Finally, the commercial market is taking note of a quiet revolution that has been taking place in the world of higher education. Universities have had to work harder to attract students with their associated £9000 fees, accommodate greater numbers of students and be responsive to changing teaching practices. Therefore, the focus has shifted away from the formal learning environment of the classroom to more informal group and social learning. Massive investment has gone into improving the student experience. Gone are solid walls and desks, and in their place are more fluid and fun arrangements of high back sofas, touch down benches, pods with integrated technologies or dog-bowls full of beanbags.
As graduates move into the real world they are attracted to businesses who offer similar informal working environments. They expect a choice of spaces to work in. Now with new technologies allowing the workforce opportunities to work on a laptop or tablet, at home, on the train or in a coffee shop, the office is seen more as a place for social interaction; meeting clients and colleagues and exchanging ideas. The formal often intimidating reception is now replaced with a multifunctional space that is closer in feel to a Shoreditch hotel lobby or concept store. Less space is allocated to desking and formal meeting rooms and more to informal meeting pods, collaboration and café spaces. The office user is given more choice and can be more agile in their working practices depending on their tasks. Staff are encouraged to move around the spaces over the period of a day, a week or the length of a particular project.
These less cellular spaces also make life easier for facilities staff, as these environments are far more adaptable and sustainable and can be more responsive to changing markets.
Office space has now become more ‘social’ and more focused around the activities needed by a particular company, in the same way that new learning techniques has determined the way universities look.