(Authored by Mr. Arnab Ghosh – Director, Synergy Property Development Services)
Workplaces are undergoing a major transformation today to stay relevant. Conventional space planning and design approach for office space are slowly but steadily changing across the globe. What was a trickle a decade back is snowballing into a movement as we speak? The nature of the work we do and the time we spend in our workplace is driving this change.
The Social Workplace
The original office in the west was originally based on the factory floor design. The Workers occupied the maximum space followed by Managers and the Senior Executives in their glass cabins. The term “productivity” also has industrial roots. There were well-defined tasks and targets for the employees to achieve in their working time. All these have changed drastically over the last few decades and going to change further in the future. The culture of organizations has to adapt to this change to stay ahead and retain talent. Productivity is no longer a mandate issued through a circular, it needs to be aligned with the wellbeing of employees and the workplace organizations create for their future employees.
Who are these future employees? Estimates peg that in the next 10 years, 250 million millennials will be added to India’s job market. Across the world, 75% of the workforce will be the millennial generation. Millennials by nature thrive in an atmosphere that encourages creative freedom, innovation, collaboration, flexible work timings, offers technology and recreational opportunities in the workplace. Hence, workplaces are being metamorphosed with an aim to improve efficiency, enhance productivity and stimulate the mind in an effort to inspire innovation.
Trends in alternate work styles, workplace flexibility, and ergonomics are the fundamentals of the evolution of modern offices. A collaborative workplace bridges physical, virtual, demographic environments seamlessly. Office designers are finding innovative ways of incorporating technology into the work environments in a range of industries, spanning manufacturing to banking.
With the influx of millennials at workplaces, floor plans are opening up and walls are coming down to be replaced with movable partitions. Incorporating a variety of collaboration styles through hot-desking, break-out zones, cafes, meeting rooms etc. will augment engagement and networking. Workplace structures are continuously changing and it’s becoming difficult for companies to predict which job functions will continue to exist, so many businesses are creating workspaces with built-in flexibility.
This is leading to ‘open offices’ & ‘co-working’ spaces becoming popular across corporate India for a variety of reasons. They foster egalitarianism across hierarchies, often enabling those sitting close by to discover common interests, collaborate and communicate.
This year we will see more organizations will opt for spaces with larger floor plans rather than splitting between additional levels. This approach hopes to encourage people from different departments to mix and collaborate, sparking innovation.
One size does not fit all. Activity settings might include impromptu meeting areas, formal meeting spaces, project rooms, individual workspaces or break areas that make up for the shortcomings of exclusively cellular or open-plan environments.
The Biophilic Workplace
Research highlights that buildings can influence the happiness index of an employee by as much as 12.5 percent or reduces them by as much as 17 percent. The most common building-related culprits for hindering wellbeing include issues with thermal comfort or air quality, lack of natural light, noise, spaces that feel crowded and poor ergonomics.
The concept is known as ‘exploding buildings’ is fast gaining popularity, which essentially involves breaking down the constrictive structures that have characterized most buildings of the last half-a-century or so. By opening up spaces, integrating trees and plant life, creating pathways for people to meet and talk, helps create a sense of community, and generates opportunities for ideas and creativity. It translates into greater productivity, something businesses always want.
From sit-stand desks to the placement and design of staircases, more architects and designers are trying to encourage movement throughout the day. In 2018, designing for well-being will go beyond the physical aspects and focus more on employee mental well-being. A study found that 60% of workers feel more motivated and would recommend their organization as a good place to work if action was taken to support mental well-being.
A popular trend in recent years has been bringing nature and aspects of Biophilic design into the office. Spaces that allow more access to natural light, greenery, and layers of pattern and texture, lead to stronger connection and productivity at work. Switch from wood to either stone or clay and incorporate designs and fabrics that resemble grass or other natural inspirations. Reports suggest offices with natural elements can increase productivity by 8% and well-being by 13%.
All the above trends are aligned with the new awareness of sustainability and the fast-approaching reality of depleting fossil fuels. It is important for designers now to explore alternate ways to condition the workspace from harsh climate outside. Alternate sources of energy and intelligent building design will reduce the air-conditioned load of buildings in the future.
The Connected Workplace
Technology is omnipresent today in our world. The Internet and smartphones connect us like never before and our working style is changing due to the same. From work life balance people are now talking about work life integration. The future will create workforce who will work for multiple employees. They will however still need a workplace to do the same.
While 2018 will only witness the early stages of what Artificial Intelligence (A.I) is capable of in design, we will see the first steps of development. The workplace of tomorrow will be developed to integrate technology. Technology is getting smaller and smarter, and requires companies to scale-up fast for continued growth or risk losing employees who will be attracted to cutting-edge workplaces. Integrated technology can be a catalyst for inspiring and supporting the kind of spontaneous interaction that generates productivity and innovation.
Soon furniture will be designed with inbuilt connectivity, power adaptors, and wireless chargers. Access control will be through smart phones and your workstation will be tweaked to your individual needs as soon as you enter your workplace. As numerous devices will be released to support wireless charging, this feature will be largely embraced by workplaces. The tyranny of convenience will take care of all your needs in the workplace and beyond it so that you can innovate and contribute 24/7 to the needs of an organization. The term workplace will no longer be limited to a physical space.
The workplace of the future in all probability will be more social, more sustainable and more diverse than what it is today. People of different geographies, race and religion will be able to find a way to work and live together using responsible technology as a tool. The glimpses of that are evident in lot of workplaces today and the trend is going to accelerate in the near future. Organizations, Architects and Designers should see the writing on the wall and quickly start adapting to the new needs and requirements if they have to stay ahead in their business.