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The workplace is constantly developing but the evolution currently underway is changing all the rules. Facilitated by technology, workplaces are progressively getting smarter and greener but the evolutionary change comes from unprecedented new levels of flexibility. Flexible spaces, flexible hours and even flexible locations are all coming together with technology to create the Workplace-as-a-Service.

“The world of working is changed and it’s not going to change back,” says Gearoid Collins, Regus Country Manager for Ireland. “What I see at the moment is not a trend but an evolution in workspace dynamics. The marriage of flexible scalability and having the partners to facilitate evolving technology is a powerful union,” he added.

Hot-desking, breakout rooms, collaborative spaces, and many more areas within an office are catering for the individual worker’s needs, giving them the flexibility to find and choose their most productive environment. Lighting, heating, ventilation and almost every element of the office is following this concept in order to garner the most productivity from each employee, thereby boosting the enterprise as a whole.

“New office layout approaches offer a variety of areas for different types of work and different types of worker. Scientific breakthroughs have inspired lighting systems that can benefit occupant health and concentration. Smart environmental controls are giving power to the individual, allowing them to create their ideal environment for maximum productivity at any given time,” explains our comprehensive report: The Future Workplace: Smart Office Design in the IoT Era.

Urban trends are also playing their part, rising property costs make office space more expensive, while congestion on roads and public transport systems are making commuting more difficult in many business centers around the world. “With Dublin, in particular, commercial property is very hot so rents are high. It will be difficult for any business to enter the office market,” says Collins.

However, the development of communication technologies like Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and video conferencing, as well as collaborative software like Slack, reduce the necessity for employees to be physically present in the office and have supported the rising work-from-home culture. “This technology enabled trend appears to be a win-win. Companies get the best talent and save on facilities costs. Employees get to work on their terms – location and time to a certain extent – they also eliminate the hassle and expense of commuting,” our report highlights.

While more and more people are working from home, this trend has its limits. Collaboration suffers and many people simply do not have the discipline or home environments that are conducive to productivity, so a workspace opportunity has emerged in the middle. “The industry is at a tipping point and I see a future whereby people don’t necessarily work from home, but close to home,” says Collins. Consequently, “professionals are looking to the Workplace-as-a-Service,” to serve this growing need, he adds.

Epitomizing the Workplace-as-a-Service trend is the rise of co-working spaces where freelancers, remote workers, and other independent professionals share workspaces for the benefit of all. These membership-based melting pots of creativity generate a level of synergy that results from the proximity and collaboration between a diverse collection of like-minded people. It is in these spaces that we see the forefront of the office design and technology transformation.

Market leading co-working space firm WeWork are pioneering a number of innovative developments such as the AI Desk, for example, which recognises individuals based on their smartphone and adjusts the workspace according to their preferences. “it’s about customising spaces to suit our members, whilst recognising that different people can come in and out of the space on a regular basis,” says WeWork European Transactions Director Mary Finnigan.

As is the case across the IoT movement, it all comes down to generating data. Once significant amounts of data are collected on a variety of workplace elements, that data can be used to unearth insights on how we use spaces and highlight how we might be able to use them better. As systems develop further, they will move on from simply providing workspace managers with actionable intelligence to using their own in-built intelligence to self-improve.

“By 2030, we predict that the tactical and operational management of workplaces will largely be undertaken by algorithms analysing millions of data sets. Buildings will be able to link location data with information from corporate databases and social media to engineer interactions between staff members,” says Tom Carroll is head of EMEA corporate research at JLL property services. “Offices will soon become part of the management team of any business – for example, notifying one employee working on a project that another specialist is nearby and suggesting a meeting.”

This is where the true value of the Workplace-as-a-Service blossoms. As technology makes the building intelligent, the office can then support the workers by creating individualized, flexible environments that facilitate productivity alongside occupant health and comfort.

While traditional offices are increasingly adopting these futuristic workplace concepts, it will be dedicated Workplace-as-a-Service firms that pioneer this revolution. They are positioned to add value from technology as well as the benefits that come from diverse external collaboration, and in doing so they are changing the workspace landscape forever.

“We are on the cusp of a hugely transformative period that will see rapid technological advances fundamentally altering not just where we work, but how,” says Carroll. “In the not too distant future, only those businesses prepared to embrace this disruption and redefine their real estate will be able to thrive.”