The future of work is bright, bold and beautiful. Traditional offices are making way for unusual spaces shaped by new ideas. Tomorrow’s workspace is open, green, playful or cosy. Or all of these rolled into one.

Beyond doors: the open office

The old office is dead, long live the prairie: Think open skies, wide vistas, stunning sunsets. But seriously: Today’s offices are already designed to serve as open communication landscapes. Central aisles and cubicles? Forget it. Now, it’s all about the space in-between – something that still doesn’t quite have a name.

Concept of a future office building
Martin Henn’s concept for the future office building.
Photo: HENN

At the new Zalando HQ, Berlin-based architect Martin Henn considers this “catwalk“ – the route to your desk – just as important as the place where you actually log in and work. We should even think of all those small obstacles – turnstiles, reception, stairs and lift, coffee bar and kitchenette – as something that enriches these new office landscapes. What used to be an obstruction or waste of time is today’s actual work space. The reasoning: Wherever people get together, something new will bubble up.

Entrance hall of a virtual office building
Open paths underline the modern floorplan …
Photo: Jens Kirchner / kadawittfeldarchitektur

In this spirit, companies are opening up to urban society, with canteens becoming public cafés and new paths weaving through previously closed company grounds. Take Kadawittfeld Architekten’s building for the AachenMünchener insurance: Here, plenty of paths, stairs and connections have replaced the usual closed gates.

Glazed conference room
… as well as clear vistas and natural light.
Photo: Jens Kirchner / kadawittfeldarchitektur

Jungle fever: the green office

If everything is about to change anyway, you might just as well make it green. And we don’t mean a few scattered pots of Ficus benjamina (incl. hydro-culture) or the deskbound odd violet, but full-on greenification. Think luscious, planted walls to soothe the eye, filter pollutants and add some welcome oxygen to the work mix.

Common area with a moss-covered wall
A green wall will work its magic on the work climate.
Photo: iStock / ismagilov

Gamification: the playful office

Who says work shouldn’t be fun? Psychologists have been preaching this truism forever: If you want to boost mood and motivation, don’t dangle promotions or company cars in front of employees, but offer them small incentives, praise and playful challenges. 

Colourful bikes on the Google premises
The colourful bikes carry employees across the Google campus.
Photo: Google

“Joy is the main motivator”, according to futurist Horst W. Opaschowski. He concludes that “work needs to offer variety, challenge and a sense of achievement.”

Two women laughing in front of slot machines
Power up – with a round of arcade games? No problem.
Photo: Google

This transforms tasks into challenges, letting employees collect points for an office ranking. And while we’re exploring the motivational power of casual fun, we might just as well add a few loungescapes to the work environment, like Google’s London outpost. The huge cushions look perfectly inviting, although some spaces almost resemble padded cells.

People working in unusual working seats at Google
Focus the unconventional way: personal work pods at Google.
Photo: Google

Just like home: the co-working studio

Hanging out with friends while dreaming up ingenious ideas? Co-working has come a long (and varied) way from its early desk-sharing roots. Whether bare bones DIY workspace with a power outlet or pro provider who offers free coffee plus an on-site gym and yoga studio: Many of today’s co-working hosts champion communal desks and benches shared equally between friends and colleagues.

Bright workstation with drapes instead of walls
Warmer atmosphere: drapes replace walls.
Photo: Esse Studio / Francisco Nogueira

Most of the time, the architectural and communal results resemble a party or someone’s home – and that’s deliberate. For a Lisbon-based dating app crew, Portuguese architects Sílvia Rocio and Mariana Póvoa of Esse Studio created a cosy home-style office. Part of their clever package for busy bees: drapes that replace walls, dampen noise and support a more flexible and intuitive layout.

Bright workstation with wooden furniture
The curtains also allow for more flexible room arrangements.
Photo: Esse Studio / Francisco Nogueira
Conference room with a big couch and wooden cabinets
A meeting room can feel like a living room.
Photo: Esse Studio / Francisco Nogueira

Wired up: the digital mindset

Entrance, time clock, doorman: Those days are gone for good. We are used to working anytime and everywhere. Our pop-up workspace might be a lounge, a café or a connected office 4.0. According to the Foresight study on the Digital Working Environment commissioned by the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, today’s and tomorrow’s digital disruption will thoroughly shake up our notion of work and its environment.

Cloud, crowd and click workers are replacing “normal working conditions”. Office spaces mirror this trend – they are mutating into way stations for people en route to the next project. At some point, even part-time digital nomads realise the truth in Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous statement: “If you feel lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.”