Workplace 1.0

The binary office

Many of our first memories of the office are of a binary space where the choice is between working at our desk or in a meeting room. Senior people typically have enclosed individual offices, often around the exterior of the floorplate so they can benefit from natural light. Meanwhile the interior is given over to an open plan environment with people working in cubicles, separated by partitions. There is little opportunity for interaction or collaboration and the layout leads to a hierarchical workplace culture where people are often closely managed. The space is not aesthetically pleasing with little evidence of brand or culture beyond a company logo on the wall.

Workplace 2.0

Rows and rows of desks

Attracted by the idea of occupying real estate more efficiently, many organisations removed the partitions and introduced bench desks. Some managers were also encouraged out of their offices to sit with their teams. Instead of rows of partitions, there were rows of bench desks, occasionally interspersed with a meeting table or sofa – the first indication of agile work settings. Removing some personal offices meant more natural light for the open plan area and there was more opportunities for interaction. But because the driver was more about getting more people into the same amount of space rather than supporting people to work more productively, there was little improvement for individuals’ working lives. The widespread use of WiFi meant that working from a meeting table, sofa or even from home was physically possible but many office cultures didn’t support that approach believing that people did their best work sitting at their desk in full sight of their manager. Physically the space was more inviting, but many offices still resembled call centre environments.

Workplace 3.0

The balanced workplace

While there was some progression from workplace 1.0 to 2.0, it took Covid to be the catalyst for dramatic change in how the workplace is used. A year of home working demonstrated beyond doubt that people can be productive away from the workplace. Home has become another work setting which complements the office environment. Workplace 3.0 recognises that if people can work productively at home, then the office needs fewer desks and more agile work settings. This is activity-based working in its prime with the workplace seen as a destination – a collaborative, interactive and social hub which takes inspiration from the hotel lobby and other hospitality environments but with dedicated space for quiet, concentrated work. People choose where they work, whether at home or which part of the workplace depending on their specific tasks. Visually-attractive, Workplace 3.0 is a balanced workplace which reflects organisations’ environmental, social and corporate governance approach with a focus on the wellbeing of their people and being carbon neutral. Technology is also central to the workplace 3.0 experience, seamlessly linking home and office settings through sophisticated workplace apps which enable desk booking, wayfinding and problem reporting. Workplace 3.0 is the ultimate enabler of productivity, a recruitment and retention tool and the key for post-Covid organisational success.