Offices that are just like home

If it's not exactly like being at home, workplaces of the future are likely to be less corporate and taking inspiration from home design.

“Every room in the house is designed around a specific function - cooking, eating, relaxing, sleeping - why should the workplace be any different?” asks Cameron Bruhn, the editorial director of Architecture Media. The publishing company recently convened Workplace/Worklife, a seminar held in Sydney for leading local and international designers.

Wireless technology is enabling the one-employee-one-desk model to be usurped by Activity Based Work (ABW), where employees “hot-desk” or move from desk to desk according to their current activity.

But musical chairs doesn't mean designers will simply reconfigure workplaces into a new, albeit different, one-size-fits- all pattern. Rather, the home-like offices of the future will be designed to match the personality of individual businesses.

While funky, graffitied walls and garage sale-look furniture is perfect for Facebook's new Melbourne HQ, it wouldn't cut it for a law firm.

As the personalised desk with the ubiquitous framed family photo becomes extinct, it will be replaced by a personalisation of the entire work environment: a residential-style mix of enticing communal spaces and breakout zones alongside intimate and cocooning nooks that may even include sleeping pods.

MAKE Architecture director Melissa Bright says that because work and home life are bleeding into one another, “we need to view our time at work differently than we have in the past.

“Whereas homes today often have to accommodate small home offices, so too our offices will need to accommodate more work flexibility and relaxation spaces,” she says.

At advertising agency JWT's Melbourne offices, renovated by MAKE, employees can interact over a game of pool or table tennis.


Steve Coster, principal of multi-disciplinary practice at HASSELL, concurs. ”Now that people have more freedom in where they do their work, if you want to bring them together into an office situation, it will need to be a welcoming, attractive and comfortable place. One way to achieve this is to make the office appear more homely and domestic,” he says.

While acknowledging this burgeoning trend, Woods Bagot senior associate Sue Fenton - the architectural firm behind national construction company Mirvac's Melbourne HQ – goes one step further.

“As more people work from home, designers will need to make the workplace even nicer than home with a fantastic menu of spaces in which employees can envelop themselves,” she says.

“Mirvac produce residential work, so it made sense to create a residentially- inspired design for their workplace using products classically found in the home such as linen curtains that dapple the light.”

A rug in the front reception area – renamed the 'waiting parlour' - has a pattern that is a pixelated version of a traditional Persian rug; the tearoom resembles a modern country kitchen, and meeting rooms feature timber tables with upholstered dining chairs.

Futurespace design director Gavin Harris riffs on the theme that integrating residential elements throughout a workplace positively impacts staff wellbeing.

“In our recent project for the Wotif Group, we created social hubs and quiet areas. Lighting is mood- based which offers ambience and there's abundant natural light filtering through stained glass windows. Quiet nooks and curtained-off meeting areas are complemented by a domestic palette of materials and colours, and the kitchen is equipped for staff celebrations.”

Even within large, campus-style workplaces, break-out spaces don't need to be impersonal.

In Melbourne's ANZ Centre, HASSELL created a large proportion of informal/social and collaborative spaces on each floor. The result? Staff naturally gravitate to the area that best suits them.

According to Bruhn, Australia is acknowledged as a world leader in the area of workplace design across all sectors.

FDC Construction & Fitouts managing director Ben Cottle recently completed commercial real estate company CBRE's Sydney's CBD office in conjunction with WMK Architecture, billing it as “a futuristic lifestyle workplace”.

CBRE embraces Activity Based Work principles with modern, open and accessible spaces, upholstered lounge areas, snug-style conferencing pods, wallpapered library nooks and a kitchen allowing employees to work from wherever they feel most comfortable.

“Employee feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” Cottle says. “While the downside of rising rental costs means that offices are becoming more compact, the upside is that businesses are embracing progressive office arrangements.”

This trend is likely to gain further traction as more progressive schools deliver education in a customised way, replacing traditional classrooms with more flexible learning environments. MLC Sydney is one leading the charge with its new Enlightenment Centre for senior students.

“Through collaborative workshops, the girls helped design the spaces that they want to inhabit, places where they feel comfortable and can work productively,” says Bill Dowzer, principal of BVN Donovan Hill, the Centre's architects.

To make the girls feel right at home, there's a café where they can eat anytime, a large dining table, a shoes-off retreat and a beanbag-filled collaborative area where ideas can be painted on walls and the floor. MLC Head Denice Scala's challenging credo? “If you are bored, you can walk.”

And that's undoubtedly what these employees of the future well may do if their workplace doesn't push the envelope.