Future-Proofing the Office (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a 2-part series on how to future proof your office.

Work and the workplace are changing today, driven by globalization, shifting demographics, technological advances, and economic pressures, just to name a few causes. And no one sees that stopping anytime soon.

More and more companies are asking themselves how to plan to ensure that they can meet the needs of the future without fully understanding what those needs might be.

In other words, how do we future-proof the office?

In Part I of the series, I described 8 ways this can be achieved. Here’s another 9:

9. Improving the occupant’s well-being. We have put a lot of focus on making our buildings more sustainable, but what are we doing to improve the health and “wellth” of the occupants?

Sitting stagnantly in a chair all day while staring at a computer screen is killing us faster than anything else. It’s not enough to improve air quality and give people access to natural daylight. We need to focus on designing spaces that improve the well-being of the occupant. We need to embed activity, encourage movement, get people to change their perspective and their view, and give people options for how they work – be it standing, sitting, reclining or walking.

And we need to acknowledge that illnesses spread more easily in an open space and encourage, if not require, people to work remotely when ill.

10. Addressing acoustic issues. Acoustics is still a major problem, but not because spaces are too loud. In today’s open environments, acoustics is an issue because many spaces are too quiet. The background noise of the workplace has been greatly reduced since more people type than talk, and our HVAC systems all have baffles.

But hearing someone across the room as clear as a bell is much more distracting than general background hum. We need to design spaces to be more cellular with interior elements that block sound from carrying through an office, and we need to consider white noise, natural or imported, to recreate the hum.

11. Addressing issues with privacy and distractions. Many people report the lack of privacy to be a major problem in open space today. The first question is what type of privacy is really needed – visual, acoustical, informational, managerial?

Providing a balance of open and closed spaces, along with team rooms, can provide opportunities to overcome most privacy issues, if only people would use them. But the real issue today is the inability to manage distractions and give people permission to interrupt you.

We need to establish new office protocols and etiquette for how to use the spaces we are designing today and provide areas that meet the privacy needs of the worker and their work style. And workers need to understand that just because you might need privacy on occasion, it doesn’t mean that you need it all the time. Be flexible.

 

12. Utilizing evidence-based design. The C-Suite realizes that space can be an asset if planned well; it doesn’t have to be a liability. But they want evidence that the solutions we are offering are the right ones. The burden of proof has been put on the design community, giving rise to evidence-based design.

The art of design is now joined by the science of design, and it’s the firms that can embrace and deliver it that will go from providing design as a commodity to design as a business solution.

13. Creating branded spaces that have a sense of place. Companies today are looking to sell themselves by developing an identity or brand.

Today, it’s essential that space reflects the culture of a company, which is often achieved through branded environments. Creating a strong image, or brand, and establishing a sense of place not only reinforces the goals and mission of the company, it aids in engaging employees and attracting new ones.

14. Sustainability will become a given requirement. The level of awareness about the importance and benefits of green design are well known today, to the point that it has gone beyond being a requirement. To many, it’s a given. The younger generation has an expectation that not only will spaces be designed to be sustainable, but they will be maintained and operated in that manner as well, and that companies will have policies and procedures to enlist green practices throughout their operations, from mission statements to travel policies.

15. Material and technological advances will continue at an exponential rate. There appears to be no slowing down when it comes to innovations today; in fact, the speed of change is only accelerating. New materials and advances with technology are presenting us with options and solutions we couldn’t imagine 10 years ago. Just think what opportunities nanotechnology and other new advances will present us with in the next 10 years.

16. Understanding we are human, the most important factor to consider. We might have the ability to do things, but we may not have the desire. We are social, we are territorial, and we are creatures of habit. Change can take time, and we will resist some things that push us too far.

There is already a growing techno-backlash as more and more people are placing limits on who has access to their cell number, when they will take calls, and how accessible they want to be.

We can’t forget the people factor in people, place, and process.

 

17. Holistic teams equal holistic solutions. The emergence of qualitative strategic planning means that it’s not only a numbers game today – it’s about considering multiple facets when developing space solutions.

Having the internal team players – security, facility management, IT and HR – can help identify the factors that need to be taken into account. And having the external partners – the design team, GC, A/V, lighting and the furniture vendors – on board will help expedite implementation.

The inclusion of all partners early in the process nets a better solution down the line, and can help streamline project delivery.

18. It’s all about the experience.   As workers are able to work anytime from anywhere, the significance of the office will shift from a place to do work to a place to collaborate and engage with others. If we come to engage with others, then the space needs to enable that interaction and be engaging.

Today, we are no longer simply designing environments; we are designing the experience.

Work and the workplace are changing. And that gives rise to new challenges, but new opportunities as well. To meet the needs of a future we can’t fully anticipate means being open to new ideas, being flexible, and being agile.

Kay Sargent

Kay Sargent, CID, LEEDÂ ® AP, IIDA is the Vice President of Architecture, Design and Workplace Strategies for Teknion. She is a practicing design professional with more than 23 years of experience working with government agencies and corporations. Her approach to design is enriched by an understanding of the industry and how it has responded to the challenges facing organizations and their workplaces today.

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