In the first article of this series, Building Smarter Workplaces for the Digital Age, we discussed Dr Jacqueline Vischer’s ‘Framework for Workplace Concepts’ and commented that the highest state in her model, Psychological Comfort, was dynamic and messy, subject to rapid societal and technological changes.
The second article, Digital Disruption, Digital Hope, addressed technology change, where automation and the Internet of Things (IOT) are increasingly pervasive. However, the IOT for Smart Buildings (BIOT) has yet to fulfil its potential because of limited interconnectedness between systems (a topic we will address next month). Overcoming that limitation opens the possibility of tackling the continuing inefficiencies in space, energy and time in office buildings.
In this article we look at the way we approach the design of workplaces and the importance of linking this to how we actually work. Automation can then be deployed to handle mundane chores and thereby free up people to undertake value-adding work.
Traditional Approach to Workplace Design
95% of existing real estate developments follows the approach highlighted below.
The initial brief for the building will probably be visionary, describing its intended purpose and the kind of building sought, and the architect will design it accordingly, based on assumptions about how the place will be used day-to-day and influenced by personal aesthetics and conformance with regulations.
So, what’s missing? An understanding of how workspaces are really used, based on evidence, quantitative (workplace statistics) and qualitative (Use Cases). We look at these too late, but to be fair, it is only recently that it has been possible to gather workplace data economically.
This is a snapshot of the kind of data that can be gathered and which can inform the design of workplaces.
- Time spent on organising and attending meetings.
- Steelcase Workplace Surveys:
- Managers and administrative staff spend almost five hours a week arranging meetings using traditional means.
- 70% of employees report losing up to 15 minutes a day looking for a place to meet with visitors and colleagues.
- Performance Buildings data:
- Time spent on arranging a meeting: 25 minutes on average, excluding subsequent changes.
- For a 500-person office, there are typically 17K meetings/year and 35K visitors/year, and time spent arranging meetings = 3.5 - 5.0 FTE, depending on number of changes.
- 50% of office space lies idle, costing rent, energy, insurance, cleaning and maintenance.
- Statistics on when meetings rooms are booked, from 3 months ahead to 15 minutes (which can account for up to 15% of meetings).
- Time wasted in rooms booked, but not used (can be 17% of the time).
- Correlation between room standard and its utilisation.
- Workpoint utilisation rate.
- Frequency of office moves and time lost.
- Inefficiencies of having either too little or too much space – rarely do organisations have the optimum amount of space! Yet, instant elasticity is perfectly possible today, as we will describe in a later article.
Having understood the levels of waste in space, time and energy, this information, together with automation, can be factored into creative designs of workplaces: flexible use of offices, meeting rooms and collaboration spaces; automated shut down of energy-consuming devices in empty rooms; automatic freeing up of booked, but unused rooms; and so on.
Automatically communicating with other office functions and systems, such as reception, security, catering, and facilities management, can reduce office waste significantly: payback in a year has been measured – and the savings are recurring.
Use Cases are an intermediary step between informal descriptions of the User Needs of a system (comprising people, information, equipment and operating procedures) and the final, Requirements Specifications for that system, including hardware and software.
Documenting Use Cases involves detailed description of process (who does what, when, why and how) and identification of the resources and permissions required to carry out the tasks.
A common Use Case concerns the process of making an on-line enquiry for an in-house conference at a global corporation. It was one of 55 Use Cases that described the complete operations of the Conference Centre, with the intention of automating routine tasks so that staff could focus on helping delegates personally, as concierge, researcher, provider of administrative and welfare services.
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Another Use Case, as illustrated above, addressed the desire of delegates to network effectively at an event and the facilities they would like. Networking is a common request for any gathering, but many people are uncomfortable at it. So, here, the process could be started pre-event, after registration, and it would involve registering an interest in meeting others with profiled interests, and why, perhaps connecting beforehand, or at the event itself, supported by personalised PDAs supplied on arrival, wayfinding and information kiosks, and provision of a networking zone, fully equipped for private meetings, brainstorming and co-working.
Alternate Approach to Workplace Design: Form Follows Function
In any workplace, there are three generic functions that have to be catered for:
- Circulation of people – employees, visitors, contractors, etc.
- Collaboration between people – meetings, brainstorms, etc.
- Provision of workplaces for individuals – office, labs, workshops, etc.
The traditional approach to workplace design is to start with the architect. An alternate approach, shown below, is to start with these processes and really understand what is going on, using workplace statistics and Use Cases developed by those involved.
This then leads to the approach below, contrasting it with the traditional approach, and it accounts for about 5% of new workplace transformation projects.
In our previous article we commented on the disruption being caused to the office industry by digital technology, but at the same time it holds out hope for creating the workplaces we want.
Combining workplace data with Use Cases for the three generic workplace functions of people circulation, collaboration and work itself, a new approach to workplace design is possible, that is use-led rather than design-led.
Here, the scope for design and aesthetics are not eroded, rather they are enhanced, because understanding how a building will be used, the dynamics of occupancy, and the potential of technology, can only help architects and interior designers produce the workplaces we want.
Having signposted the way to serving user needs in the workplace, in a future article we will look at the role of technology in serving tenants and owners.This article was authored by Vishal Mallick PhD & Raja Bose MSc, MBA from Performance Buildings AG, whose technology enables new services for users and reduces consumption of resources in buildings. The article was edited by and 1st published on Memoori.