Science-Fiction at work and in the office
And tomorrow ?

Science-Fiction at work and in the office

From touch-screen ergonomic workstations to large cold sanitized open areas, how our workspace will be in the future has often been depicted in science fiction, and it is often a very negative image. Luckily the reality is usually much brighter than the dystopia presented in films. So how are offices portrayed in sci-fi movies?

From a glazed control tower in the clouds, Jack and Victoria Harper, played by Tom Cruise and Olga Kurylenko, maintain drones whose role is to protect energy generators. It is the opening scene of the film Oblivion, directed by Joseph Kosinski and released in 2013. From Victoria’s bright office, with horizontal and vertical touch screens, there is a panoramic view of what is left of the Earth: the workspace resembles a spacious comfortable space ship.  In Minority Report, a Steven Spielberg film made back in 2002, Tom Cruise was already having fun with transparent touch screens. Playing the role of the head of a government organization, Precrime, he changes the size and layout of his multiple screens using special gloves fitted with captors.  It is an ideal tool for this investigator as it enables him to zoom in rapidly on images looking for the smallest clue or to send documents with a flick of the finger.

So what is the probability that these imaginary offices become a reality? 4/5
Although the crime prevention agency is not planned as yet, the transparent screen could soon become a reality.

In the 23rd century, the office of Zorg, a weapons manufacturer played by Gary Oldman in the film The Fifth Element by Luc Besson (1997), overlooks the city of the future. A keyboard fitted in his console enables him to start the cleaner robots, alter the decoration, hand out fruit or tidy files. But these controls are totally useless when it comes to patting the agent of Evil on the back when he starts choking on a cherry stone.

So what is the probability that these imaginary offices become a reality? 3/5
Keyboards with keys are over! Much like mobile phones, touch screens are very likely to become the norm in the office. Even adjustable height Tableair desks are controlled by simply holding the hand over a smart sensor.

In the film Brazil (1985), directed by Terry Gilliam, technology did not really transform the workplace. In this dystopia, employees in shirts and ties bustle around a dark noisy open space area, as well-regulated as machines, until the supervisor retreats into his office and closes the door. At that moment they all return to their regular habit: watching movies on their old screens at their desks.


In the cold, concrete corridors of the civil service, the central character, Sam Lowry, who has just been named DZ-015, is accompanied by his manager to a door with the number engraved on it. He discovers a miniscule grey office without a window and realizes that he has to share his desk, which crosses through the partition, with DV-048, his colleague in the cupboard on the other side.

It is a hilarious scene and a sharp criticism of the anonymity and dehumanization that can arise in business and administrations, it is a classic gimmick in science fiction films.

So what is the probability that these imaginary offices become a reality? 2/5
Open plan offices are increasingly designed as warm, friendly environments that promote teamwork and interaction between employees. The few remaining closed offices are generally there to provide a space that can be used by any employee when he or she needs to work alone, rather than as a status symbol for the boss.

The notion of standardized workstations, all lined up in a wide open, clinical space, is also found in films such as Equilibrium and Gattaca where the absence of windows and natural light reinforce the feeling of being enclosed and controlled.  The leader figure often emerges, like an incarnation of the Telescreens in George Orwell’s classic, Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which omnipresent surveillance devices at home and work monitor the move of every citizen.

So what is the probability that these imaginary offices become a reality? 2/5
Workspace today is designed and fitted to help recruit and retain talented employees. Space has bright open areas which foster creativity and teamwork. Tomorrow’s business are unlikely to survive if they do not establish an atmosphere of mutual trust and pleasant working conditions.

To summarize, the office is rarely viewed in a very imaginative or positive way in science fiction works. Even the pink office of Joaquin Phoenix in Her (2014) by Spike Jonze is actually quite similar to those we know today.  No doubt because the world of work, currently going through many changes, offers a multitude of possibilities it is still difficult to get to grips with.

Luckily for us, predictions in science fiction are often wrong.

2020-01-15T11:03:34+01:00 admin