office of the future

We first started writing about the rise of ‘Bleisure’ (the convergence of business and leisure) back in 2009 at The Future Laboratory, and since then we’ve seen the boundaries between work and play dissolve drastically. ‘We’re seeing workplaces that are more intelligent, connected and human-orientated – a move from facilities management to hospitality’ explains Jeremy Myerson, co-founder, Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art. His comment hints at the convergence taking place in workplaces that are now as much about leisure, wellness and hospitality as they are about observation, quantification and efficiency.

Although employers have been fixated on the Millennial worker for years, this cohort is now in their late 20s and early 30s and aren’t the young guns they once were. For clues on the future workplace, we need to start looking towards Gen Z (13 to 19 year olds), who are about to enter employment and bring with them a whole host of strange habits and new expectations.

‘Tomorrow’s workers are not seeking lifetime employment. They are seeking lifetime learning. They connect, create, contribute and collaborate whenever and wherever it makes sense,’ says Philip Auerswald, economist and author of The Coming Prosperity. Rather than following the three life stages of education, career and retirement, this coming generation is looking for more flexible working patterns and lifelong learning.

According to Emergent Research, more than 40 percent of the US workforce – or 60 million people – will be independent workers in the next five years. This is leading to a boom in co-working spaces, with big names such as WeWork and Second Home making huge market gains in recent years. Less familiar offerings such as Tribes in the Netherlands have introduced quirky features such as office ‘elders’ and mentors, drawing inspiration from traditional tribal communities around the world.

Mobile digital connectivity also defines this next generation of workers. Half of the world’s population will be using mobile devices to access the internet by 2020, with the number of mobile internet users in the developing world doubling to 3bn during the same period (according to GSMA intelligence). This has lead to a peripatetic workforce, who feel comfortable setting up shop wherever they find themselves. New services such as Jobbatical are playing to this shift, allowing people to take extended sabbaticals whilst working.

Wellness is another trend set to transform the future workplace. Instead of creating stress and anxiety, the office could soon become a therapeutic space. Mood enhancing foods by the likes of Dr Smood could be just one way that this trend will manifest itself, with big employers such as Goldman Sachs already in talks with the Miami-based startup. We’ll also begin to see wellness reflected in office design, with Situ Fabrications recently incorporating an immersive James Turrell light sculpture into the office design for an unnamed New York client.

It’s not all mood lighting and emotion-enhancing snacks however. The next generation of workers feel skeptical about the promises of a job for life, pointing to statistics such as 47 percent of employment in the US being at risk over the next 10 or 20 years due to artificial intelligence (AI) and other tech advancements (according to the Oxford Martin School). Lex Machina software already predicts the outcome of patent disputes more accurately than lawyers, whilst eBay’s algorithms settle more than 60 million disputes a year – three times that of the entire US legal system. White collar professions no longer look to be the safe bet they once were.

This is leading to a boom in entrepreneurialism, with 63 percent of Gen Z expressing a desire to study entrepreneurship, according to a study by Northeastern University. Employers are having to adapt to encompass this, offering opportunities for ‘Intrapreneurhip’ within a corporate structure. The Net Set app by Yoox-Net-A-Porter Group was subject to an internal pitch process for seed capital, whilst Sony’s First Flight is a crowdsourcing project aimed at funding projects developed by employees. To keep the future worker on board, employers will need to open up more opportunities for the individual.

Long-term career success is now less about traditional criteria such as a first in PPE, and has shifted towards more individual skillsets. ‘I’m not going to employ someone because they have a degree in journalism, I’m going to employ them if they have the right tone of voice on Twitter,’ says Thomas Gorton, editor of Dazed Digital. This might sound like the end of days, but already we’re seeing respected employers such as Penguin Publishing removing degree qualifications from their recruitment criteria, in recognition that they no longer reflect the skills needed to succeed in our media landscape.

Increasingly, workplaces need to be built around the people that inhabit them, rather than just trying to control and corral employees. Take a hint from Gen Z and harness the best of digital technology, but also remember the importance of physical space, serendipity and human emotions. If the first wave of globalization was about countries, and the second was about corporations, our current business environment is about individuals. The workplaces that best adapt to this will be the ones that succeed, whilst the rest will fade to grey.



  • This post gives the views of its author, not the position of LSE Business Review or the London School of Economics.
  • Featured image credit: Marcin Wichary CC-BY-2.0

Jonathan OpenshawJonathan Openshaw is editor of LS:N Global, The Future Laboratory. He is responsible for coordinating content across 14 lifestyle sectors, leading an international team of insight and visual journalists. Having trained at The Financial Times, Time Out and the BBC, Jonathan later worked as Monocle Magazine’s business editor, helping launch its digital radio station M24. Jonathan joined LS:N Global from Meri Media where he was editorial director, guiding branded content for clients including Gucci, Dior and Diesel. He was also editor of the studio’s independent editorial platform POSTmatter, which focuses on the impact of new technology on the creative industries. Personal projects include an art exhibition with the Wellcome Trust that explored the impact of synthetic biology on the creative industries, and a recent book with Frame Publishers that examined artisanal craft in the digital age.