The Office of the Future: The Evolution of Workspaces


From the 1960s to 2050, a journey through time exploring the evolution of offices: from the first open spaces to virtual reality.

the office of the future

“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need… roads” but good imagination and some basic notions. The journey begins here: the office of the future awaits you. A reinvented space that goes far beyond the traditional, but rather resembles the bridge of the Enterprise. Buckle up, nerds and geeks, and get ready to meet your personal R2-D2.

Offices from yesterday to today

Before taking a leap forward, let’s take a step back to better understand the destination. We’re in the 1960s, German designers Eberhard and Wolfgang Schnelle present what will be called “landscape offices” (Bürolandschaft), where open spaces, lounge areas, and informal rooms aim to promote communication and collaboration.

At first glance, a brilliant and revolutionary idea, but one that soon begins to falter. Subsequent research reveals that “open space” offices can be a source of increased stress and lower satisfaction: while they promote interaction among colleagues, they compromise concentration.

The structure of the Schnelle brothers soon loses ground, leaving it, between the 1970s and the 1990s, to a very different layout. These are years of strong hierarchization, with employees sharing spaces and executives occupying large, independent offices. In this model, about 75% of the interiors are dedicated to desk positions, while the remaining 25% includes meeting rooms and other shared areas such as break zones, bars, and relaxation areas. It is in these years, precisely around the 1980s, that the “cubicles” so represented by the cinematography of the time are born.

The 1990s are those of the World Wide Web, the first cell phones, and laptops: fertile ground for smart working. While companies begin to see the benefits of remote work – gradually leading to the delocalization of offices – interest in open spaces is revived, despite pre-existing concerns about privacy in such work environments.

On the threshold of the new millennium

Funky, colorful offices with a vague hipster tendency are the result of transatlantic influence, where giants like Facebook and Google strongly support the reintroduction of the open space model.

Much less offices, and much more coworking, the environments are representative of the new corporate culture. Furniture is no longer an accessory: decorative elements, green plants, adjustable desks, ergonomic seating, and touches of color on the walls are the trends. Every inch of floor space is precious, and transition areas such as corridors and entrances are eliminated to create a new form of office that is no longer a background but an integral part of team dynamics.

Flexibility becomes the watchword, with the idea that choosing where and how to work, inside and outside the company walls, can promote productivity and creativity, significantly reducing stress levels.

During and after the pandemic

COVID-19 has radically transformed the concept of the office, introducing profound changes both in the way of working and in the configuration of workspaces. Remote work, born in the 1970s and made more relevant with the advent of the Internet and mobile devices in the 2000s, becomes an increasingly widespread practice. Zoom and Microsoft Teams are the new virtual offices. Operating companies have reduced occupancy density, implementing safety measures such as physical distancing and sanitization stations.

An evolution already underway and further accelerated in the post-pandemic years is the increase in shared spaces at the expense of private ones. Individual workstations have decreased to 30%, while shared ones have increased to 70%, with greater emphasis on safety and privacy. These are the years of “hybrid work” for us. A trend that has become the norm and therefore requires regulation. Starting from April 1, 2024, Law 81 in Italy introduced stricter rules for smart working, applicable to all employees, both public and private. Smart working is no longer an automatic right but requires an agreement between the worker and the employer.

What will happen? We will find out. One thing is certain: there needs to be a substantial reason to bring back to the office those who have not been there for years.

Well-being at work: the space

Environmental Psychology teaches us a lot in over 50 years of research: the environments in which we find ourselves truly influence emotions and behaviors. If well-being at work is a topic increasingly discussed today, it will be even more so in the office of the future.

Structural characteristics, such as the layout of spaces, architecture, and even air quality, not only influence productivity but also the health and degree of satisfaction of workers. Environmental stress can make concentration difficult, impair memory, and even teamwork.

Organization is needed in the office of the future

According to the International Workplace Studies Program at Cornell University, it is important that the work environment not only reflects group identity and promotes communication and goal achievement but also is adaptable to change.

Organizing spaces requires careful analysis of objectives, type of work, and number of workers involved. Nevertheless, three fundamental factors should always be considered: privacy, space customization, and contact with nature.

Office of the future

Ready for takeoff?

What will future work be like? Like a hotel

2024: Allen Blue, Vice President of Product Management and Co-Founder of LinkedIn, argues that offices of the future will evolve towards a model more and more similar to hotels, offering options such as hot-desking and hoteling.

2054: the Vice President was right. No more fixed workstations, but flexible and welcoming environments, designed to foster collaboration and equipped with technologies to facilitate meetings and brainstorming sessions. Hybrid work still exists but more integrated into office life.

Hub and Spoke

2024: balancing travel time between home and work and managing local costs is a constant concern for many, but there are two sides to the coin: empty offices are a losing investment.

2054: goodbye large office in the heart of the city, welcome “hub and spoke” model.

An organizational approach that envisages a central office or “hub,” which serves as the main reference point, and various peripheral offices. It is a regional network aimed at facilitating collaboration and a sense of belonging thanks to the distribution of offices in urban and suburban areas. This arrangement offers additional advantages: parking in peripheral areas tends to be free, and office operating costs are significantly lower than expensive city center locations, where space is a rare commodity.

Office of the future: meeting rooms as immersive experiences

2024: during the pandemic, technology has made great strides, laying the groundwork for revolutionizing the future of buildings. Workspaces with mixed reality begin to combine the digital and physical worlds. Andrew Bosworth of Meta Reality Labs states that Meta is developing a platform that will allow you to “move from the real world to the virtual world” thanks to augmented and virtual reality.

2054: If you haven’t watched the Black Mirror episode “Striking Vipers” yet, now is the time to do so.

Meeting rooms evolve into cutting-edge collaboration hubs, seamlessly merging remote and physically present staff. What you see are realistic 3D avatars mimicking body language, and workstations optimized with virtual screens to enhance productivity.

Thanks to high-resolution displays, you have a 360-degree panoramic view of team members and content, creating the effect of being all gathered around the same table. Sophisticated audio systems make communication fluid, while augmented reality enriches the physical environment with digital information. Finally, virtual reality opens the doors to immersive digital conferences, involving participants from every corner of the globe.

Old and new colleagues

2024: the continuous evolution of AI and machine learning lays the foundations for the development of increasingly sophisticated robots, capable of learning, adapting, and interacting naturally with humans.

2054: Get ready to greet your new colleagues. These AI systems are designed to collaborate with you, improving both the efficiency and quality of the work done. Robots take care of repetitive and precision tasks, freeing up employees to focus on activities that require creativity and emotional intelligence. Additionally, they can operate in dangerous environments, ensuring the safety of their flesh-and-blood colleagues.

How is work changing? People at the center

2024: although smart working has allowed people to devote more time to hobbies and physical activity, the lack of clear boundaries between work and private life has led some to the risk of burnout.

2054: Attention to the person is the key to success. Childcare facilities, pet-friendly policies, and care centers are the new rule. There are spaces suitable for meditation, yoga, and physical exercise. Relaxation areas with comfortable seating and recreational activities promote breaks and informal interactions, stimulating new ideas and collaborations.

Office of the future: what we have learned

We have made an extraordinary journey through history, from the sterile cells of cubicle offices to the sumptuous rooms of executives, surrounded by the smell of leather from their imposing chairs. We have explored the offices we frequent every day, then catapulted into environments that seem straight out of an episode of Futurama. After analyzing current trends and projecting a gaze towards the future, we have come to a conclusion: the premises for radical change are all there! It is time to reconsider the traditional office and adapt it to the needs of the present. This is a challenge that requires the collaboration of HR and managers, called to find the right balance between the needs of employees and the well-being of the company.