Open and comfortable interior spaces are resources we often take for granted. As urban populations continue to increase, and because those populations want to work near where they live, the demand for appropriate office space is growing. Land, though, is a finite resource and in the very near future, the answer to our need for more office space may not be more space but more flexible use of space.
Multipurpose and Multifunctional Everything
Think of your cellphone as a model for the multipurpose philosophy in practice. There was a time when a telephone was used only for making and receiving voice calls. Now, its apps help you manage your time, your finances, your social connections and your professional expectations. We can now apply that philosophy of the flexible tool to everything: office furniture, walls and even space itself.
The future of multipurpose furniture can easily be found in its past. Leaves that were added to dining room tables to lengthen them that became drop leaves with the advent of enclosed hinges, hideaway beds in couches and Murphy beds hoisted up into a closet are all good examples. Add modern and inexpensive micro motors and sensors to the mix for office furniture with flexibility: a desk expands into a conference table, unfolding bench-style seating along each side. Adjustable height workstations are just one sign of what’s already possible.
Spaces are no longer single-purpose facilities, but different things to different people at different times of the day. At one extreme is Spacious, a company that rents dinner restaurants during the work day and turns them into co-working spaces used by freelancers, contractors and even workers in nearby offices who need extra space for travelling workers, co-op students and interns.
As open, flexible space becomes more available, privacy and quiet come at a premium. Acoustic solutions that are easy to change or move are already available to meet those needs. ezoBord, is one environmentally-friendly solution that adds privacy and sound absorption to open-plan office spaces. Its products contain a minimum of 40% recycled materials and are 100% recyclable.
As the co-working trend indicates, it is less likely that any of us will have a work space to call our own all the time. Hot-desking, a bank of desks assigned or booked each day according to the tasks planned for that day, is the practice at many companies whose workforce changes on a daily basis. Many can work from home, or from client locations, several days of the week and require space at the company for only a few hours a few times a week.
Current innovations are already showing us how hot desks can become more comfortable, and more personal for the person using them at any given time. Imagine a “smart chair” or “smart workstation” that can store the ergonomic settings and needs of a large group of users. When approaching the station, the assigned user enters the workstation ID into an app and it automatically configures to their height, weight and reach needs. The same smart furniture will tell us when we need to take a break, move around and change position. The Darma Cushion already exists to monitor sitting activity and inactivity to remind its users when to get up and take a break.
With the need for flexible, multipurpose and multifunctional spaces, furniture and wall coverings are becoming tools. Like the thinking that drives cell phone development, our office tools are joining the smart set.