In the history of office interiors, there is a ‘before’ Google and an ‘after’ Google. Before, anyone working in an open space, with a Mac on the desk and a decent canteen could easily have been believed to be working in a cool company.
After, you have no ping pong table in the canteen or a slide in the office? Hey, man, there is something wrong in your life (certainly, in your working one).
“Google did bring up an equation (work = play = well being) in office design that was copied by many corporations,” says Richard Kauntze, head of the British Council for Offices. “Most people thought that it would all end with the economic crisis, but this was not the case. Now it’s the small and medium companies, particularly start-ups, that invest in less conventional offices.”
The reason? “It’s a good investment,” says Professor Mariano Corso of the Observatory of Smart Working of the Management School of the Milan Polytechnic. “People who work in a well-thought-out, smart environment increase their productivity. And for any company, personnel costs count for 85 per cent and buildings only for 15 per cent: it is cheaper to restyle your office than to look for new people.”
Do all entrepreneurs need to create a playground, then, in order to make their employees happy (and performing)? “No,” says Matthre Kobylar, Workplace Strategist of American interior giant Gensler.
“The play model has done its time and the office of the future will look more like a home: filled up with small, quiet spaces that can be personalised, where it’s possible to chat in a relaxed atmosphere. And common areas with proper acoustic insulation.”
According to Kobylar, who has recently finalised a study on the productivity of US workers, the greatest myth is in regard to open space. “It definitely does not foster creativity and the exchange of ideas. Open spaces are noisy and stressful.”
Architect Jean Nouvel, who presented an office of the future concept at the last Salone in Milan, agrees. “Generic solutions, like the traditional open space, are old-fashioned: a good office should feel like a home.”
Together with interiors, architecture is also changing, starting with the most visionary office buildings of the moment. Norman Foster’s new Apple campus in Cupertino and Frank O Gehry’s Facebook headquarters in San Francisco will not be the skyscrapers that one might have expected a while back. Rather, they are horizontal entities that are difficult to describe using traditional geometries.
The first one is shaped as a doughnut and it has only four floors, spread out on 200,000 square metres, and will host 12,000 employees. The second one (40,000 square metres) was described by Mark Zuckerberg as “the biggest open space in the world”, with a park on the roof and hundreds of ‘cabins’ scattered in what will look like a giant artificial ’village in a prairie’.
So an office that looks and feels like home in an architecture that is unobtrusive is the recipe for working environments of the future.