Exploring office designs of the future

As the hot-desking craze cools down, what could be next?

‘Hot desking’ has been one of the big workplace phenomena of the last decade, but how good is it? The theory is that with no desk to call their own, workers find a new spot every day and in doing so, meet new people and remain flexible. However, there is a flipside to this practice, including more superficial relationships in the workplace and a sense of impermanence for employees. Psychologist Donna Dawson says, "Hot desking takes away a sense of your own space and security and contributes to feeling like a cog in a machine". Furthermore, research from Haworth, the American office design experts, states focus at work is enhanced by having some control over our personal environment – especially when it comes to personalizing it. Some studies even suggest that like open plan offices, hot desking unfairly favors extrovert personalities. So how do we keep the benefits and reduce the drawbacks?

The answer is blending collaboration with a sense of belonging, and emerging workplace design has some ingenious options.

Welcome to the overlap zone

To help build spontaneous collaboration and wider workplace interaction, companies like Samsung are now designing workspaces around areas where employees are likely to simply ‘bump into each other’. These ‘overlap zones’ are vital, as Samsung VP Scott Birnbaum explains: “The most creative ideas aren’t going to come while sitting in front of your monitor”. This thinking is supported by research from the University of Michigan that found using spatial design to encourage these kinds of unplanned interactions improved performance measurably amongst its scientists.

Trends show more and more successful organizations are building in this mix of personal and engineered space to bring people together. In the case of advertising agency Grupo Gallegos, it’s a large shared staircase, visible from all over the office, to allow employees to spark off each other.

It’s probably just a matter of time before we all bump into some ‘zonal overlap’ in action.

Super crazy? No, it’s the superdesk

Just how do you encourage staff to collaborate without taking away their personal space? Well, if you’re the Barbarian Group, you create a shared desk that seats all 170! Which is exactly what they did in their New York office. At 4,400 square feet the ‘Superdesk’ snakes around their 20,000 square foot space and is a potent symbol of their collaborative approach as an organization.

Need some quiet space? No problem. Enter one of the arches under the desk structure, complete with seating and acoustic insulation. It’s no wonder that this unusual approach won an interior design award for CWA, the company that helped create it.

Combining collaborative spaces with private areas provides the perfect balance for the introverts and extroverts around the office, a balance that many offices currently lack.