The future of the office desk: sitting, standing or the kitchen table?

By Robert Half on 27 October 2015

The humble desk, oh how you’ve changed. Or you’re about to. There has been a huge shift in workplace design and best practice in the past 10 years, and it seems the future is set to challenge perceptions of the traditional desk, chair, computer and mobile three-drawer system even more. 

The evolution of our work spaces in the past has been grounded in the belief that successful work is defined by the time spent at a desk. Turning our attention from this definition to the quality of work produced, together with the choices technology has opened up for us, has significantly pushed our work environments forward. 

Choice of our environment within which we produce our work has been pivotal in the evolution of our workplace. We’ve gone from an allocated work station and access to a meeting room to a range of spaces we use throughout the day as our needs and circumstances change. A desk; a stand-up space for quick discussions or collaborations; a casual, relaxed area for brainstorming; big noisy, social spaces for connecting; and quiet, breakout areas for focus work. 

SEEK has a dynamic and collaborative stand-up meeting culture – regular, quick ‘stand-ups’ around a project wall bring people together to collaborate, update and work through projects and problems.  People are getting things done faster with richer collaboration, which is leading to better outcomes for our customers. 

This sentiment is echoed by workplace design expert James Calder of Calder Consultants who notes that technological advances have driven a significant flexibility in the desk environment and the way we work. Today, with light laptops, integration of our mobile devices, wi-fi, video conferencing and the Cloud there is a reduced need for power cables, which in turn means there is less need for an owned workspace – your desk and my desk are becoming obsolete as organisations aim for a more fluid and dynamic workforce. 

SEEK uses a mix of technologies to support its people with more choice over when and where they work, meaning a more inclusive environment for our diverse workforce. People with everyday challenges of carer responsibilities, illness, people living with disabilities or remote locations are better supported to thrive in their working lives with this enabled flexibility.  

As organisations adjust, it’s good to see that many are getting better at getting the basics right.  Comfort is a baseline expectation of employees, with good ergonomics, lighting, sound, air quality, access to amenities and the ability to include movement in their day being essential to an employee’s satisfaction with the workplace.

Below are four trends impacting the workplace of today:

  1. Technologically advanced – technology will become even more accessible, more affordable and seamlessly supportive of our working and personal lives (and organisations attitudes will match this correlation).
  2. Global workforce – teams will not necessarily co-locate but instead be connected ‘face-to-face’ by technology. 
  3. Flexibility – employees will have more choice over where, when and how they work, giving people the flexibility to better balance their work with their life needs. We will no longer be constrained by the 9–5 paradigm.  
  4. Hackable – the ability to easily and cheaply reconfigure our workspaces to suit our needs and have access to the tools and technologies we need, when we need them. 

James Calder also notes the move towards a greater understanding of health and wellness as a key trend that is emerging. Spaces will be reconfigurable in real time by users themselves, determined by their needs. This will also be partnered with an attitude that an office is less a facility and more an actual thinking and creating space. Office environments need to stimulate creativity, and we must consider the impact of the environment on output.

Most excitingly, these changes are being implemented now. As organisations see the gains in employee engagement, happiness, staff retention, loyalty and optimal skill use, these changes will continue to be rapidly embraced. We just need technology to become a bit more affordable and we are set for an extreme office makeover.

Brigid Carey is Head of Workplace Strategy at SEEK.   With over a decade of senior leadership experience in workplace and leasing strategy, Brigid is a futurist groupie who spends many contented hours obsessing about what the road to the future of work might look like in our lifetimes.  Brigid translates futuristic thinking into practical strategies to create spaces at SEEK that facilitate a high performance culture.

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