A B O. The three letters of the future workplace

Times they are a changing. Generation Y, or the Millennials, are characterised as technological savvy and digitally dependent. They are also one of the fastest growing sectors in the employment market. So how will this demographic influence the way we work and design offices? Petteri Kolinen, design director at furniture company Martela, put’s down his smartphone to give us some insight.

”New, more flexible ways of working will appear.
The working environment has to be inspiring for up to four generations at the same time.”

- Petteri Kolinen, Design Director Products & Communication at Martela.

Who are generation y?

”Generation Y, born 1980–1995, will enter the working life in big scale. These 'webnatives' will change corporate cultures as they start to reach the leading positions in companies. Their values have already started to influence the working life, being more liberal, social and responsible than the previous Generation X. Eventually the traditional tools will change into new ones. E-mail disappears and is replaced by instant communication tools. Working environments will be tailored for different kind of socialising, communication and creative needs."

What are the technological trends?

”A new way of working will speed up during the coming few years. With good coverage of WiFi networks, employees are even freer to choose their working environment. The merging 4G-network will make the working culture dispatched from location. As the mobile connections improve, all documents and material will finally move to the Cloud. There will no longer be any need to go to the office for a fast connection or to collect documents from drives. The next steps of the ABO will emerge.”

What does this mean for office design right now?

”WiFi networks, wireless broadband and cloud service have already started to make work independent of time and place. This means that the role of the traditional office is changing radically. The office environment has to fulfil the needs of the new working life and the solution is called the Activity Based Office – ABO.

The ABO is user driven, and the layout is based on user needs, not on the organisational chart. When employees are travelling extensively, working from subsidiaries, hotels or from home, workstations need to be flexible.

The same rules apply for people that actually do work in the office. A lot of time nowadays is spent in meetings, in conference rooms or in other situations that don’t actually involve an office desk. Therefore, the ABO includes very few 'owned' working tables.

When giving up their own table, people get multiple options in return. By smart planning, the office space can be used in a creative way to fulfil the user’s need in a flexible manner. This includes a combination of open space working areas with working desks, 'quiet rooms' for tasks with high demands on concentration, as well as rooms for meetings, conference and socialising. At Martela we work the Activity Based Office in three different zones; public, semi public and private. Actually, we’ve walked the talk by planning our own head quarters in Helsinki this way – and people love it!”

Who benefits from the ABO?

”It is really a user driven phenomenon that inspires to a more creative working environment, that supports different tasks. But one shouldn’t underestimate the benefits for the companies. The ABO offers space efficient planning, giving the opportunity to save a lot of money on valuable office space. Used in the right way, the ABO also strengthens the company brand and helps to attract new co-workers.”

How do designers meet this challenge?

”At Martela, we have chosen to work with a holistic perspective, including more than just office furniture. We are offering 'Inspiring Spaces'. It is vital to think about the complete space experience; the lighting, sounds, physical ergonomics and the inspirational factors of the space. In the future we can expect hybrids of different furniture and functions. Office desks that are integrated with computer networks and lighting for one example. Just think about the smart phone; it is the perfect hybrid of a telephone, a camera and a computer. For a designer it is very inspiring to imagine the new possibilities this type of new phenomena brings. Personally, I also find it inspiring that the user needs play such an important role.”

"The core of creativity is the ability to "think out of the box". To challenge traditional models and thinking. It’s about not taking anything for granted... it can sometimes to be a bit annoying when everything is challenged. The outcome of creativity is often new thinking, ideas and new design language."

Creativity according to Petteri Kolinen