The shifting world of work #3

The evolution of the workspace makes proper space for young minds.

If there’s a space that reflects the traditional model of work – nose down, shoulder to the wheel – it is the cubicle. If you see one at a company hoping to hire you, run away.

The dreaded cubicle was the brainchild of the American home-furnishings company Herman Miller. It dates back to the 1960s when most office worker spaces were open. Cubicles managed to cram as many people as possible into a large workspace, whilst still giving each of them a notion of privacy whilst they ran the work mill. Think hamster in a cage.

Workers were encouraged to fill their cubicle with momentos and images of loved ones, to create a personal space within the confines of the small walls. Think convicted felon hamster in a cage. Cubicles really came into their own with the desktop-PC-and-telephone world of work. Think convicted felon hamster with eye-strain in a cage.

Cubicles got bigger higher up the corporate ladder, so they embodied key components of corporate culture of the 60s, 70s, and 80s: standardisation, assembly-line production of work, and human resource hierarchy.

Today, office design reflects not only new normals changing the world of work – digitisation, disruption and individualisation – but the priorities of young people. Key themes include interaction, collaboration, and physical and psychological well-being.

Digital team spaces such as Slack and Trello connect those who prefer the laptop-in-a-coffee-shop work culture. Physical offices are designed to have different spaces: open, private, team, and ‘breakout’ spaces, where staff can choose a place to work that suits them. Cutting-edge office furnishers speak of ‘biophilic’ design – incorporating the living world into the office space. Think way beyond the pot plant.

Not everyone can work at Google, but any company searching for young, innovative thinkers needs to have a long hard look at where they would be most productive: a workspace that yells ‘so long hamster, hello fox!’

[This article originally appeared on the mindofafox Growing Foxes app in the week of 26 February 2018. Growing Foxes is a school strategic intelligence programme designed by mindofafox. It is being piloted in a number of leading schools in the UK and South Africa. The app serves to support those students currently engaging with the programme. Click on the logo to find out more].

Image: Office Snapshots