As much as I’m enjoying the holiday break from work, and as loathe as I am to spend any time at all thinking about returning to the office, I have to wonder if part of that apprehension is about the office itself, rather than the job. My current office situation is the best I’ve ever had, in that I actually have one that I don’t have to share. It’s decorated with all kinds of geeky robot and space-themed stuff, and it’s a small sanctuary from the University’s hallways stuffed with students. Still, even in that space, I get restless fast. It’s tiny, and there are a couple chairs, but after a few hours of trying to work in there I need to make a break for the outside, even if it’s raining or freezing out. I feel my thoughts stagnating as I sit in one confined spot for too long, which impacts my work, and I know I’m not alone in this. But there’s good news — a Dutch design firm and researchers from the Netherlands’ University of Groningen are collaborating on ways to fundamentally change office work spaces for the better.
People who struggle to be comfortable and/or productive at work have a few to-go strategies. Some people sit on exercise balls instead of desk chairs to help with posture and sore backs. Others use stand-up desks that allow users to get up from their asses and work, which gets the blood flowing, allows people to stretch and bend stiff joints, and can enhance productivity. But those solutions are old, according to designers at RAAAF (Rietveld Architecture-Art-Affordances) who are currently working on an office space design project called “The End of Sitting.” Part of the problem with stand-up desks and other existing models is that, while they provide an alternative to sitting, a user is locked into that alternative — the options are still very finite. The RAAAF spaces provide many more options, such as leaning, reclining, or squatting.
The spaces created by the group look more like rock formations, high-tech playgrounds, or Minbari furniture than offices. Tables and chairs are essentially out of the picture. RAAAF, in collaboration with Dutch artist Barbara Visser, aimed to “create not just furniture, but new ways of working actively on the scale of the whole working environment.” The structure of the room lends itself to moving around and changing position, and ultimately ends up putting “more pressure on your legs during the day,” activating muscles, alleviating soreness, and generally challenging the notion that we have to spend most of our lives sitting.
Even other futuristic visions of movable offices have humans on their rears as they work. The designers reiterate the medical warnings against spending so much time sitting down, and point out that having to sit down is often a punishment for little kids. It’s human nature to want to stand and move around.
Right now, the futuristic office is an art installation on display at a Dutch gallery, but the designers have already gotten inquiries from offices about how to obtain some of the pieces. While none of these would fit into my little office, I could imagine them in common rooms and meeting spaces and would be curious to see how they affect productivity. The company is interested in that question too, and is currently conducting a study on the effects of using their high-tech set-up. The results will be released next spring.