It's 1985 and you've been sent from the future to explain how people work in 2015 to an auditorium of curious business executives. Someone asks you how people communicate.
You describe a typical everyday situation in which an office worker briefly steps away from their desk to grab coffee and responds to an urgent work question on Slack with an emoji on their smart phone from Starbucks.
Let's face it: The future would have sounded very weird.
If thirty years ago you had sat down to brainstorm how people would work in the future, you probably would have gotten a lot of things wrong. When people think about the future they tend to think it will be similar to the present, only more so.
Someone in 1980 could have easily come up with a future where people used super-efficient electric typewriters and cordless phones. They couldn't have imagined a world where everyone held mini computers in their pocket, texting coworkers and writing documents on their smart phone while they Facetime with their kids.
As we think about the office of the future, then, it's important that we allow ourselves to sound a little bizarre. The office of 2045 is more likely to be outlandish than it is to be similar to the office of today. And if you are just starting out or midway through your career, this workplace is where you'll be retiring from, so you'd better start thinking about it now.
Rather than make predictions, let's consider five ideas about what the office of the future might look like.
1. The Whole Office Will Be A Computer
Already, many office workers have two computer screens on their desks. The office of the future will have a wall of touchscreen workstations that allow you to directly connect to a customer's needs through app-like software. Your desk and chair will have a built-in docking station to charge your phone and share information with your main computer that you work on throughout the day. It will also communicate directly with you. A smart hub will allow everything in the office to operate in harmony and adjust accordingly with outside conditions.
2. Office Furniture Will Be Super Smart
Your chair will monitor your health with built-in sensors that can tell when you've been sitting for too long. It will remind you to get up and walk around and will adjust automatically according to your height and weight. When you get up from your chair and walk away it will tell your computer to secure your email and other communication programs. It will also tell your coworkers when you are at your desk. Your chair will be an integral part of your workplace and communicate with you. And whatever chair and desk you are sitting in will automatically adjust depending on your height and weight to ensure you are sitting and working ergonomically.
3. Everything Will Be Virtual
Virtual reality is getting better all the time. When it's time to meet with a client, our coworkers, or other professionals for a conference, we'll put on glasses and meet in a virtual space that's cooler than any conference room we sit in now. As a result, old-fashioned conversation, face-to-face, will make a comeback, replacing emails, except it will all be virtual.
4. You Won't Have Your Own Office
Dedicated office space will be a perk given to only the most senior management as in many cases it is now. Other workers will use flex space with furniture that automatically adjusts to their personal settings. You will just scan your ID card or thumb at the door and the lighting, chair and your computer will adjust accordingly. The screens on the wall might even show your favorite artwork or photos of your family so the space you are working in is customized to your liking, helping with productivity.
5. It Will Be A 24-7 Workplace
Already we are working more with our smart phones and Apple watches and other electronic devices, checking our work email accounts night and day and communicating with coworkers after hours through Slack and other instant messaging programs at night and on the weekends. In thirty years we will all be in driverless cars working to and from work too. Companies may find it beneficial to stay open around the clock to talk with overseas clients and allow workers to get things done at their own pace either from the office or at home.
These are just some ideas about the office of the future in thirty years. We can't be sure exactly what it will look like, but we can say with certainty that it will be a lot different from today
Blake Zalcberg is chief executive officer of OFM, an office and school furniture manufacturer, distributor, and wholesaler headquartered in North Carolina with operations in Phoenix, Ariz. For twenty years, OFM has provided affordable, quality furniture through a dealer network to businesses, government, health care and educational facilities offering the latest concepts and designs in the furniture industry. Working with manufacturers in Mexico, Taiwan and China, OFM designs furniture to meet the highest industry standards which are sold through a variety of retailers, mail-order catalogs, and online dealers including Staples, Wayfair, Overstock, and National Business Furniture. To learn more about OFM, visit www.ofminc.com.