By Steve Brewer
Advances in technology, changes in socio-demographics and attitude to work, social media, economic markets, the sustainable construction agenda, and security issues are just a few of the factors impacting workplace design and operation.
Here are my views on how workplace design and operation are evolving in such demanding times. Topics that were hotly debated during the Workplace Trends conference 2012.
So, what makes up the place that we call work? Us as individuals of course. A place that we gather, some everyday, others just from time to time and this may not be the same place either. In fact, the lucky few (and increasingly so) have a choice.
The stark reminder to me on the morning of attending the Workplace Trends conference in London was passing a man who was being resuscitated on the tube. A scene that is still with me now as I type this. The pressures of the world that surrounds us still leaves us as fragile as we always have been. I sincerely hope that he made it.
Mapping the future of the ‘workplace’ can only come from what we have already learnt in our past - what has worked and what hasn’t? A series of trends, thoughts & information gathered from a great cross section of people and companies set the scene for the day ahead. Sure I had my expectations about what the conference was going to inform me about, but what I listened to couldn’t have been further from what I imagined. From pies and poetry, to music and psychology… I know! So what did any of this have to do with the workplace?
Nic Marks, expert in wellbeing research, founder of nef’s award-winning Centre for Wellbeing started the day discussing how happiness can have a direct effect on performance and therefore a better place to work. Possibly even a direct link to companies that outperform their direct competition on the stock market. Couldn’t agree more! Happiness being a word which may well be more tangible than ‘wellbeing’ to most, but how to allow and make people happier as a direct result of coming to work?
The size of the company, the size of the teams within that company made up of a bunch of individuals all coming together ‘under one roof’ to, hopefully, reach the same goal for the day, week, year ahead. Creating localism within larger organisations, offering them the environment that surrounds them to achieve this to the best of their ability and who knows, from a design perspective, even making them happier in the process can’t be a bad thing!?
Can companies allow each of us to have personalised places within these work ‘spaces’ that we can shape and change depending on the task ahead and who we want to work with from day to day? Where do they typically start? By bringing together like minded individuals from the off set? Maybe then we might stand a chance of making the overall environment being liked by the majority, with choice to adapt and shape during the day.
A great case study from Mark Duddridge, MD of Ginsters and Jane Abraham, Healthy Workplace Advisor, European Centre for the Environment and Human Health soon followed. With some 2300 staff they demonstrated how by listening to the people within their organisation, improving their place of work has had a direct relationship with the increased output from the business. That they now have a waiting list of people wanting to work with them!
Dr. Marie Puybaraud, Global WorkPlace Innovation, Johnson Controls then took us over the Edge of Collaboration!
Well she didn’t, but she took me real close to it. Looking at what this means for us today, tomorrow and thereafter. The ways we collaborate today, from a structured approach to chaotic and how there is currently a gap between knowledge workers and todays workplace infrastructure.
Looking of the generation that makes up today’s typical workplace and what soon lies ahead. Digital natives (A digital native is a person who was born during or after the general introduction of digital technologies and through interacting with digital technology from an early age, has a greater understanding of its concepts.) The majority of people reading this, (myself included) are simply
Digital immigrants. When will it come down to how much exposure we already have and how we currently choose to use the technology that already surrounds us.
I knew Farmville was a computer game. What I didn’t know was that it was played by over 31 million every day! Digital Native or am I a Digital Immigrant?
I choose to still ‘try’ and divide myself. From two email accounts, one for work and one for personal, I now have two twitter accounts, one for work and one for personal. Digital natives, according to Johnson Controls research, say that ‘…they ‘Are Apple’ and that they ‘Do Facebook’. Always connected 24/7 and always ‘on’! 58% say they feel naked without technology and over 70% saying that they are new technologies are addictive! They can’t live without them and feel punished or feel like being on a diet if they have to give them up.
Is this just the way it is? The world in which we now live? Are ‘we’, the grown-ups pushing too much technology onto this generation or are they pulling it from us? Asking myself what is therefore over the edge, is there an even an edge…? Are we already living our ‘peak-oil’ period, have we already reached the Edge? Is it yet to come.
Technology certainly has not from my perspective, viewing such TED talks by Pranav Mistry: The thrilling potential of SixthSense technology. Can only lead me to believe that yet is more to come.
With all this choice in technology, offering individuals different ways of working and different locations to undertake such work, are we doing the right thing? Will this result in a happier, more productive workforce and will we need a work ‘place’ in tomorrow’s world?
Are we better connected? Some of us tweeting during this event, reading others tweets, were we better off than those who were not? Seeing as there were a total of 613 tweet’s tweeted, they did reach 105,944 twitter accounts! Better off maybe…
Catherine Gall, Workplace Futures from Steelcase then brought in Culture. Arguing if you think your company is not Global, it already is! Viewing different cultures from around the globe and how they work differently. Or should I say, differently from us, therefore, how we work differently…
With the technologies that we have are we better connected or simply distracted? Is that person sat in the corner quietly working or one of the 31 million playing Farmville? By playing Farmville is he now starting to build a relationship with someone that may lead towards some new business for his company?
A post lunch debate from Paul Morrell, Government Chief Construction Adviser, and Neil Usher, head of Global Property, Rio Tinto saw the argument for and against designing a workplace for wellbeing. Neil losing us in ‘workplace’ poetry for 15 minutes while Paul demonstrating that it was all a load of )*^££%
I can’t remember the results from the poll now, but before we think about adding in the nice to haves are we missing out on the must haves? Air temperature, daylight and the basic qualities of the place in which we work must be achieved first before we worry too much about what colour paint goes on that wall. Something that …
Pawel Wargocki, Technical University of Denmark, Thermal and Air Quality Effects on Performance went into a lot more detail on this deeply fascinating topic (!). Looking at the basic fundamentals of the building envelope and their correlation on performance. From air quality and temperature to how these should be moved much higher up a company’s priority list.
We already look at the Qualitative & Quantitative data and how these affect and shape the environment of work. As a designer, we are often asked for the aesthetic first and function then will follow. It is down to us to advise and demonstrate how by missing out on the function first, the aesthetics will soon fall down.
If you choose to pitch your designs in order to secure work, then can you sell the sizzle with Mechanical Engineering along side that photorealistic 3D visual? You may have a great looking workplace, but are your staff happy to be in it if the A/C doesn’t work, the lighting is poor and there is little natural daylight.
Louis Lhoest, Veldhoen + Co. Netherlands demonstrated how Activity Based Working is a way of looking at how work could be organised and supported differently. It does not offer solutions but provides a framework for developing and realising new ways of working.
Providing information that shows that even still in todays typical workplace, 66% of all workplaces are unoccupied, that 85% of all stored paper documents will never be used again and that 50% of employees complain about working within an uninspiring work environment.
Final thought -
Asking yourself the fundamental questions from the start. Beginning with what we call, Role Analysis in order to gain an understanding of your company’s ‘culture’. Not the Brand that it likes to push outwards to society, but the individuals, their behavioural, physical and virtual that make up the company. Be it the place that brings them all together or the technology that binds them for work, 24/7, while playing Farmville of course…
If you are to view the people that make up the business you work with, that work with you as your unique culture; that all individuals have ways of working, within different time zones you’ll be starting off on the right foot. For example, I work better in the mornings from my business partner who is more of a night owl and when I am out playing on my bike, he doesn’t view this as playing Farmville, but building relationships. If the work/life balance is to merge, then we need to control this in a way that works for us as individuals and others are to respect this.
We build trust in people, people build companies and companies then do business. Some can choose the companies they trust and how they should work. Others may not be so lucky. I’m lucky enough to choose my own work environment, how and when I work. Is geographical location history when it comes to the workplace? Will we still feel connected if a workforce is allowed to work from their chosen place? Are we pushing this in the right direction or is this just the way it’s going to be…. for now …?