Is Silicon Valley shaping the office of the future?

5th June, 2015

The tech titans of Silicon Valley are at the forefront of business development. The likes of Apple and Google are constantly experimenting with new techniques and processes to further their business growth and customer experience. Whilst the rest of us dream of reaching a fraction of the success both Apple and Google have achieved, is there something we can learn from their approach to business operation?

Both super powers are in the process of building new offices. Both utilising new ideas on how a 21st century workplace should look, function and inspire. It is generally accepted now that modern office design should focus around collaboration, adhering to the age old saying of "Together we are stronger".

Video source: Google

It’s a question of productivity, no longer the realm of individuals but rather down to how groups of people interact. Naturally the environment that people work in has a huge impact on how they behave and feel. Google are a prime example of how office design can be championed to manipulate the work force into a state of increased collaboration. Google’s planned mega-campus is designed to encourage interaction, not just between employees but also the wider community with parks, picturesque walking routes and retail outlets. Even the design stage of the project encapsulated the notions of collectivism with Google appointing two architects. Bjarke Ingels, one of the appointed architects commented on the project, stating "Between these three different minds, I think we have really arrived at something that I'm dead certain we wouldn't have arrived at if any one of us were, working in isolation." The concept is simple, if more people interact and communicate with each other the by-product is innovation, ideas and productivity. Could it be that longer breaks at the coffee machine might actually be beneficial to the company? Should employers be encouraging staff to walk away from their desk?

What does the office of the future look like?

Countless guesses can be made at what future work environments will look like. Rather than take a wild stab in the dark, we can instead examine what is happening at this very moment. It wasn’t too long ago that people predicted the decline of the office as cloud computing and remote working increased more and more people had the opportunity to work from home. In reality working from home is counterproductive and organisations soon caught on. Yahoo quickly abolished their working from home programme. Instead of a home, the new office appears to be more of a social hub, where interaction between employees from different departments is encouraged.

Video source: Derek Mcfarland

Speculation on the physical design of future offices is futile as differing businesses will require different needs. A common need of all businesses is productivity. An employee is not measured by how long they sit behind a desk but by the work they produce. With the average attention span being 20 minutes, is it productive to have someone sit at a desk for 8 hours a day? We are seeing the traditional working barriers broken down as we become socially aware that all work and no play leaves Jack a little less capable than he could be. We’ve all seen the pictures of the offices of tech giants which look more like a kid’s playground than a place of work, yet these companies are shaping the future, more importantly they are hugely successful. If the aim of a new working environment is to get people communicating then what better way to do it than by way of a game? The majority of companies will invest in team building days but maybe it should be taken a step further and embed cooperation within everyday routine. Employers may soon see the benefits of having different areas for working and for letting off steam.

Why should a business adopt new office design?

The ideas behind new workplace design are not to simply improve an employee’s working day. There are huge benefits to the business as a whole and the numbers exist to back it up. Research conducted by the British Council for Offices (BCO) investigated the benefits seen by companies who adopted new office design techniques. The results speak for themselves. It’s a numbers game. Overall an employee’s workspace can improve their individual performance by 5%, take this up to group level and departments can benefit by an increase in performance by 11%. Job satisfaction is also influenced heavily by the office. As much as 24% of total job satisfaction is affected by an employee’s environment, this alone leads to tangible gains for the business. The impact of staff satisfaction accounts for 72% of innovation and new products, this in turn lends itself to 64% of growth. It’s estimated that 82% of profitability is directly and indirectly triggered by employee satisfaction. As technology grows, the world get’s smaller and more competitive. It won’t be long before futuristic office design is not only the foray of super corporations, but instead practiced by businesses around the globe, trying to optimise their workforce.

Why business don’t adopt a new office design:

One word, cost. Cash, time and space all contribute to the decision not to invest in workspace development. Office design doesn’t have to be expensive. In truth it’s estimated that over a 25 year period a new office, including construction, land, furnishing and maintenance would account for only 15% of overall operating costs.

Whilst complete rebuilds are out of the reach of most employers, even the basic principles of new office design can be implemented without too much interruption. Simply re-arranging office furnishings to encourage social interaction would be a step towards a new office design. As with any investment, risk exists. Rather than question what would happen if you adopt the new ideas on workplace design, maybe the question should be "what happens if you don’t?" As the world slowly crawls back towards prosperity following the financial crisis and the tech boom grows ever larger, can businesses afford to miss the opportunity to adapt to concepts that are proven to work?

Working in a new environment may bring unforeseen risks, ensure your premises do not put you, or your employees at risk. We offer comprehensive property insurance as well as compulsory employers’ liability insurance. Our experts are well versed in advising the best cover to meet your needs, call us on 0800 042 0401 for a free quotation and advice.