The Era of Post Cubicle offices

The evolution of office design to understand new perceptions of work

In the 20s and 30s efficiency was the key word. Now creativity and fun seem to be the tools to achieve a better work, while the workplace becomes a battlefield between happiness and productivity. In ‘‘Life in the Crystal Palace " Alan Harrington describes the life of a wealthy suburban corporation in the mid-1950s.

"At noon, enjoy movies in an auditorium the size of a small theater, visit the library, watch the World Series on color TV or play darts and table tennis in the game room"

Thirty years later the organization man of the glass and steel era surrenders to the sudden efflorescence of the tech industry, transitioning from from the desert of cubicles to the milk-and-honey offices of today. In the 90s many of the dot-commers recreated in their own companies the effortless drift between work and play that characterized their college lives. The cubicle walls came down, and in the wide, open warehouse and loft spaces they occupied, exceptionally long workdays would be punctuated by frenzied Mario Kart races or fierce Ping-Pong battles. Creating a playful office became one of the standard ways of attracting skilled employees in a competitive environment.

So, what´s next?

The Generation Y’’ is searching for ‘‘greater meaning’’, asking office design to provide poetry, form and atmosphere. The design firm Teknion uses the word ‘‘ethonomics’’ to describe the principles that ought to apply to the contemporary office. The idea is that design — by softly coercing people into walking more and being more active, incorporating nature through bountiful plants and better lighting and creating environments that evoke many different textures and moods — can help foster the new ‘‘ethical" workplace. With the same aim, a new, disruptive thinking insists on the fact that a workplace ought to care not just for our average needs (supplies, potable coffee, a microwave) but for our deepest psychological ones. And while Tony Hsieh, C.E.O. of Zappos (one of the most popular example of new organizational management and innovative working environment) envisions chief happiness officers to ensure enthusiasm at the office, a study from The Journal of Environmental Psychology in 2013 indicated that 50 percent of workers in open-plan spaces suffer from a lack of sound privacy, and 30 percent complain about a lack of visual privacy.

We do often work at home. But we also work at work, before going home to work more. Commuting and telecommuting exist in an unholy alliance. The office has persisted, becoming even bigger, weirder, stranger: a symbol of its outsize presence in our lives.

If you liked this extract from New York Times issue on Re-thinking the office, you may want to read the full article here. Want to see what we are talking about? Have a look at this slideshow on innovative offices around the world. And if you eager to visit one of them, knock at Hi ! Res Berlin branch.