The Office of the Future
What will the office of the future look like?
The 1950’s futurism movement made a lot of fantastic bold predictions, some of which we are seeing come true, like robotic warehouses and solar cars, and others like the rocket powered postal worker delivering physical letters by jet packing into your yard have sadly not arrived.
But what about the humble office that most of us work in?
They predicted a wild combination of punch cards, dials and switchboards as far as the eye could see, all the surfaces are curved, and everyone is smoking and dictating their work into magnificent metal machines.
The sad fact is that if you took a receptionist from the 1950’s and put them into a modern office setting, about the only thing you would need to tell them would be that the text comes up on a screen as you type rather than on a piece of paper. The desks are fundamentally the same, the phones have more buttons but serve the same function and the concept of the “office” with the important people in glass cages, and everyone else in an orderly grid is the same.
In fact, the biggest change to the “office landscape” in a hundred years was to add cubicle walls… and then fifty years later, to remove them.
There are two futures we can attempt to predict here. We can go to the 1950’s Futurist style and pitch crazy ideas like atomic floating board room tables, or we can go the realistic route of pretty much the same, but with more buttons.
And in the words of a famous Mexican food spokes-girl… “why not both”.
The Retro-Futurism of 2078
You arrive at work and take the hyper-lift up to the 184th floor to your office space, stepping out of the lift you walk on over to a map on the wall and select one of the empty desks and your fingerprint assigns that desk to you for the day (Because in this futuristic hellscape, the concept of “hot desking” won the Desk Assignment Wars of the late 2050’s). You walk on over to your desk, greeting your co-workers as you go, perhaps picking up a cup of coffee from the ACM (Like an ATM, but it dispenses coffee, these are on every floor and make a fairly decent flat white).
You arrive at your desk and slide into the ergonomic chair-desk all in one that has configured itself to your preference when you chose it from the map. You pull down the head-set that sits over your head like one of those fancy hair dryers from the women’s hair dresser.
This gives you a full 360-degree screen that you can spin around your head like a halo, but you can still see out below it to see your keyboard and trackball mouse (as apparently those are more popular now).
Your manager calls you into a meeting, you enter their office and into the middle of a floating hologram void filled with floating spreadsheets and performance reviews, with a flick of the wrist the screens are minimised from view. A human hologram appears, and you begin your holo-conference with the Tokyo office.
The realist view of 2078
The realist in me however sees a different picture.
You enter your office and walk to your desk, the screen (or screens if you are lucky) of old have been replaced with a single seamless panel the stretches the length of your desk, even though you really only use the middle 50%.
You take a seat in a comfortable chair not dissimilar to classic chairs of the 2010’s, but instead of wheels, a frictionless pad on the bottom allows you to scoot around without damaging the carpet. The desk itself has no wires or computer case, just a simple black rectangle that works as a keyboard, touch screen and mouse, and a sleek one-sided headset that contains a ear bud and small screen that you use for video conferences.
You have a lunch meeting with the marketing team, but you would rather have lunch at the new retro-café around the corner and grab a pulled pork burger and caramel soy double shot half and half with five sugars like they used to have, so you get your AI assistant to call the marketing team’s AI assistant and cancel your attendance.
If you are lucky, you have the same setup at home, and work remotely from anywhere in the world thanks to fiber-optic and quantum communication methods. Working from home not because you want to slack off with the kids and only wear underwear, but because you are working with a company based in Chicago, but you don’t want to leave the rolling hills of rural Victoria.
So those are the two futures that we could end up facing in 60 years’ time.
Like most things, it will probably end up a mix of those two, and a third option so crazy I can't even currently imagine it. Google is already underway with assistant AI's to cancel my meetings, and it's Google Glass project stumbled a bit but I think it has legs in the long run.
With the increases in internet speed, world-wide connectivity and systems like Virtual Reality, conference rooms may well be a thing of the past... in fact one of my favourite podcasts recorded what they claimed to be the first ever podcast recorded in Virtual Reality, with the three hosts in their own homes around the city.
The most exciting part however is what isn't listed here... something that is so crazy that I have no idea what it could be.
* Images by Arthur Radebaugh