Google has the Googleplex, Facebook has Building 20 and Apple is close to finalising its Donut HQ. In Silicon Valley, the leading tech companies are obsessed with designing their workplace to mimic that of a university campus.
But if offices are designed for 'work to be done' and universities are designed to 'help you learn', why are more and more businesses moving towards the university campus model?
Historically the office that we see today has evolved from the Industrial revolution where offices were designed to operate like a factory. Factories were and still are designed to be as efficient and productive as possible. Companies took the same principles and applied them to an office with desks in place of the enormous machines. Over the last hundred years further basic workplace settings were introduced and a desk, a canteen and a meeting room have become the staple of today’s traditional office setup.
Universities however, are designed to facilitate learning, to provide inspirational environments and a multitude of work settings, to encourage spontaneous interaction and the concept of eating together. From private work in the library, to a stand up meeting at the bar, to a coffee on the sofa's, to a group meeting on the campus lawns, universities offer a variety of environments to support a range of tasks.
Students don't 'own' a single space during their time at university, they don't have an office, a desk they can call their own; but what they do have, is much more fluid access to exponentially more environments which they share with their fellow students seamlessly. One of the great experiences of university life is that there are so many opportunities to have spontaneous interactions with fellow students. It could be in one of the many corridors that connect the sprawling faculties, it could be in the library or cafeteria, a seminar or social event - there are a magnitude of potential encounters compared to the office 'water cooler' moment.
Businesses today need their employees to do the day job, but they also need them to be inspired, to innovate and to help the company move forward. Putting employees in a sterile environment and providing them with a limited choice of work settings, limits their ability to challenge the norm and come up with breakthrough ideas. In Steven Johnson's bestselling book 'Where Good Ideas Come From' he advances the notion that innovative thinking is a slow and gradual process on the concept of a 'slow hunch' rather than a moment of inspiration. Having environments that support this slow and gradual process will help organisations blossom that 'slow hunch' into a ground-breaking idea.
And so we can see why there is a link between the super-successful organisations like Google, Facebook and Apple and University campuses. Flexible environments that encourage collaboration and promote choice are simply more likely to foster a steady stream of good ideas that will ultimately be the differentiator between an organisation and its competitors. With more companies embracing flexible office design as a means of competitive advantage in the modern businesss world, its easy to see why the offices of tomorrow will look more like University campuses and less like an office.