Yes, that is a pirate ship.  And yes, those are people working on it – suited and booted, no less.  This is no theme park or children’s playground: the above image is actually taken from the outlandish offices of Inventionland, centre of innovation, based in Pennsylvania.  The company also included areas such as a treehouse, a gingerbread cottage and a giant fairy-tale boot to work in.  This is perhaps the apex of a trend that has swept the offices of the twenty-first century: the idea that the future office should be a place of fun, as well as work.

The music room in LinkedIn’s California offices, and the infamous slide in Google’s Zurich premises, are other examples of how leisure has captured the hearts of business owners.  Many are caught up in the belief that bringing the best out of employees – improving morale and enhancing their emotional connection to the company – is to present them with amusing office playthings.  But how much stock can we place in such perks?  And what should the future office space look like?

The Role of Fun

Ultimately, surroundings such as pirate ships do not themselves add very much to a business – in terms of tangible or monetary value.  However, philosophically speaking, they are effectively a manifestation of the goodwill and high spirits that any employer would love to flood a future office environment with.  Bright, happy employees are more likely to be effective employees.  Moreover, one could argue that items like slides are also a focal point for interaction between multiple members of staff.  They represent a space away from the desk, and away from individual work.  That interaction can be far clearer and more relaxed than a formal discussion at the desk – which permits for fresher ideas and new outlooks.  Above all, it allows employees a momentary breather, which everyone needs from time to time.

Getting Down To Business

Many prestigious chief executives, such as Marissa Mayer at Yahoo!, consider that some of the best business decisions stem from inter-departmental social conversations – in short, water cooler chat.  Now, making the office look beautiful or fun can improve morale – particularly if it has some scientific basis, such as allowing more natural light or fresh air into the room.  However, the key to a collaborative, dynamic future office environment is mobility. Those aforementioned conversations cannot take place if working ties employees to their desks, or to certain fixed devices.  The modern employee appreciates flexibility, and a level of trust from their employer, and the future office should reflect that.  You can install a slide if you want, but the employee ultimately just wants more freedom, rather than gimmicks.

Supporting Your Staff

The phenomenon of hot-desking is an established one, and not necessarily adopted on a regular basis.  Many employees still like the comfort of having their own desk in the office. However, it is a case of having the option to move around if needed.  That means having an open-plan workplace, where staff may move around for comfort and communication if they require; and having data stored remotely in the cloud, so that it can be accessed in any location, on any device that employees personally own.

One of the things that the future office would do well is a strategy of Bring-Your-Own-Device.  Individuals are usually far ahead of businesses in picking up new tech trends; let employees exploit their own idiosyncrasies when it comes to devices.  Not only does this allow employees to get on with their work as efficiently as possible, but it also makes a statement about employee trust and consequently lifts morale.  The worker feels empowered to act as he/she sees fit, using their methods they are personally used to, with the blessing of their superiors.

It is all very well to invest a great deal of money in constructing Disneyworld-esque office spaces, but is it any more than a gimmick? Eventually, the novelty of visual bombast wears off.  When we think about the future office space, the changes we make should have a meaning, a functional value behind them that can change the way workers work for the better.  Furthermore, the future-proof office space is one that expects the unexpected; a space that is malleable, able to adapt to the latest working or technological trends.  If a pirate ship works for you, then that’s fine. But the most important issue is to establish the physical and technical foundations that afford staff a level of mobility, flexibility and trust.  These are the things are what truly allow the modern employee to enjoy their work.  That same flexibility is also part of what makes the traditional workplace less central to a business’ activity.  The advances in cloud computing and affiliated technology, such as virtual reality, are breaking down the traditional barriers to working, in terms of location and time.  There is a strong possibility that, in twenty or thirty years’ time, the future office will not be a place we travel to every day.  It will be something that, wherever we are, we bring to us.