Vitra’s Raphael Gielgen predicts the future of the office

Words by  Ayla Angelos

Since joining the Vitra team four years ago, Raphael Gielgen, head of research and trend scouting at the Swiss furniture company, has been improving the quality of offices and public spaces.

By constantly seeking to unlock the future of the workplace, Gielgen serves the Vitra team with the results of his observations, trend clusters, market analysis and business cases. “I spent most of my life providing workspaces – and companies like Vitra – with office furniture, but I was always more interested in what my customers were doing, rather than my business,” says Gielgen. “When I go into a company, I want to understand what they are doing, what drives them and what the challenges are – out of that I understand the whole industry.”

But how exactly can you shape the offices of tomorrow? Gielgen explains that there are “urgent topics” to be addressed by both the architect as well as the client. Identifying these topics, however, can be somewhat of a whirlwind in the ever-changing industry. “I would say that these topics are those that keep you up at night, and should keep you up at night,” he continues. “What makes it difficult is there there’s a double movement – where people focus on all the digital topics but they forget the memory, or the essence, of the physical world.”

Of course, wellbeing continues to strike with importance. What’s changed is that we are currently “stepping into a new period”, says Gielgen – “a period where we are able to reach 100 years old, if you get the opportunity”. He adds: “We have new expectations that’s not just about the ergonomic chair or sit-stand desk; it’s much more about food, sport, employees and leisure.”

To help us navigate the future, Gielgen shares the foresights below in his Work Panorama – a round-up of the key topics affecting the industry. 

1. Cluster Typology 
“Connectivity is the key as a critical driver of economic growth and prosperity. Clusters grow out of connectivity, and not out of city districts or places by themselves. To build up a complex network with the flow of goods, services, people, ideas and capital, you need to think in a bigger picture. Proximity will increase interdepartmental interaction, collaboration and work efficiency, which is a contrast to old office models. There is not just one way to build up these clusters!”

2. Campus Community 
“The Campus has become a center of gravity for new flexible, multipurpose and urban community structures. It is an environment that provides the space, community and services to all members’ needs to create their life’s work. The new corporate HQ and Campus will enable employees and clients to better access the full depth and breadth of their industry leading capabilities, while fostering employee engagement, imagination and growth. It’s a remarkable space that combines such well thought out technology, while at the same time is human, social, inspiring and uplifting.”

3. Talent Transfer 
“The Garage Spirit brought us big technological innovators and entrepreneurs, but we can’t reduce that spirit just on a minority of the society. Future skills in a labour changing market require lifelong learning and a transfer of personal talent. Re- skilling and retraining are essential levers to fuel future economic growth. The objectives for the workspace of tomorrow are threefold: retain, reskill and recruit the best talent by creating a workplace with exceptional tools that enables them to do the best work of their careers.”

4. Transversality 
“Architecture dissolves; the boundaries between industries, classifications and disciplines are gradually dissolving, requiring a continual reinterpretation of spaces and functions. Buildings and rooms are not the same anymore. Humans merge the rooms they occupy into the space they need.”