Inside The Sentient Workplace

“The power of good design should not be underestimated. It is no longer something nice to have, but a necessity for any organisation that is looking to attract and retain the best talent.” Linda Morey-Burrows, Founder and Principal Director, MoreySmith 

It is nigh impossible to discuss the future of design-centric workplaces without discussing the thought-provoking ideas in MoreySmith’s report, The Future of the Workplace, produced  in collaboration with The Future Laboratory.

The report describes the future workspace as being sentient and designed with the end-user clearly in mind, so that the workplace offers more than just a space to work and becomes an integral way of caring for our wellbeing, productivity and happiness.

In describing sentient design, Morey-Burrows encourages us to ‘imagine a workplace that monitors our energy, physically, emotionally and mentally. Sentient workplaces monitor when we should eat and our levels of exhaustion, it is a space that oxygenates and perfectly chills the air around your desk to counteract any chance of an afternoon slump.’ 

Of course, we are not there yet, and the report goes on to discuss trends that are only emerging now. As the report explains, sentient workplace design builds from human-centric design, and as such, it won’t be long before sentient design is part of modern office life. With Generations X, Y and Z assessing organisations on their ever-growing levels of ‘give’, it is logical that building sentience into real estate design is where we as an industry must now focus.  

With wellness now the primary lifestyle focus for zillennials, it is no wonder the Global Wellness Institute’s report Future of Wellness at Work projects wearables, tracking apps and smart furniture that optimise performance and happiness will become commonplace in the future. 

No one can argue that enabling deep work and offering a collaborative community are not founding principles for modern organisations today. 

Second Home, London Fields – Sentient & Inclusive 

Designing for both gender and ability balance is central to sentient design. Thinking about the type of furniture women will need during pregnancy is basic, but rarely considered and designed for. Nor are workplaces with services that help mothers and fathers who are working and simultaneously required to look after their young children. 

One such example is the eco-aware co-working group, Second Home. In their London Fields space, for the first time in the UK, there will be a nursery. In collaboration with Stoke Newington’s Nursery & Family Club, Second Home offers a (soundproofed) crèche, baby-feeding facilities and a buggy and scooter parking zone. 

We at Holtby Turner believe that no other single incentive – be it a tax break or change in child welfare provisions – will help boost economic growth in the future more than proactively making a return to work for mothers less of an ordeal, emotionally, psychologically and financially.

The Extended Home 

This trend is far bigger in the US than the UK, driven largely by the long commutes and deeply engraved hospitality culture. It is no surprise that spaces such as kitchens and games areas are part of what are known as Hospitality Workspaces – created specifically to bring work and life balance and as a key hiring tool in an ever-increasing global war for top talent. Sharing space with like-minded communities in a collaborative way offers an extended family to a generation where over half come from divorced parents. Whether when working or after work, curating services that are part of the younger generation’s lifestyle is a trend set to stay, especially as a way of luring top talent. 

Wellness, experiential down-time activities and on-demand hospitality is part and parcel of life for younger generations.

WeWork. WeLive.

As an undisputed leader in innovative space creation, what WeWork does commercially is likely to set the pace for the rest of the global real estate industry.  So, as co-working rapidly flows more into co-dwelling, so the multi-billion dollar space provider has entered the arena with their latest venture – WeLive. 

In a time where affordable shared lifestyle-housing is almost impossible to find in NYC, and younger generations are used to a co-working community way of working, it seems an obvious next step for WeWork to take what Antony Slumbers has perfectly termed “SpaceAsAService” and turn an ethos of commercial hospitality into a residential one. 

Offering top locations, beautiful contemporary furnishings and a 24 hour concierge, WeLive offers “a new way of living built upon community, flexibility, and a fundamental belief that we are only as good as the people we surround ourselves with.” Towels, linen, hairdryers, morning coffee, and every single possible piece of tech one could wish for, are all offered as personalised via IoT-connected systems. Of course, in WeWork style, there is a full-time concierge and housekeeping team too. Community-driven common areas, such as a Chef’s Kitchen, arcade and yoga studio are included alongside WeWork’s usual community events. 

Once again, WeWork’s business model is the clincher – all this with just month-to-month flexibility, and the option to book it as one would a hotel, for a few nights here and there. Studios begin at $1500 a month and 4-bedroom apartments $7,600 dollars. Perhaps affordable is better phrased as ‘attainable’ at almost £6,000 a month for a 4-bed apartment. Possibly this is something that will extend from their office sites in some regions. Who can second guess what WeWork will do?