Traditionally, the office was a formal space in which employees congregated daily, wearing suits and serious expressions. However, in the last few years the workplace has changed. It probably began with dress down Fridays, which quickly spread to smart casual workwear and now, some people work from home in their pyjamas. The ‘co-working’ office has grown in popularity as many people no longer need a set office to work from. None of this is wrong of course, but it is interesting to see the way that ‘the rules’ of work have changed over the last 10 years.
Employees expect more from their employers now; they want somewhere that makes their wellbeing a priority and workspaces that enhance their daily experience. The question is: As the workplace has become more casual, has there been a negative effect on our attitudes to work?
The stiff corporate spaces of the 80s and 90s have moved quickly into the past as technology allows people to work from anywhere, you can grab your laptop and pitch up anywhere. Even the restrictions of WiFi are a thing of the past, as you can simply connect to your phone’s hotspot.
So, what happened to make the workplace more casual? It was actually surprising for me to learn that working from home is not a new phenomenon, it has been happening since the working day began. But modelling the workplace to the needs of the employee is a newer idea. It only began in the mid-20th century when the phrase ‘form follows function’ came into play. Since then, offices have been designed to promote productivity between co-workers and have been constantly evolving and changing. If that is the case, then it seems plausible that the workplace could cease to exist as we currently know it, if less and less people require an office.
Open plan offices, hot desking and working from home have become essential to working life. If these things aren’t offered, a company can be seen as outdated. Simply put, people have become more aware of how a workspace and the rules imposed there can affect their wellbeing. People understand how spaces can either be detrimental, or beneficial to their mental health and ability to work. This is why working from home, or and a co-working space, has increased in recent years. If their job and the technology around allows them to work from anywhere, why wouldn’t they choose somewhere that they enjoy being, be that a café, their home or a co-working environment? If they can get the same, if not more, amount of work completed, it actually becomes a better choice.
By choosing a co-working space, people are eliminating the distractions of the office. This actually means that they have a more disciplined approach to their work. Everything gets done, and far quicker than it would if you were making tea rounds, or popping to your friend’s desk for a chat about the latest company update.
But is this actually a bad thing? Human beings are social creatures and we require human contact and interaction to survive. If everyone leaves the work place and sits alone at home or in a co-working space, will it have a negative effect on our mental wellbeing?
The only way that we will know is by trying. Co-working spaces could lead to more collaboration between companies that would never speak to each other usually. It encourages people to take charge of their working day and have more agency over their hours. The workplace has changed so much that there is no doubt that if agile working isn’t right, it will change again. Let’s put flexible working to the test and see if we have finally found the right way to work.