The office is changing, with many established practices going the way of the dodo. The office of the future has been coming for a very long time, and in the Netherlands you can see it at The Edge, a very green office building with consulting firm Deloitte as the prime tenant. Like everything these days, there is an app for it, that knows when you arrive and what your schedule is. Then the fun starts; According to Bloomberg,

Then the app finds you a desk. Because at the Edge, you don’t have one. No one does. Workspaces are based on your schedule: sitting desk, standing desk, work booth, meeting room, balcony seat, or “concentration room.” Wherever you go, the app knows your preferences for light and temperature, and it tweaks the environment accordingly.

There are, in fact, only 1,000 desks for 2,500 employees, all doing what has been called "hot-desking". Others have called it hoteling, the idea being that you don't have a fixed location but use what you need when you need it: a meeting room, a phone booth, a private office for concentration, a lounge chair in the atrium. There are big monitors everywhere that you can plug your phone, tablet or laptop into for more productive work.

Over at Slate, Alison Griswold is dismissive of the concept.

The practical goal of hot desking is to distribute too few desks among too many people, in a sort of never-ending office musical chairs. The management-jargony goals, on the other hand, are to “encourage new relationships,” “chance interactions,” and “efficient use of space.”.... Het nieuwe werken, by the way, is a Dutch phrase that loosely translates to “the new way of working.” Which, at least based on the description of things in the Edge, sounds more like the layout of a technologically advanced dystopian high school than a highly efficient consulting firm.

Action OfficeAction Office: they move so much you can't see them. (Photo: Herman Miller)

In fact, this "new way of working" has been around for about 50 years, since it was first commercialized by Herman Miller, based on the designs of Robert Propst and George Nelson. They realized that different types of furniture served different functions, and that humans need to move. Nikil Saval, in his book Cubed, describes how Propst tested workstations of different heights and shapes:

And rather than the sedentary monotony of normal office work, Propst found himself constantly in motion, moving from one working area to another, standing to sitting. All this activity made him feel more productive, alert, vital.

He also writes about Nelson:

As George Nelson, one of Herman Miller’s most illustrious designers, stated loftily, “The Lord never meant a man to be immobilized in one position … These are not desks and file cabinets. They are a way of life.” But people were tied down by the telephone and then the desktop computer and the office chair and didn't tend to move like Propst thought they would.
Chiat day officesChiat day offices: Where do I sit? (Photo: Chiat Day)

In the '90s, they tried it again; advertising genius Jay Chiat had a vision: "Take away employees' cubicles and desks, equip them all with portable phones and Powerbooks, and turn them into wandering nomads who could perform their tasks wherever they liked." Alas, it was too soon for the technology, everyone was looking for plugs and CAT5 cables to network and really, those Powerbooks weren't all that portable.

These days, a smart phone has as much power as the Powerbook did in the '90s and basically, your office is in your pants and your work is in the cloud. You can connect to anyone and anything anywhere. For all the complaining that Alison at Slate is doing, the fact is that nobody needs a fixed desk anymore and it's not healthy to sit down in one place. As far as the standing desk versus sitting desk goes, Mark Schurman of Herman Miller notes:

As a trend the sit/stand issue has obviously picked up momentum in recent years, but in some ways it’s ironic as the primary concern (sedentary work styles) has also been shifting, with the miniaturization and mobility of technology, coupled with flatter organizations and more emphasis on collaboration, increasingly leading knowledge workers to spend less time at a personal workstation.... This doesn’t mean standing work/desks are inappropriate, but it does suggest that at least for many it is perhaps less of an issue than it might have been 5+ years ago when most people were tethered to individual workstations by their technology needs.

Office space MiltonSorry, Milton. (Photo: Screen capture, Office Space)

Sorry, Milton; your desk is so over. The Edge, the hot desk, hoteling, whatever you want to call it, is the future.

Lloyd Alter ( @lloydalter ) writes about smart (and dumb) tech with a side of design and a dash of boomer angst.