerate the shift towards a workplace-as-a-service model.
This is how companies can benefit, making the most of new technologies and recently developed consumer habits. And, in a not so distant future, we may be able to reach the exponential organisation model by creating an online platform for consumers (companies who would be our prospective customers) to really visualise how their office space would look, together with project costs and delivery timetable, which would cut back on consultation time at the beginning of the project.
Given the enormous penetration and ubiquity of mobile devices, which make it possible to work anytime and from anywhere, the boundaries between our professional and personal lives is becoming increasingly blurred, especially for the younger generations of digital natives who are entering the labour market.
As a result, a trend is beginning to take shape which mandates a hybrid design for the office, something between the residential and the commercial, with homely conference rooms and café-style bars and breakrooms. And this effect goes even further: it has even reached residential buildings, which have started to incorporate conference rooms, state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment and Wi-Fi bars into their common areas in order to adapt to new lifestyles. The idea behind it is for the residents of these new real-estate ventures, especially those who work remotely, to use these common areas to stay and work comfortably.
The hybrid yet flexible nature of this model suggests that in the cities of the future, buildings will not necessarily be designed with a specific use in mind.
Given that modern technologies allow people to work anytime and from anywhere, many people wonder what we need offices for. And while we have no way of knowing what the future will bring, especially in an age where so many disruptive technologies are emerging at once, there are many reasons to believe that the office will maintain its status for the time being. The need to collaborate, communicate and socialise is part of human nature; we need social contact and sharing in order to be more creative. The office is not going to disappear, but it will clearly have to evolve and take new forms unlike the ones we have known thus far.
The office of the future, driven by the preferences of the new generations, will no longer be a container made up of rows of desks where people are accommodated for eight hours of solitary work. A company is a business made of people and, for that reason, the office will become a social experience, a community focused on achieving common goals, and a shared, connected space facilitating work anytime and from anywhere, whether it is done in person or within a virtual environment.
Future-proof real estate ventures will be environments suited to a wide variety of working styles and activities, which simultaneously foster innovation and improve productivity. But to that end, companies will need to do more than design and implement and monitor efficient internal processes. They will also need to anticipate, understand and address the larger social transformations that impact the needs and desires of their collaborators and customers.
These are some of the trends which are already transforming the modern workplace. We believe they will continue to evolve and prove relevant to the course taken by the office of the future.
● From fixed workstations to flexibility and agility
People are no longer chained to their desks. The new nomadic workers will move according to their own convenience, armed with their own technology in order to connect anytime and from anywhere. This working style will drive the office to a non-territorial strategy with ample mobility.
Layout design will enable collaborators to work smoothly, moving across different environments according to their needs, though not all of them will need to be present within the same building.
● From squandering surface area to optimising space
We must be able to adapt space to optimise its use. Having a dedicated space which is used for only a few hours a day entails a waste of square metres which will impact costs. A closed office, for instance, can serve as a conference room or individual workspace depending on the user and the needs of a given moment. Workstations will no longer be assigned, and the layout will be organised on the basis of activity.
● From a hierarchical to a flat structure
Vertical structures based on the principles of hierarchy and control no longer respond to the demands for greater agility and fast change. Within the new corporate paradigm, the value of an organisation will be increasingly contingent upon its “social capital,” understood as the value of the networks and relationships it has established. Horizontal management strategies constitute a better response to the current context and have several implications for office design: space is distributed on the basis of people's tasks, rather than their status.
In due course, organisations will tend to increasingly flatten their structures, dispensing with managerial layers and gaining autonomy to speed up processes.
● From silos to knowledge work
Most traditional companies are organised in compartmentalised divisions which operate in siloed systems. But the new ways of working in the age of knowledge require spaces capable of aiding the free flow of information, promoting easy accessibility for collaboration and facilitating casual encounters between colleagues from different disciplines to encourage creativity and innovation.
Thanks to the rise in mobility, offices will increasingly serve as touch points for personal connection and interaction; social activity and collaboration will become the most important functions of the physical space.
● From the tyranny of wiring to mobile technology
The use of technology will be key for the transformation of the office. With the disappearance of wiring and the growing use of wireless devices, connecting people instead of connecting places or desks will be the new normal.
Workplace design will be made to serve a flexible and mobile workforce. If the nomadic worker's space relocates to wherever he or she is, it will be very useful to have the technology required to keep teams connected.
● With the power of culture and branding
Creating a strong brand image and establishing a sense of place not only reinforces the company's goals and mission but also helps to get employees involved and attract new talent.
Companies will invest more and more in their offices in order to set themselves apart from their competitors, and simultaneously to improve employee experience. In an interconnected world, the corporate office can now be imagined not as a closed building meant for only one use, but as an open environment where suppliers and customers form an integrated ecosystem.
● Focused on wellbeing
People are a companies’ most important asset, which is why wellbeing in the workplace is turning into a strategic necessity. Offices must be conducive to the use of natural light in order to preserve biological rhythms; enable outside views whenever possible, offer the possibility of sitting down or being on one's feet while one works, together with the possibility of exercising to regain the participation of the whole body, and maintain the quality of indoor air.
Some studies confirm that this approach unlocks increased productivity and has a positive impact on performance. Regardless of the future that awaits us, it cannot be denied that a healthy workforce is more productive, committed and efficient.
● Environmentally aware
With the development of communication technologies, the creation of flexible work environments will become the most sustainable solution for organisations to meet their growth needs without having to increase the space for their operations. Moreover, it will be possible to minimise the impact of built environments by embracing more environmentally responsible practices (such as the efficient use of water and power, harnessing natural light, paperless policies, and so on). If we also consider that part of the workforce can carry out their tasks remotely, daily commuting to the workplace can be avoided, which saves energy in transportation and reduces environmental pollution.
Rather than disappearing, the office as physical space will keep evolving to make sense of the human need for collaboration, communication, socialization and wellbeing. It will be marked by the exponential growth of technology, the globalisation phenomenon, the transformation of cities, the new consumer habits and the social and cultural changes driven by the values of the new generations.
Undoubtedly, work and the workplace are changing constantly, and this will bring new challenges, but also new opportunities. Meeting the needs of a future which we cannot anticipate completely means being open to new ideas, being agile and remaining flexible.
 BAUMAN, Z. (2000): “Liquid Modernity”.
 BOTSMAN, R. & ROGERS, R. (2010): “What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption”.
 ISMAIL, S. et al. (2014): “Exponential Organizations”.
 INTERNATIONAL WELL BUILDING INSTITUTE (2015): “Health and Wellbeing for Our Future”.