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The new business as usual: changing office spaces

two people on computers with their backs to each other

It’s difficult to imagine a time where the cubicle was the holy grail of office design.

In a nutshell

  1. Cultural change means we are redefining what work is and how it is done. Organisations are rethinking their priorities. Innovation, efficiency and employee satisfaction are the new criteria that organisations are judged against, and values such as collaboration, support, and autonomy have come to the fore. 
  2. Successful organisations are those that are agile and fast-paced. Office spaces have had to adapt to these flexible ways of working.
  3. An emerging holistic approach to wellness means an organisation has an important role in caring for the health and wellbeing of its employees.
  4. The gig economy, job sharing, flexible schedules and the ability to access cloud documents and software remotely means the need for physical office spaces is being questioned. This has seen the rise of co-working spaces. 

But it’s no wonder the cubicle became commonplace in the 1980s and 90s if we look at the organisational climate at that time which heralded economies of scale, ROIs, and the bottom line.

The cubicle system was ironically called an ‘Action Office’ when it was first designed. With their work spread out in front of them, rather than in an in-box, people were meant to be more productive and organised. A happy side effect was a more effective use of floor space, with cubicles becoming favoured as a cheap way to pack in more workers.

Out with the old, in with the new

Fast forward to 2018 where cultural change means we are redefining what work is and how it is done. The old mantra of economic progress at all costs has brought Earth to a tipping point, causing organisations to rethink their priorities. Innovation, efficiency and employee satisfaction are the new criteria that organisations are judged against, and values such as collaboration, support, and autonomy have come to the fore in company manifestos and philosophies.

In this new world of work, successful organisations are those that are agile and fast-paced. Adhocracy with a lack of formal structures (think: flat hierarchies, project based specialised teams, no standardised processes) means office spaces have had to adapt to these flexible ways of working.

And so we’ve seen new ‘agile’ office spaces emerge. A prime example is TRA’s own office in Britomart where we hold co-creation sessions and incubator-style workshops by reconfiguring and redefining our space. Our open plan office not only enables transparent business processes (the managing director sits amongst staff) but also enhances the flow of information within our varied team of researchers, marketers, designers, strategists, statisticians and data engineers.

Life-life balance

Thanks to an emerging holistic approach to wellness, work is no longer a place to earn a living but a place to fulfil your potential as a human being. Work-life balance is not enough anymore, it’s all about life-life balance as people focus on building purposeful, meaningful lives.

The lines between work and life have blurred and an organisation has an important role in caring for the health and wellbeing of its employees. Beyond providing perks like lunch hour massages and yoga classes, the design of work environments carefully considers the relationship between psychological wellbeing and performance. Reducing stress levels is key to this, and research has identified that visible connections to nature can have a positive effect on an individual’s reported stress levels.

The result is a rise in biophilic design – a method of designing the places in which we live and work to satisfy our deep need to be connected with nature. Biophilic design is a consideration given within urbanised environments, bringing in elements that allow direct nature connection (such as natural light, or views of seas and parks) or indirect connections (like interior design using natural elements, nature-resembling colours and patterns, indoor plants and views of greenery). A good example of biophilic design is the large living walls in Britomart’s Atrium on Takutai which serve as a tranquil divider between the Ernst & Young and Westpac offices housed above.

orange spiral staircase
The B:Hive, a newly opened co-working space in Auckland

Getting the gig

New ways of working like the gig economy and job sharing have flipped the entire idea of office spaces on its head. It’s likely you’ve seen the coffee shop campers – the ones who buy one cup of coffee, plug in their laptop and sit at a table for hours typing away. Flexible schedules and the ability to access cloud documents and software remotely means the need for physical office spaces is being questioned.

Increasingly companies are choosing to find stability and familiarity, not in permanent office locations but through co-working spaces like The Generator, BizDojo and the newly opened B:Hive in Smales Farm.

Established shortly after the global financial crisis, The Generator’s vision was to help downsized businesses to feel less isolated. The Generator now offers itself as a shared environment – allowing members more than just a space to work by inviting them into a lifestyle community.

The core value of community shapes The Generator’s space which is designed to enable members to share inspiration with others, as well as to foster genuine relationships and friendships through ‘bumpablity’ in communal areas like bars and large shared tables. Alongside the space, hosted breakfasts and member nights such as whiskey tastings or mindfulness workshops enable that life-life balance we all now seek.

Towards the future

What’s next with work spaces? The forces enabling the work revolution (lifestyle reconsiderations and a search for purpose, new technologies, new business models and labour efficiencies, more sustainable ways of doing business) will see a continued evolution of our current workspaces. Will work ever be like it was for George Jetson – a supplement to his identity (rather than a definer) involving two hours of labour spread over 2 days at a high tech automated office? Maybe.

Centralised offices are not going away anytime soon, however they will need to be different to support the emerging need for holism and agility. We can all imagine variations of a future with VR digital workplaces that support centralised brick-and-mortar collaboration head offices, or alternatively, shared community workspaces that offer co-living options and zero commute times. Working nine to five and pouring cups of ambition may not be quite the same ever again.

Vanisha Narsey
Senior Consultant at TRA

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