The Office of the Future

Xerox produced a video of their view of the office of the future in the 1970s:

The impact of information technology on the office has been a topic of interest for many years. Vannevar Bush first wrote about it in 1945 when he argued that machines could function as an extension to human memory and he proposed a machine that he called a Memex. The following animation describes Bush’s ideas, which he had illustrated with his own drawings:

Bush’s ideas were implemented at Stanford in 1967 with the creation of the “Augmented Human Intellect System” – probably the first attempt to create a personal computer. Work occurred in other areas too. Xerox created a machine that they called a Dynabook (an early version of a tablet) that was intended to be used for personal writing and other creativity.

In 1994 Sun Microsystems produced a video that anticipated the role that information technology would play in the future workspace. They called that technology “Starfire”:

Finally, IBM created a model of the modern office space that they called Bluespace in 2002.

These early attempts to imagine the future use of information technology in the modern office were often accurate and we can see many of the tools that were imagined in the past existing in today’s offices. Discussion today on the office of the future considers many areas. Some look at building construction and how information and other technologies can make buildings more environmentally suitable. Others argue that modern office buildings will disappear as technology allows more people to work from home or other locations. Mobile office locations currently exist that allow people to work in a variety of locations around the world. Flexible offices allow adaptation for different requirements, ranging from meeting spaces to cubicles. New material technologies allow information technology to be used in new ways, especially in collaboration which is becoming an increasingly important part of the modern organisation.

The impact that inofrmation technology will have on organisational productivity is also being considered as is its potential impact on the wellness of employees. Expectations of the millennial generation and the needs of the aging boomers are also influencing the use of information technology in offices. Examples are provided at the end of this blog post.

Siemens have created videos of their approach to modern office buildings. They especially focus on the opportunities for energy management, using technology to manage energy consumption to take into account electricity tarriffs that vary throughout the day. They illustrate how technology can be used in building security, flexibility, efficiency and comfort and argue that there will be additional benefits from the synergy of these factors.

The first video from Siemens focuses on smart use of energy while the second takes a broader view:

Some argue that we are likely to see alot less office buildings in the future due to the growth of teleworking. Many benefits are argued to result including the elimination of commuting time, increased flexibility of working hours, a better work life balance and a positive impact on the environment. Some also express concerns about the ability to effectively manage people at a distance, the use of personal employee resources when working at home that are not reimbursed by the employer and the difficulties in switching off from work when the office is in the home. Cisco supply technologies to support teleworking:

Mobile space, or office space that can be used on a temporary basis, is also facilitated by information technology. The following example is from a company called Intelligent Office that has a network of temporary offices in many cities globally:

Flexible offices enable office space configurations to be easily changed as organisational needs change. The following video, from Carnegie Mellon illustrates how this can work:

New material technologies are also being used. The following video from Corning Glass shows how new touch sensitive surfaces may be used:

Collaboration is now recogniksed as being an increasingly important part of modern business, partly as a result of globalisation that requires people to work closely with each other around the world. More people are working in teams and the pace of change is faster than ever before. Information technology enables people to collaborate more effectively within offices and remotely. Microsoft illustrate this:

Productivity is impacted by information technology in many ways. Two thirds of people beleive that conventional office environments stifle creativity and many organisations are looking at ways that technology can support a more positive workplace. The following video illustrates some areas that technology will influence productivity:

Offices have a direct impact on the health of employees. Information technology allows the office environment to be better managed with control of lighting, heating and cooling, air quality, noise etc, being possible.

The workplace is also being impacted by generational change. Generation Y is entering the workplace with expectations of flexibility and better working conditions. The boomers are getting older and looking for work on a part-time, more flexible basis. As the boomers age, organisations are competing with each other to recruit a shrinking population of working age. These pressures are changing the workplace and information technology is enabling that. The following video describes the workforce of tomorrow:

While this video discusses the impact of the Millennials or Generation Y:

Finally, here are three examples of organisations that have adopted elements of the office building of the future. Accenture have a very flexible office space in Houston:

Manitoba Hydro have built a world leading energy efficient building:

Glumac are a Californian engineering company that specialises in environmentally friendly offices:

Finally, the office of the future was researched as part of the Living Tomorrow project in Belgium – these were their conclusions:

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