There's no place like work

Still slaving at a dreary 'workstation'? Hasn't your boss heard of the new, comfy, worker-friendly Nineties office? Oliver Bennett reports
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Indy Lifestyle Online
A leisure centre where you can chill out on bean bags, lounge on colourful low-slung sofas, chat at coffee bars equipped with laptops - and they pay you? Well yes, if you're lucky enough to get a job. For the late 20th-century office is less like a hive of industry, and more like a club, internet cafe or chic drop-in facility, replete with whispering mobile technology and attractive interior design ...

If that doesn't sound like an exact description of your own workplace, take heart. The "new office" message is spreading, according to Dr Andrew Laing of design company DEGW and co-author of New Environments for Working (published later this year). Despite job insecurity and the contract culture, employees are paramount in the modern workplace, says Dr Laing. He proposes that as workers become more nomadic and interchangeable, offices are becoming "collective, interactive spaces, similar to old gentleman's clubs".

Put like that, the lifetime's plod from the desk-chained ranks on the shopfloor to the dizzy heights of the partitioned corner office does seem less than desirable. "Why does an office need to be like a hive, with identical desks, hierarchies and uniform colours?" asks Dr Laing. "The answer is that it doesn't."

Just as the home has become the office for so much of the workforce, the office is, in turn, becoming more like home, and we have finally realised that offices do not have to be miserable beige barracks. "What you need the office for is interaction," says Santa Raymond, an architect specialising in offices, and the co-author of Tomorrow's Office (E & F N Spoon, pounds 29.95). She believes that offices fulfil social needs which are finally being incorporated into their design. "Work today is often about creativity and ideas, and offices are trying to encourage that and break away from being seen as a nine-to-five prison."

But, says Raymond, an exciting, informal office can also be good for your bottom line: "If you enjoy the office you work better, and the the psychology of the worker is now high on the business agenda." And yet there remain pockets of corporate machismo where old attitudes fester. Raymond recalls interviewing City traders about their offices. "One told me he was too comfortable," she says. For a few, it seems, the touchy- feely late Nineties office may be for wimps.

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