The Next-Gen office - are we there yet?

As an architect working with a range of corporate clients designing new offices, it was not uncommon to hear our energy clients ask, "what are the latest trends in energy firms?" and of course we entertained similar questions from our consulting, accounting, finance, engineering, law and real estate clients.  Today, the pendulum has swung.  Clients in most business types are not asking about peer office design, but rather they are asking about the office and work style of the future and what should they be anticipating in design regardless of their profession.

What has happened? 

  1. At first it seemed that the digitalization of business was ushering in the change. 
  2. Added to this was the influx of younger tech-savvy employees who personally work with more advanced technology and software at home than was possessed by their offices.  
  3. Then as businesses diversified and became more complex, the need to connect the dots accelerated the drive to more collaboration in the work place.
  4. Clients once seen as single event buyers are being developed into multi-service, multi-project, multi-city prospects.
  5. Paper slowly began to give way to wireless data distribution that allowed anyone to work anywhere with any data - securely.
  6. Aging senior staff begin moving down the path towards retirement and are taking their knowledge and experience with them, out the door.
  7. Upcoming younger staff are moving into leadership roles with different mindsets on workplace standards and utilization - and they may not work at their desk.
  8. Conferencing is a multi-media data driven, 3D, touch screen voice and video experience.
  9. Wireless connectivity with raging bandwidth pulses throughout every office and often throughout the entire building.

What does it mean?

Office space is becoming more universal in design based more on the principals of officing and delivery of professional services with the highest level of efficiency, employee development and client satisfaction. There is less specialized space.

  1. The logo in the reception room - now a multi-screen cross-selling, brand enhancing experience.
  2. The law library - going or gone digitally replaced on the Internet. 
  3. The central file room - scanned and in the cloud. 
  4. The long corridor lined with private offices - replaced with inside positioned glass front work space and open plan collaborative areas along the exterior. 
  5. The coffee pot in a closet -  now a "Starbucks" style refreshment center as a part of the work environment and collaborative area.
  6. Hard walled departments - lines of demarcation  are blurred and there is more blending with other departments. 
  7. Costly storage of paper oil and gas files - all available all the time on demand and digital.
  8. Chunky desktop computers - replaced with powerful laptops will full mobile capabilities and solid state hard drives.
  9. That huge data center - shrunk and floated up to the cloud.
  10. War rooms and other specialized meeting rooms - expanding into a suite of focused work rooms, team rooms and collaboration project rooms.
  11. The "big" conference room - evolved into a functional well appointed skills training and learning facility. 
  12. Expanded customer and staff training facility to enhance use of products, teach, and develop ideas.
  13. Internal office moves - clients prefer box and personnel moves to hard construction and re-configuration.

What stays the same?

Clients are embracing the future and asking the right questions.  Architects are not only innovating but propelling their clients businesses along the way.  The future is bringing many businesses together in the search of excellence for staff and the best customer experience. WHAT these businesses do and their branding, continue to be the differentiator, HOW and WHERE they do it is becoming now more and more similar.

Receptions are still first impression spaces.   Private office are still important. Likely there will always be the need to have the large CEO office and other personality driven items.   Paper just won't completely go away.  Vendors still bring donuts and kolaches on Friday.

If you are planning your office of the future today, I would enjoy providing some insight as to what ideas might make sense to your business and culture.  Call me.

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff.  Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting a Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm, to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years.   Bill writes articles sharing his experience in four keystone practice areas:  Marketing, Design, Project Management and Practice Management.  He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence. Check him out at