The Future Office – III – Virtuality



There are so many terms floating around in our industry that it’s difficult to determine what a marketing ploy is and what is actually relevant to your organisation.  Trends in the market are driving a shift in the way office furniture is designed and utilized.  Designers and architects are noticing the footprint of offices and workstations shrinking to optimize available space, increase collaboration and ultimately yield a greater return-on-investment to the owner.  This action, this change, doesn’t go unnoticed in our society and those trusted to consult us and define it, tend to assign words to box in certain aspects of these market trends.  One such word is ‘Virtuaility’, a word that is used often in defining what the ‘Future Office’ looks like.

virtual office

photo credit: Soctech via photopin cc

“Suddenly, real estate didn’t seem so real any more. I realized just how rapidly ways of working in the office were changing, and how radically these changes would affect the conventions upon which office design and real estate practice have been based for decades. But I saw that what was more important was that everyone will be affected by the changes because they are irreversible…” – Francis Duffy, Design Strategy for the Future Office.


It is true that every aspect of the workplace is changing. There is a wave of new construction that is not waiting for strict environmental standards to be imposed decades down the road, but instead opt for current third-party certification such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,) that promote sustainability, total cost of ownership efficiency and indoor-environment quality.  We’re also faced with a multi-generational workforce – Traditionalists; Boomers; Generation X and Millenials – that have different ideas of what the workplace should be and how the work is done.  The younger generation thrives off of collaboration and a dynamic office, changing the way walls and the ‘corner office’ are being perceived. 


The one concern that I have is that people try to box the future office into a defining term that becomes a marketing ploy for them.  They end up succumbing to making predictions at what the future office looks like – and it’s nothing new, people in every industry and walk of life have made predictions that at the time seemed quite credible, but ended up wrong.  I have pulled a few quotes from a list with a little over eighty more (you can find hundreds more as well).

·         “We stand on the threshold of rocket mail.” – U.S. postmaster general Arthur Summerfield, in 1959.
·         By 1985, machines will be capable of doing any work Man can do.” – Herbert A. Simon, of Carnegie Mellon University, 1965.
·         “With over fifteen types of foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big share of the market for itself.” – Business Week, August 2, 1968.


“Prediction is very hard, especially about the future” – Yogi Berra.

To predict with absolutes (i.e. guiding a rocket) is a complex mathematical process where skilled professionals dedicated to that task are enlisted. To predict the future based off of various and sometimes contrasting research is risky. The human factor: psychological, social, socioeconomic, physical and biological characteristics make it virtually impossible.


I cannot say it as well as Dr. B. M. Hegde (though directed at a different industry) “Unless one knows all about the initial state of the organism, which is impossible with our present knowledge in medicine, future predictions based on a few of the known parameters is a scientific impossibility.”

Everyone is trying to predict what the future office landscape will look like. Some people use industry terminology and complicated analysis to sound credible and convince the unsuspecting. Others are doing the right thing: they are using the available research and resources available to them to encourage ‘Total Cost of Ownership’ and improve ‘Return-on-investment.’ By addressing the present efficiently is the only way we can possibly attempt to predict the future.


This ‘Virtuality’ seems inevitable, but the impact of it is what we cannot predict. Will people be able to work solely from home? Will a desktop-replacement laptop be a sufficient ‘virtual-office’ that people can work from anywhere? Will networks and technology support virtual corporation initiatives? These questions can easily be manipulated to paint a picture of a monster out of ‘virtuality,’ when indeed the extent of ‘virtuality’ will be increased productivity in its simplicity.

The people that sit at desks and use the valuable space an organisation purchases are specialists in their respective lines of work. Technology is a tool that they utilize to aid them in the bottom line, it is not a requirement. The best way to illustrate that statement is to say that the world was still spinning in 1938 and 1972, preceding the invention of the computer and the internet respectively. ‘Virtuality’ is not what we need, if it catches on it’s because it is what we want.


Every organisation is different and unique in its processes. This means that even though we have modular benches, can create touchdown and ‘hotelling’ stations does not imply that everybody can increase efficiency and return-on-investment through the same techniques. The professionals in our industry are trained to adapt to specific client requirements and provide them with maximized return-on-investment through the best ‘total cost of ownership’ practices.

To reference ‘Contract Magazine’ (which has several articles on the future office) whom publish articles specific to the contract furniture market: One of them that jumped out at me was ‘Characteristics of the Future Office’ by Ruth Jansson, CID, IIDA, LEED AP. In her article she spoke of workplace standards as well as the influencers in designing such standards. These standards are adhered to when expanding or reconfiguration. She also touches on speculative spaces, another area of design which supports total cost of ownership.  These methods are some of the closest we can come to providing the most efficient solutions for your organisation without running the risk of incorrect predictions.


Virtuality is a reality, but the obvious is the closest we can come to ‘predicting the future office.’ The rest of the information and statistics are just additional tools in our arsenal.

Until next time – go change the world. P.H.


Sources cited:

1. (just for the quotes, we don’t really go there for the endless entertainment they have to spare.)
2. University of Michigan: Centre for the Study of Complex Systems
5. Contact Magazine–1863.shtml
6. Teknion Corporation
• Cynthia Kirkland Odell
• Demographic Change in Canada: Making Sense of Trends and Drivers. Presentation to 2017: The Workplace, University of Waterloo, October 16, 2007. Mark Schaan, Retirement and Ageing Division, Strategic Policy and Research Branch.
“MasterFormat 2004 Edition Numbers & Titles” 6/8/2004 downloaded 07July06Design /Referenced 3/31/2010
7. Does Matter Vol. 2 – Published By Teknion


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