A Smart Workspace

Why do people crave smart phones? Convenience? To stay connected to the world around them? To have something to play with when they are bored?

Like it or not, smart devices have become the norm. People assume that you have one or several, that you are always connected, and very convenient to reach. Smart devices offer quick and simple solutions to larger real-world issues in a compact, portable, and sometimes beautiful way.

In particular, the iPhone has revolutionized the way we receive information. It has set the standard for other smart phones because of its simple, intuitive nature; it also has exposed a need for such technologies to extend beyond handheld devices and into the built environment, as well.

In a way, the iPhone has made the workplace itself obsolete.

Let’s take a look at the most basic component of the “smart” world: the app, a mainstay of the iPhone.   Apps have streamlined everyday functions, from checking your stocks and booking a hotel to finding the score of last night’s game. The need for computers is dwindling and, therefore, the need for the spaces they once occupied is declining as well.

In fact, the built form of the office itself has changed drastically over the past 50 years. The workplace has become a more collaborative and open environment, so much so that the “fight for the corner office” no longer exists.

Executives, principals, and senior managers now sit in cubicles, or the more flattering term, “pods.” Private space is limited or does not exist at all. Moreover, people move around within the office to collaborate or to simply find privacy and technology is always in tow.

This is where the iPhone’s exposà © could and should come into play.

Illustration by Jacqueline McNally

People share ideas and communicate faster and more often than ever before since there is no lag time in between daily activities, and no designated time or place for each daily activity. This whirlwind has not been successfully contained in the workplace that we currently know because the spaces themselves are stagnant and inflexible.

Conference calls via Skype, webinars, presentations, product comparisons, and places to brainstorm ideas are necessary entities to any collaboration today.   And, in a way, information overload has made formal presentations extinct. The pristine conference room table with one or two presenters, no longer exists. Meetings now happen with the two people physically sitting in a conference room, speaking to 2-3 other people via Skype, comparing notes collaboratively via the Internet. As a result, this surplus of activity is not handled very well in the physical realm of flying papers and malfunctioning technology, but this is the itch that iPhone-like technology is just dying to scratch.

The workplace must become the iOffice.

The workplace must be a malleable, custom, intuitive, creature that supports this new type of workflow. There is no need to have staticfurniture and spaces when the world developing within the space is so multifaceted and ever changing.

Shouldn’t the built environment respond to this need this just as technology has already?

However, the solution is more than just sliding walls, interchangeable furniture, and moveable screens that appear at a moment’s notice. It is about changing the fundamental approach to how workplaces are developed, mainly making spaces that reflect how a particular business is carried out on a day-to-day basis.

Think about it in terms of apps. For example, an architect probably has a slew of design related apps on their smart device, such as Adobe Ideas, Evernote, or Architect’s Formulator. On the other hand, a lawyer may have a variety of other apps such as Fastcase or Goodreader.

However, the workplaces in which the architect and the lawyer inhabit are entirely too similar. Workspaces have a distinct formula; conference room, kitchen or lounge area, restrooms, a few private offices, and the ever-present maze of cubicles.

The formula is so out of control that you cannot distinguish when you are in a workspace for architects or lawyers. More importantly, the workspace formula does not fit every type of workflow, where as the smart device can.

The “smart” world has provided a unique design challenge, which, at its core, is a basic challenge of form follows function. The function of a particular workplace is not reflected nearly enough in its form. The workplace isn’t a static one liner; for that reason, its form shouldn’t be either.

Rather than being a big box that encompasses a maze of smaller boxes, the workspace should be a customizable, well designed, and have an appearance representative of someone not just something.

The built environment of workspace we know today cannot survive because its form disturbs the workflow, productivity, and efficiency levels that the “smart” world has dubbed the future of workspace design.

Andrea Dombrowski

Andrea Dombrowski is a graduate of The Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and is currently a design professional living in Baltimore, MD.

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