Vitra: The Future Office

Last night, Vitra presented its vision of the future office to the IIDA in the Merchandise Mart. The presenter argued that America is becoming more of a culture of thinking than one of doing. As a result, employees are more intelligent and come in to work to collaborate and perform functions that they couldn’t do alone at home. In this model, the concept of hierarchy in cubicle sizes and office allocations are gone. They are replaced by open plans with flexible space grouped by function. Those who need to collaborate will sit close to each other. The more mobile employees such as IT will sit closer to entrances and those requiring greater fixed space such as accounting will sit farther from entrances.

The office place is a market for knowledge. It has to have a narrative, a brand and an activity.

Only 1-2% of a company’s annual spend is on office furniture and 80% is on employee salaries. Yet that 1-2% spend on office furniture can profoundly affect the productivity of the 80% spend. Suppose you start your day sending an email to someone sitting 4 rows away because you can’t see them. Towards the end of the day you see that he hasn’t responded so you walk all the way to the end of your row, over 3 rows and into the middle of that row to see that the person has left for the day. That isn’t productive. The open plan allows you to see who you need to collaborate with. There is natural mentoring that can happen here when you seat someone more senior with someone less experienced. It’s a form of natural mentoring that might not occur with physical barriers that reinforce hierarchy.

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