By Vanessa De Groot 25 May 2017

We’ve all heard about the fantastical offices of progressive tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Airbnb. There are slides, lounges, cafes and plenty of other services and amenities.

You might think these types of work places are reserved for a few companies overseas, but the trend towards providing amenity is gathering speed in Australia too.

Offices have come a long way from half a century ago, when workers sat at their desks with pad, pen and maybe a typewriter – and they’re only continuing to evolve.

Technology has a lot to do with the change, as do work practices, especially as our work is increasingly moving from “processing” to “thinking”, with much of the former being shifted overseas.

The change is also driven by what employees are demanding. We spend a lot of time at work so we want it to be a place we enjoy being in. And employers are increasingly realising that if it’s not, we’re inclined to move on.

dexus prism modern office

Goodbye work life balance

 Office design is now focused on the concept of “live, work and play” since life is now seamless with work, says Simon Trude, Principal and Managing Director of Gensler.

“If you go back around 10 years ago when we first had BlackBerrys, work started coming home with you, and the expectation from employers was that they would be constantly on.

“That hasn’t changed, but the reverse flip is that life is now coming into work.

“There’s no work/life balance anymore – it’s just work life. There’s a complete integration of the two.”

Gensler are now doing concepts for a work place concierge service, says Mr Trude, so employees can do chores such as shopping and dry cleaning during their work day.

“Most mature employers are thinking about what employees value in their life and they’re bringing that in to the work place,” he adds.

The Dropbox headquarters at 5 Martin Place in Sydney, which was designed by Gensler to look like a home, is perhaps one of the most literal examples of the blending of life and work.

The office has a dining room, bar, lounges and TV screens, with the interior featuring rugs, bookshelves and plants to give it that homely feel, and staff often have their meals together.

Chris Hynes, Head of Office and Industrial Leasing at Dexus, says workers in many of the US tech companies adopting the amenity-focused trend in office design spend the majority of their time at work, and little time at home.

And of course that’s the idea behind why these companies are providing entertainment, eating options, massages and even doggy day care, he says. They want to encourage workers to stay, and they do that by having the office replicate a home lifestyle.

There’s no work/life balance anymore – it’s just work life. There’s a complete integration of the two
dexus prism dropbox office
Dropbox offices designed to look like a home.

It’s all about the ‘experience’

Not too long ago the biggest trend in office design was the move towards activity-based working (ABW), which gave people the ability to undertake work in various settings rather than one fixed desk.

While mobility is still a priority, modern office design has evolved beyond ABW to focus on the provision of services and amenities for staff.

Mr Trude says this forms a big part of creating an “experience” for workers, which he identifies as being the biggest trend in office design.

“While the office must be functional and technology is a given, the focus of design is all about providing an experience now,” he says. “That determines the culture of the office and distinguishes the business from their competitors.

“It’s driven by millennials; to attract and retain them as staff employers need to provide an experience and amenities. Employees are not just asking for it, they are expecting it now.”

In addition to the creation of an experience, Mr Trude says architects aim for balance in the types of spaces (with a social aspect important), to facilitate a community environment and to foster inspiration.

dexus prism collaboration
The focus of design is about providing an experience.

Amenity in or around?

Companies are seeking to provide amenity both within and around their own space to attract workers.

As such, Mr Hynes says, developers are increasingly supplying more amenity within the building envelope.

One of the most highly valued facilities being provided to office workers in our buildings is childcare, he adds, while health-related amenity such as boot camps, yoga and great food offerings is also important.

He believes, however, it will be a while before something like doggy day care takes off domestically.

While the office must be functional and technology is a given, the focus of design is all about providing an experience now
dexus prism childcare
Childcare facilities - one of the most highly valued facilities for office workers.

Is the traditional office of old gone for good?

While the modern office is continuing to evolve, one thing is for sure – there is no ‘one size fits all’. There‘s a huge variation in design, with each individual business finding what suits them.

Mr Trude says some businesses, such as law firms, are sticking to the traditional mould while others, particularly tech companies, are adopting the full scale of the new trends.

“It’s not for everyone, and some businesses don’t feel they need to change; they’re happy doing things the way they always have,” he says.

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