Pondering The Future Of Workplace by Despina Katsikakis

No-one can have missed just how much technologies have changed over the last decade, but what people still underestimate is just how much our behaviours have as well. I often use my granddaughter as an example of this. She is three years old, and she will just bounce into the kitchen, say “Alexa, Moana” and start dancing along to the Disney tune. I look at her do that, and I think about what her expectations will be in 20 years, when now at three her instinct is to use her voice to access just about anything – any experience that she’s looking for. This is why I always return to the issue of technology, because I think that technology inadvertently rewires our expectations. This, in turn, has a massive impact on how landlords and asset managers need to change their mindsets.

Today we have situations, such as in a plane, where there’s not even cell phone coverage, yet with WiFi we can still do a Facetime call, or a virtual collaborative session. I was on a video call recently complete with virtual whiteboards and people from across Europe, the US, and Asia. We were looking at materials and collaborating live in a manner we simply couldn’t have done five years ago as this level of technology didn’t exist. In five years’ time from now, we will be able to both do far more, as well as feel and sense as if we are all in the same room. However, whilst technology will continue to be the central driver of change, the speed of change will make it hard to predict exactly how. 

The evolution of virtual reality and immersive collaboration tools will transform the way we work and I think we often underestimate the way that consumer technology is changing our expectations. Gaming provides a particularly interesting generational example. Gamers feel very comfortable being part of a virtual community. As the gamer generations grow up virtual immersive collaboration tools will be available at most workplaces which will change their perceived need to go to certain places to work, as well as the specification expectation of office buildings. 

The implications for the built environment, will be to consider the workplace as a variety of different kinds of flexible and on-demand places to support our convenience and functional requirements. This changes our thinking about the office from “the office as a building, a single place, to go to work”, to ‘the office’ as a network of physical and virtual, flexibly accessed and optimized places that support us to do our best work, connect with others effectively, support our sense of community, lifestyle and wellbeing. 

A further physical impact as the office becomes a network of on-demand places, will be a high degree of customisation. Like a stage-set, it will be reconfigured to respond to our individual functional and wellbeing demands. Already today, cell phones have the capability to tell us the quality of air and light in the spaces we occupy and give us the option to either adjust that through the building sensors that exist in the system, or choose not to be there. 

As sensor technology becomes the norm across fit-outs of offices, we will be able to leverage predictive analytics and real-time data to drive both productivity and efficiency. For the individual, the space will know who ‘I am’ what temperature ‘I like’ to suit my optimum productivity. The data will also tell the facilities manager and the landlord whether the space is being utilized in the most efficient way. For example, if a meeting room that is planned for eight people is typically only being used by 2-3 people, as IOT applications and analytics become real-time dynamic space management tools, landlords will have the data and be able to reconfigure the environment to make the most use of space as well as provide the most productive environments to support people to do their best work.

Making data relevant to occupiers’ business is really important, so landlords need to provide a plug-and-play open framework and think about technology as another utility. Landlords will also be required to provide the data and technology interface to answer more complex questions, as occupiers want to understand how their space supports business performance.

Another aspect that is really important to recognise, is that office design is always reflecting the culture of an organisation and actively impacts and informs the culture and drives behaviour. Putting in gaming rooms in an organisation that does not need ad hoc collaboration and does not have a culture of embedded play will be completely counterproductive. It is essential to start with the end in mind, to determine the business outcomes and clearly understand what the desired behaviours are in order to design the appropriate environment and policies to engender the desired behaviours and outcomes. 

The role of the workplace to reflect ‘brand and values’ is becoming a critical issue particularly as organisations today all compete for the same type of talent, in a market place of limited resources. The organisations that succeed recognise that their employees are their customers, and approach their office space by focusing on people first and creating a much more immersive experience not too dissimilar from retail environments.

With this new focus on people, everyone in real estate today is really in ‘hospitality’. This means that there needs to be a critical shift of mindset away from the hard, fixed specifications of delivering a building to delivering responsive, meaningful and inspiring experiences and services to people.