Office of the future "will only be a place where people come together" say Barber and Osgerby


We no longer need desks, say designers Ed Barber and Jay Osgerby, because the office of the future is more of a meeting place than a work environment.

Speaking in a talk at the Vitra showroom in London, the Barber & Osgerby founders said that the office is still relevant, but the desk is not and designers need to be responding to this.

"The desk is a place that you're invisibly chained to, where you're producing widgets for the man," said Osgerby. "It's a remnant of the industrial revolution."

"You don't need to spend 20 grand a year to have a desk that has a photo of your dog on it anymore, but at the same time people still need to come together and have moments of interaction."

People need "moments of intimacy and sociability"

Osgerby said that the office of the future is more a space of collaboration, so its furniture needs to be more casual.

"The office now and in the future will only be a place where people come together, a meeting place," he said. "People now need to move around and sit down and come together, to have moments of intimacy and sociability."

Barber added: "This is why we say that the desk is dead, and not the office is dead."

The big advantage of the office, according to Barber, is that technology is unlikely get in the way of productivity.

"While we endeavour to use technology like Skype for group calls as much as possible, it's disjointed and inevitably always fucks up," said Barber. "So we end up travelling a lot to actually speak face to face to the people we need to talk to."

"Things work very quickly and easily that way, whereas when there's a layer of technology, there's always a problem," he added.

Companies favour hospitality areas over desk space

The talk took place to mark the UK launch of Soft Work, a modular seating system that the duo designed for Vitra, which also doubles as a work station.

First unveiled at the Orgatec 2018 office furniture fair, it is among a number of new products designed to suit to more flexible workplaces.

The pair were accompanied by Raphael Gielgen, head of research and trend scouting at Vitra, who explained that fewer companies are investing in the classic typology of the workplace.

According to Gielgen, firms are increasingly dedicating more floor space to hospitality areas in a bid to "stay relevant in our current climate" and "create value beyond the revenue".

"You have to bring people together and create serendipitous moments, and this happens in hospitality areas as water-cooler moments," he explained.