“It is true that the way organizations are resetting the relationship between people, technology, and space, the way that work fits within cities — all of these things are hugely in flux at the moment. In 2018, for once I actually believe the hyperbole around transformational change. The future of work shouldn’t be underestimated,” Jeremy Myerson, the Helen Hamlyn Chair of Design at the Royal College of Art.
In an April 2018 article, which was part of the “tech x interiors” special section, guest-edited by the design firm Studio O+A, Myerson explores how technology is reshaping the workplace. He relates it to the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century when technologies like the telephone, the typewriter, the elevator, the adding machine, the electric lightbulb were revolutionizing the workplace.
“These technologies didn’t all come along at once, but eventually they combined to create something completely new: the modern industrial office. And we’re in the same position now with digital technologies for smart buildings — the internet of things, wireless networks, location-based sensors, intelligent building management systems, augmented and virtual reality, AI, robotics. It’s not by themselves that they’re going to change architectural space, but collaboratively with the amount of data that smart buildings will generate,” he says.
The truth is that office design has always been heavily influenced by data, be it number of employees, their preferences or the size of the office itself. In fact, architects and designers have long been trying to collect as much data as possible in order to understand how we use our spaces and then consider how we may use them better. That is exactly the same thing we are doing today, the difference and the reason we can call this a revolution is the Internet of Things (IoT) has taken the depth and breadth of data to another level. Simultaneously, a new wave of design theories are shedding light on what workers need to be most productive, and this is all redefining the office landscape.
“The concept of “landscape” is going to be a big theme in 2018,” predicts Myerson. “The idea of it is more holistic — it suggests a variety of distinctive neighborhoods with different characters. It also suggests the introduction of natural materials and elements. Biophilic design will be big over the next 12 months. Vast plains of low-choice and low-segmentation open-plan spaces will give way to a wider range of settings for different types of work, with more private and enclosed spaces reintroduced so people can focus,” he continued.
These are all themes we explore in our comprehensive report ‘The Future Workplace: Smart Office Design in the IoT Era’ released in Q4 2017. In depth research on space, lighting and environmental control are complemented by sections on biophilia, wearable technology and the virtual workplace, among other things, to give readers and unprecedented overview of the seismic shifts taking place in today’s commercial office buildings. The objective of this change is greater productivity, the path to get us their is using data to truly understand the complex and varying needs of each worker.
“Like a factory full of machines that need to be oiled, rested, maintained, and operate in their ideal environment, the future workplace will be optimized for the human worker. These business and scientific theories have converged at the same time as the emergence of smart buildings and the Internet of things. Intelligent technologies are enabling unprecedented optimization of the workplace by giving greater control to the individual worker,” explains our report.
Our research, like Myerson’s work is tracking these changes, both technological and not, in order to predict what the future office will look like. The evidence suggests that it looks green, flexible and human. Not only will these developments increase productivity, they will also change the status quo in office space provision, operation and how enterprises go about their businesses.
“We’re leaving the world of hierarchical command and control behind and entering the more fluid era of the “digital ecosystem” propelled by more powerful and inexpensive computational capability than ever before, by billions of connected devices, faster and more widespread connectivity, and huge volumes of data at our fingertips,” says Myerson. “This is both a challenge and an opportunity for designers and space planners, just as it is a threat to the traditional structures of large, lumbering companies.”
These companies will be forced into evolving in order to stay competitive, not just because other firms would be cutting costs and getting more out of their workforce but because the best talent will increasingly demand this kind of workplace. Our future workplaces will protect and enhance the health and wellbeing of occupants, they will make workers more happy and comfortable, these spaces will better integrate with the rest of the building and become part of the city they belong to. Only by creating human focused workplaces will companies be able to recruit the best talent and get the most out of them.
“The workplace will become part of a bigger community space, not a hermetically sealed box. And these spaces will encourage spontaneous and serendipitous encounters—perhaps in spatial design, but also in the design of amenities and hospitality. It’s the idea that the office is a destination,” Myerson concludes. “It’s not a place where you have to go; it’s a place where you want to go.”