Is work somewhere we go or something we do?
Despite changes happening outside of them, the four walls of the office have remained a solid and reassuring constant in a landscape of constantly evolving methods of practice. A physical manifestation of ‘a space to work’ affirms the human tendency to find comfort in a shared sense of place, acting as a hub for performing tasks, generating and sharing information of all kinds and drinking coffee. However, this is not to say that the environments within these places haven’t changed. Today, companies actively craft working environments that cater for a multitude of different styles of interaction with the intervention of ‘break-out’ spaces, open plan work stations, non-assigned seating plans and mixes of intimate and open areas to foster serendipitous inspiration. It is recognised now that work places are the sum of how their users interact within them, as opposed to the other way around.
Embrace the future:
As such, our ideas for the future of workplaces are born not from asking what the office will physically look like in the future but from considering the question of how people will interact instead. The digitization of human social experience has fundamentally changed this – where communication with anyone, anywhere is possible. Ideas, messages, photos and videos can be communicated instantly, shared with a limitless audience. By its very nature however, this relatively new kind of communication allows for an editing process, an artificial time gap, which forms a stark and often uncomfortable contrast with physical, face to face interaction. Images are filtered, videos cut and manipulated, messages considered, re-written, compared or simply forgotten. No matter which platform, there appears to be a relationship between the digital and the deceptive, giving credence to the preference for physical, face to face interactions.
But in ten years’ time, will this still be the case? The generation that will inhabit these workspaces of the future have only known a world where a digital social experience has a symbiotic existence with that of the physical. This familiarity with digital interaction could be catalyzed through the intervention of augmented virtual reality – a platform that promises to create a truly immersive experience that transforms the digitisation of human interaction into a three-dimensional entity. The transformation of a working environment into virtual 3D space would see for the first time a truly harmonious connection between perceived physical space and digital technology. Such a connection could foster genuine, spontaneous interactions not only between people but with the very work itself.
We imagine a virtual workspace environment that is an embodiment of flexible work space, with the inherent ability to meet the requirements of whoever enters into it. Users will be able to meet up in the Amazon Rainforest, host a networking event atop a New York sky scraper, brainstorm ideas on the beach. We call it forum_.
Forum_ would provide a physical manifestation of these ‘imaginary’ environments, forming an essential neutral meeting point that serves as the real world gateway to the unconstrained virtual universe. Forum_ recognizes the unique importance of a physical location – even in a future world characterized by alternate virtual realities. Companies, however, would no longer require vast physical presence, scale can be dealt with in the virtual world. Instead, the condensed Forum_ in real terms would consist of a large breakout space for employees to meet, share ideas and perform tasks. The same space is also a virtual entity, which enables the real-world physical space to be much smaller, where the virtual equivalent can be accessed from employees’ living rooms, kitchens or their local coffee shop. This phenomenon, made possible by emerging virtual reality hardware such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear will see a radically different approach to the workplace. In a future world where space in cultural, creative and cooperate centers like London will be at an ever-increasing premium, it makes sense to begin to rethink our professional relationship with space, forming a different perspective with the help on the latest virtual reality technology.
It is important to understand that Forum_ has to be grounded in a physical location. The central space forms a tangible representation of the company which is accessed both physically and virtually. Physical location remains key, where a company will reap the benefits of a central urban location, whilst at the same time providing its users the flexibility to decide how they interact with the space. Furthermore, the company will be able to more efficiently allocate financial resources to a smaller space, investing more often for relatively small amount of money to keep the space relevant to the changing needs of the company. Forum_ allows for a dramatic change in both how the workplace of the future will be physically represented and maintained, as well as in how interaction will change in the people that use them.