Will a rebuilt Christchurch be ready for the future of work?

Traditional structured and inflexible offices may deter millennial workers.
Oli Scarff

Traditional structured and inflexible offices may deter millennial workers.

Architect TE ARI PRENDERGAST says the millennial workforce needs work spaces for the future of work.

OPINION: As Cantabrians, we have proven ourselves to be resilient in the face of catastrophic change. Much of our city is being rebuilt with greater structural resilience, allowing businesses to return to the central city.

But there is a new wave of change coming that is set to disrupt the future of business and places of work.

An open-plan office space at the Christchurch City Council.
Kirk Hargreaves

An open-plan office space at the Christchurch City Council.

These changes are being driven by a new workforce, immersed in new technologies and looking for new ways of working and connecting. The millennial workforce exists in an environment where old jobs are being replaced by technology and new fields of industry are emerging, creating an atmosphere of constant change.

This emerging workforce opt for flexibility in how and where they work and search for fulfilling work consistent with their core values. Being globally connected, they want their work to have a positive impact on the world.


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This new way of working is set to revolutionise professions such as the manufacturing and agricultural industries. Smart technologies can perform many of the mundane and repetitive tasks more efficiently, freeing up time for more creative activities.

Changes in education are also driving changes for the future workforce and office structure. Universities are providing flexible learning environments focused around collaborative spaces and developing innovation around problem solving. Students choose when, where and how they study and may be disheartened when they enter structured and inflexible offices.

Shared workspaces provide flexibility for entrepreneurs with the convenience of a larger office and the opportunity to work with like minds. Often the designers of shared workspaces are also users themselves and their designs and inspiration are drawn from their own experiences.

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In an environment of constant change these types of workspaces could dominate; we are already seeing larger companies opting for a shared workspace format rather than leasing new offices.

Increasingly work is an intensive collaborative session involving small teams focused on idea generation. In buildings that are integrated with smart devices, the need for individual workstations is removed, allowing for flexible modules to accommodate any work activity. Offices increasingly operate 24/7 to allow for collaboration across time zones and with a globally mobile workforce the "office" now travels  with the employee wherever they go.

Pre-quakes office space availability was over-catered for in the central city with companies moving to offices outside the four avenues, and this was exacerbated post-quake. Many businesses worked from makeshift offices in homes and cafes out of necessity. Through this experience some businesses adapted to this lifestyle and have opted not go back to a conventional office.

Centre city office space is now being filled by companies working on the rebuild. So what happens when the rebuild work slowly dries up, technology takes the place of employees, and the companies that used to operate from the city have now chosen a new model of work?

The future workspace will need to offer something that people cannot get elsewhere – an opportunity to increase their productivity, quality of work and improve their networks within an environment that promotes peak performance.

Research into brain-degenerative diseases has identified ways to increase cognitive function and these findings could form the basis of the new office by incorporating intensive exercise, tailored supplements, meditation, intermittent fasting, daylight and social interaction into the daily work regime. The future office then becomes a facility providing an environment that promotes these elements that result in high cognitive performance, rather than just a place to put your desk.

This robustness and ability to change as traditional industries shift and new ones are created will be critical for commercial survival. The spaces we create today need to allow for this evolution, not only important for commercial success but also for the betterment of society.

Te Ari Prendergast is an Architectural Graduate at Chow:Hill specialised in Indigenous Health and Education Design. He is of Ngai Tahu descent and worked on the Christchurch rebuild on behalf of his iwi.​


 - Stuff


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