The concept of 'bleisure' and how tech giants organise their workspace

Video meeting
Forward-thinking companies are bringing new technologies into the workplace

In 1817, Robert Owen, founder of the eight-hour movement in the UK, coined the slogan: "Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest" in order to regulate the hours that factory employees were subjected to.

Now, nearly 100 years on, that maxim of the industrial revolution is being revised amid a cloud and data revolution, as workers shift from the age of leisure to an age of 'bleisure' (business + leisure) and usher in new ways of working, collaborating and communicating.

"In the workplaces of pre-internet technologies, the average work day ended when the factory gates or office doors closed," says Jeremy Myerson, director and chair of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art, and co-editor of Time & Motion: Redefining Working Life. "The contemporary information worker labours in a 'factory' where the gates never close and with work continuously and tantalisingly close to hand around the clock."

Changes afoot

"Against the backdrop of these changes," says The Future Laboratory co-founder Chris Sanderson, "new ways of doing business and designing offices are irreversibly changing a landscape that has taken more than 200 years to develop."

"In contrast," he says, "cloud-based technologies and the increased use of the humble mobile as our work tool of choice, is ushering in a new social, cultural and corporate paradigm."

Based on this, within a decade, we are about to witness the:

  • Birth of Bleisure (business + leisure) thinking and spaces
  • Growth of the Frictionless Office
  • Emergence of a Third Industrial Work Revolution
  • Dawn of the Age of Everyware
  • Appearance of the Fractional Ownership Corporation
  • Impact of the GenMobile work ethic
  • Realities of the Personal Information Economy
  • Birth of the new Flexecutive
  • Development of new Bleisure Hives
  • Debut of the Symbiotic Corporation
  • Opening of the Convergent Workhouse
  • As our report shows, when these changes kick in we will be looking at a workplace that is more federated and collaborative, less hierarchical and less location-specific as more of us clock on by logging in.

As our report shows, when these changes kick in we will be looking at a workplace that is more federated and collaborative, less hierarchical and less location-specific as more of us clock on by logging in.

"We are no longer simply business people at work and private people at home," says Martin Lindstrom, author and brand futurist. "People are checking personal emails at work and work emails at home. The lines between work and play are merging on all levels."

The birth of 'bleisure'

While the notion of a place of work will remain a constant, more and more of our offices will resemble the offices of technology companies such as Google and Kickstarter, where a village hall approach is favoured over designs that discourage interaction, openness and chance encounters.

Indeed, architects of the bleisure revolution now use terms such as 'serendipity corners' and 'chance-encounter corridors' to describe the subtle social engineering they are employing, as laptops, mobiles and tetherless working allow people to move more freely within a building.

Google's London HQ borrows cues from British culture, with private working rooms such as the Velourmptious Snug, a green, padded room that emulates the classic English pub, an area that is designed to simulate the privacy and feel of working from home, and a chintzy homage to a grandmother's living room.

Each room is designed to foster its own form of productivity, whether that is intense concentration to meet a deadline, or simply somewhere to be comfortable and retain clarity of thought.

The modern workplace

Adobe's office in Palo Alto also borrows design cues from non-work environments in order to get the most from its bleisurite teams. Aspects of the interior create habits that would traditionally be acted out in leisure time.

Meeting rooms are constructed in the same way as private booths in US diners, creating a ritual that teams associate with conviviality and relaxation. Elsewhere in the space, rocking chairs are positioned in open spaces to facilitate moments of idleness.

These work spaces are being created to reflect the needs of the bleisurite worker: long tables that encourage ideas dining, the notion that teams can dine on ideas, discuss projects; 'digital crannies' where individuals can work in so called 'solitaries', or areas where you are left alone when using them; and 'nature terraces' that encourage team-orientated 'huddles', group sessions designed to generate ideas and kick-start innovation.

"We are finding ourselves at the end of the adaptive range of our industrial society," says Alan Moore, founder of business think tank SMLXL.

"We are being overwhelmed by a 'trilemma' of social, organisational and economic problems that are bringing an inherent complexity into our world. This is causing fault lines to run through our working lives, and corporations are having to re-assess the nature of work and how they operate from day to day."

Maximising productivity

Author Daniel Sieberg's self-help book, The Digital Diet, even shows people how to cope with this trilemma by tempering their use of technology. The Digital Diet provides a step-by-step dietary approach that ensures that our digital lives are enabling, rather than inhibiting, thought and activity.

The RescueTime app is a tool to help teams cut down on time online when they are relying too heavily on the internet and stifling their own creativity. The app monitors where people spend time online, forcing them offline at certain times. It claims to rescue an average of three hours and 54 minutes of productive time per person per week.

Just as bleisurites need the occasional break from technology, so they need a break from each other. Susan Cain, author of the 2012 book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, is creating a remedy for excess collaboration by working with interior designers Steelcase.

Together, Cain and Steelcase are creating a set of five modular room constructions called Quiet Spaces that can be deployed in any open-plan office to alleviate the pressure of continually being in the company of others.

"There is a mountain of research suggesting that radically open offices are a problem," says Cain. "Meanwhile, there are many surprising advantages to introversion, and we undervalue the strengths of quieter, more cerebral, people. In work environments, we admire the principle of collaboration, but we must also appreciate the value of solitude and the creativity that it brings."

  • Aruba Networks conducted this whitepaper with global trends and insight consultancy, The Future Laboratory. Follow the links for Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.