We’ve all heard about the Google offices. Slides in splashes of primary colours weave their way through the building, mini-golf courses wait on every mezzanine, and there’s a pinball machine or arcade game within eye’s view at all times. What’s the word we instinctively jump to when describing these kinds of offices? Cool.
Turns out there’s a lot more to it than that. Not only are these kinds of offices comfortable and homey, they convey a message of trust from employers to employees: “We’ve put a ping-pong table in the office because we trust you won’t spend all your time using it.” The option to play ping-pong for 15 minutes during an eight-hour workday also makes the remainder of those working hours more productive. Collaborative offices—think communal tables and shared spaces—encourage employee interaction and innovation (where do we get good ideas if not from talking to one another?). Staff are happier, more engaged, and more passionate. Ultimately, these types of workspaces—and this is the part that employers will be interested in—boost productivity.
Yet the word “office” still evokes a quiet sea of grey and beige cubicles, arranged in a symmetrical grid and surrounded by coveted private offices. Why? Apart from making the most of available space and being cheaper to install (the financial payoff is another matter in the long-term), these types of offices reflect an era in which we paid little attention to office design, which is why it’s no surprise that you find traditional offices in long-established companies. In the same monetary mindset, it would be a seemingly unnecessary expense to change their offices now.
But office spaces may hint at more than just the physical age of a building. It’s hard to imagine a bank or multi-national corporation adopting innovative office design in an expansion country, for example. The offices in themselves reflect the type of work that’s happening inside them: Cubicles imply an expectation to perform as instructed and stick to accepted methods (the sort of mindset you’d expect from a huge company), whereas start-up offices—with their free-flowing beer taps, music rooms, and modern lounges—encourage novel ideas and attitudes. After all, unlike traditional firms, most start-ups have no real precedent to fall back on.
It may be a question of whether the chicken or egg came first—did the start-up mindset inspire innovative office design, or vice versa? — nevertheless, traditional companies would do well to take a pointer from their volatile, budding little siblings and rethink their grey office spaces. If workers are going to be stuck in a cubicle for 40 or more hours as week, they might as well not hate every second of it.
Here are four offices around the world that are doing it right:
Pallotta Teamworks’ “Apostrophe”
Faced with furnishing a massive new office space, this fundraising company’s lack of funds inspired an award-winning design featuring freight containers and white canopies.
Offices inside racetracks, desk aboard pirate ships, meeting rooms inside castles—just the kind of thing needed to inspire creative inventions (including, yes, toys).
This internet service provider’s sleek space, located 100 feet below the Swedish capital, looks more like a secret lair than an office.
Selgas Cano Architecture
Two Spanish architects decided to make the design for this office count. After all, it’s their own firm’s office.