Most of us hate open offices because of the inherent distractions, but it isn't necessarily that much easier to focus in a space of your own, thanks to email and kitten videos. So what would the ideal workspace look like?
One suggestion, from two Dublin-based design students, is a large room with flexible spaces for every task: Instead of sitting at the same desk all day long, you could move from place to place as needed.
Walk up to a workstation, and it would instantly recognize who you are and pull up your work on a large touch screen, unlocking the same way some cars can use the key in your pocket to unlock a door. If the person next to you was in the middle of a loud conversation, because your work so easily follows you around, you could just get up and walk to the other side of the office to better concentrate.
"The idea is that you could walk up and your body of work would appear at each workstation," explains recent National College of Art and Design graduate Stephen Quinn, who worked on the design with fellow student Pat D'Arcy. "You could pick a place that's quieter than another place in the workplace and begin working. The office caters for different working needs throughout the working day."
The computers themselves would also help aid focus; the designers, who were considering what work might be like 15 years from now, say that technology will likely be able to handle tasks like data entry or finding files, so employees can spend their time thinking about more interesting work.
"Because the design is about the workplace of 2030, we think technology will be at a point where it can take a lot of the menial input and output away from a person during the day, so they can be freed up to use their mind more constructively, more creatively and not be bogged down with technical friction that goes on," Quinn says.
If people need to concentrate even more, the design also includes individual spaces away from any technology, so it would be possible to work on a specific problem or plan the next day without interruptions from email or instant messaging.
A walkway wrapping around the perimeter of the entire office is designed for walking meetings, with the same basic premise—you'll be better able to focus on a conversation with your coworker if neither of you has a computer or phone nearby.
"It's a pretty simple idea, but it works," Quinn says. "If you're simply walking and talking about one specific issue at a time, you can really get into detail and have someone's undivided attention. And the reality that motion can help a person's thinking process was another factor in including this space."
When people need to collaborate, the touch screen inside the basic workstation easily pivots from a horizontal desk to the wall, where it can be used like a whiteboard. The office also has a soundproof meeting room. And because the designers didn't want to eliminate the serendipity of casual conversations as people walk by, the workstations each face outward. Talking is encouraged—it's just easy to get away if you need to.
"I think all of these little features combined just nurture a person's ability to work at their best potential, and free themselves from the constant barrage of distraction," Quinn says. "As we talked to people in Dublin, distraction came up as the key current problem and one of the most stressful problems in the workplace. Redesigning the office is an area that has incredible value—the value of what people can produce under the right conditions."
The design was one of the finalists in this year's RSA Student Design Awards.