Allison Arieff On The Future Of The Office: Is it All About The Video?

Big grey couches facing big screen Monitor/ Steelcase/Promo image

27 years ago, when infrared cordless phones were just becoming available, Philip Stone and Robert Luchetti predicted in the Harvard Business Review that the desk was dead and Your office is where you are. It didn't happen quite as fast as they thought, but two years ago I noted the growing sophistication of smart phones and wrote Your Office Is In Your Pants, wherein I predicted the death of the desk, an end of an Aeron (people don't stay in one place) and even the end of videoconferencing. (people prefer texting)

Now, in Wired, Allison Arieff looks at Cubicle Couches and Other Hot Trends in Workplace Design, and suggests that people like me who talk of the end of the office are wrong:

Not long ago, many predicted the office of the future was no office at all. Today, the thinking is to get employees back to the office and find all sorts of enticements to keep them there. But devices, furniture, and people have moved from fixed to mobile. So now workplace "design" is as much about programming, services and amenities as it once was about cubicles and corner offices.

Home theatre for two; no holding hands / Steelcase/Promo image

She then shows new stuff from Steelcase that essentially turns the office into a home away from home, with the living room couch and a big home theatre setup. In Steelcase's information from NEOCON, they write:

Work is more global today and we need to interact with colleagues located all over the world. Meanwhile, video technology has grown rapidly and become more accessible — it’s portable, one-button simple and cheap. But we realized that the physical spaces for video conferencing haven’t kept pace with the technology. People would use video even more if the experience was more comfortable.

They found a number of serious problems with videoconferencing the way is usually practiced now:

Steelcase research found that people get distracted when they see themselves on video. 72 percent of workers who provided an applicable response agree that they notice their physical appearance on the screen… “They notice how the lighting makes them look tired and exaggerates bags under their eyes, or the camera is pointing up their nose,” observed [Vice President,Marketing] Smith. “Sometimes you can’t see all the people in the conference or you see people on large-scale screens that feel huge and overwhelming. So while people are thinking about all those negatives, they’re not fully engaged – they’re less productive.”

Indeed. And fiddling with the lighting isn't going to be enough; you will need in-house makeup artists and a slenderizing mode to take off the pounds that always seem to appear when you see yourself on video.

Explain the point of this when you have an iPad. /Steelcase/Promo image

Steelcase projects that video will be the dominant form of communication. But they are not watching the kids, who multitask, who have twelve windows open on their computer, and are texting, all the time, it is the de facto means of communication. At TreeHugger, we often have four or five text chats going at any given time and frankly, they are more useful than a video chat. And if you don't need the big video in your face all the time, then you don't need all this new furniture.

Allison reminds us that video killed the radio star, but I think Steelcase will find that texting killed the video star.

Tags: Dematerialization | Designers | Furniture | Work

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