More than a century after the birth of the modern office—massive rooms full of seas of desks, designed to try to squeeze as much work as possible out of employees using theories from early efficiency experts—companies are finally trying to figure out how to create workplaces that don't make people miserable.
One trend to go in 2015: open offices. While not every company is willing to spring for a full retrofit, many are looking for ways to new spaces in the middle of an open plan where people can be less distracted and productive.
Steelcase (ironically, the company that invented the "modern efficiency desk" in 1915—a flat table that gave employees no place to hide) designed new cocoons that wrap around workers to help them focus. A startup designed a "do not disturb" light that automatically turns on when you're too busy to talk to coworkers.
New wearables for the office anonymously tracked where workers went and who they talked to, in an attempt to better understand what really makes people collaborate, and how future workspaces might be redesigned to help support that.
Companies also experimented with different ways of working—and making sure employees don't work too much. In Sweden, some companies tested out a focused six-hour workday, so employees could spend more time at home. In the U.S., companies tried new ways to force employees to actually take vacations.
Still, the space between life and work kept blurring. Designers created pods that let entrepreneurs sleep at work, so they never have to leave. A Scandinavian project let freelancers set up coworking spaces inside their own apartments. And for those who miss work on vacation, a "jobbatical" site hooked them up with short-term gigs on the other side of the world.
1. Why Sweden Is Shifting To A 6-Hour Workday
Be more focused, have fewer meetings—and then go home early. It sounds like a dream, but it can work.
2. Hoffice Turns Your Apartment Into A Free—And Incredibly Productive—Coworking Space
Tired of not seeing another face all day when you work at home? Then invite some company.
3. Can't Focus In Your Open Office? Wrap Yourself In This New Cocoon To Tune Out Distraction
No one can sneak up behind you now.
4. 5 Ways To Make An Office A Nice Place To Work, Not A Soul-Sucking Pit Of Despair
You probably don't go to work every day in a place that improves your well-being—but you could.
5. These Sleeping Pods Are Designed To Let You Live At Work—Which Is Just What You Want, Right?
One way to address work/life balance is to just eliminate it entirely.
6. Is The Open-Office Trend Reversing Itself?
Employers spent years knocking down their walls. Now they are slowly building them back up.
7. Need A Break From Home, But Want To Keep Working? Take A Jobbatical
A site that matches employers and wandering gig-seekers wants to foster a new way to travel. Like everything else, it helps if you can code.
8. Would Sitting In A Fun Swing Make Your Stupid Meetings Less Boring?
Your meetings will always be dumb. But at least you'll be having fun.
9. This Desk Hides A Personal Nap Room
Everyone should be napping at work. And why not do it in style?
10. This Clever Seat Belt For Your Desk Chair Will Force You To Sit Up Straight In The Office
The inventive strap uses the body's own tension to keep your spine in a healthy position.
11. Vacation Policies You'll Envy From Companies You Don't Work For
You have two weeks of vacation you never take. Here's how innovative companies make sure their employees don't burn out.
12. Hate Your Open Office? This Simple Do-Not-Disturb Light May Help You Focus
It analyzes your productivity and changes color when you're actually working versus browsing Facebook. This might backfire.
13. HR Meets Data: How Your Boss Will Monitor You To Create The Quantified Workplace
New employee trackers are letting companies tweak office layouts, policies, and org charts to get the most out of their workers. But at what cost?