Smart Buildings

The Human-Centric Ethos at the Heart of Workplace Design

In hindsight, we can look back at the evolution of the workplace over the last decade and see a slow transition to more human-centric environments. Ten years ago the smart buildings industry was driving an energy efficiency agenda while highlighting the health, comfort, and productivity benefits of smarter workplaces, but there was limited mention of human-centricity. However, as these new smart building features emerged we began to see the pattern connecting them all, one that puts occupants at the center of everything.

In recent years, the wider sector has come to realize that happy and productive occupants lead to happy and loyal tenants, and that happy and loyal tenants mean happy and successful building owners —so, by focusing on the occupant they can serve all stakeholders. Consequently, in the last two years, we have seen an acceleration of these human-centric trends and leading industry research now suggests we are entering an era of rapid workplace market growth, led in large part by the demand for greater human-centricity in the modern workplace.

“The Global Digital Workplace market in commercial office space is estimated at $3.70 Billion in 2021, rising to $9.21 Billion by 2026, growing at a rate of 20% CAGR,” states our new global workplace market research. “Growth will be driven by cost-control measures such as space rationalization, hybrid workspaces and the renewed emphasis on healthy buildings. Market adoption in the digital workplace sector will be driven by the overall employee experience market, the increased focus on human-centric workplaces, and the overall growth of IoT solutions in commercial real estate.”

The first thing to consider is the breadth of the term “human-centric”. Buildings themselves are fundamentally human-centric by offering shelter and services to humans. The buzz we have seen around the phrase actually reflects more on the way we were designing and operating workplaces in the past. Whilst built for humans, our traditional workplaces were designed around the work itself, and human resources were the adaptable element that would fit the optimal process for the work. Hours were rigid and maximized, lighting was bright and constant, access was secure but cumbersome, layout was functional rather than collaborative. However, modern science and business theory have now shown us that designing workplaces for the work is not necessarily the best thing for the work. 

It is more productive to design the workplace and the work around the people than it is to design the people and the workplace around the work. Countless research studies have now proven that a happy, healthy, and comfortable workforce is the best path to productivity, so centering workplace design around the human becomes best practice for businesses. Health reduces absenteeism, comfort improves concentration, happiness improves collaboration, while flexibility and wellbeing help create balanced, loyal, motivativated workers. Human-centric workplaces are also much better at attracting talent and buildings that attract the best talent will attract the best tenants, further supporting the benefits of human-centricity for all stakeholders.

“People are the foundation for how we build offices of the future. It is no longer enough for the commercial office environment to provide businesses with their operational requirements and occupants with a well-maintained space. That space must come with services that enhance the level of flexibility, comfort, productivity, and customization that tenants have at their disposal,” reads our new report. “Workspace management platforms and workplace experience apps have become a focal point for investment activity by venture capital. The heightened level of funding activity for these solutions began around three years ago as human-centricity came to the fore.”

Just after we began to see investment rising in human-centric solutions the world was struck by a once-in-a-century pandemic. COVID disrupted every industry in the world, stunted global supply chains, drastically reduced workplace occupancy for two years and counting, and triggered a remote work shift that will undoubtedly lead to some shrinkage of the traditional office real estate market, at least in terms of floorspace. The workplace will adapt, however, and the early signs suggest that the pandemic will push the workplace market in an even more human-centric direction, not least due to the unprecedented global focus on health and worker safety.

“In the post-pandemic era, a return to the office in some shape or form is the priority for almost every company and creating an environment which ensures health, and wellbeing of building occupants has become a necessity for commercial real estate owners and occupiers,” explains the comprehensive report. “A renewed emphasis on occupant-centric workplaces has accelerated the trend for healthy buildings, which are perceived by many occupants as a necessity to ensure their health and safety. The health and wellbeing of building occupants can be significantly enhanced by workplace tools, based on data which enable a long-term feeling of safety.”

Pre-pandemic human-centric smart building solutions are now perfectly positioned to seize a new workplace market that places much greater emphasis on health and safety. Adopting workplace health technology also allows companies to show their employees that they care, generating loyalty and motivation, while also creating an attractive place to work. The need for virus mitigation technologies in office buildings then creates the platform for other human-centric platforms to find their place in the workplace, driven by the cost saving of shared infrastructure and bundled offerings. More and more companies will realize the benefits of human-centric workplaces for the return-to-work-ers, and for the next generation of the workforce.

2021 WiredScore survey found that after a year at home surrounded by all the conveniences of personal technology and a significantly increased reliance on digital services, 80% of employees say that it is important for them to work in a technologically advanced office. And, a recent JLL survey asserted that as Gen Z start to enter the workplace, organizations will have employees across four different generations and Millennials and Gen Z are judging their employers’ office facilities more critically than previous generations. Human-centric workplace design was always the direction the market had to go but the pandemic has accelerated that journey and given it a health twist.

“Human-centric trends will only increase as younger, tech-savvy workers dominate the workforce. Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025, whilst Generation Z (born after the year 2000) started to enter the workforce from 2018,” highlights the in-depth report. “This changing of the guard will require employers to reconsider how they configure their workforce to adapt to changing priorities, beliefs, and attitudes. These are generations that have grown up with digital and connected technology and they will prioritize smartly designed and technology rich workplaces when choosing between employment options.”

By the time the dust settles on the COVID era, workplaces will be smarter than they would have been without the pandemic. For good or for bad, the last two years have disrupted commercial real estate, there will be consolidation but the businesses lost will be those that did not adapt. The resulting market will be stronger, smarter, and much more focused on the value of human-centric solutions. The next chapter of the workplace will embody human-centricity through the flexibility of hybrid work, complimenting remote work with healthy, collaborative, multifunctional physical spaces that drive company culture in the modern workforce. Human-centricity is the workplace design ethos of our era.

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