Five ways design is changing the way we work

The office of today is shaping up to attract today’s naturally curious, entrepreneurial and diverse generation of workers. Alongside shifts in the look and feel of the working environment itself, technology is both dictating and facilitating new working styles and philosophies. Designers are playing a crucial role in how and where we work, improving productivity, efficiency and motivation along the way.

Technology for agile working

‘Agile’ or ‘flexible’ working is becoming more popular in the corporate sphere and forward-looking companies – both working to make efficiencies in terms of costs and retain talent – facilitate the daily grind in alternative locations. A study by Lancaster University’s Work Foundation earlier this year predicts that 2017 will be the time when over half of organisations in the UK are likely to adopt some kind of flexible working.

In our plugged in, mobile world, you can theoretically work from anywhere. American Express’ BlueWork programme, for example, has four work styles: hub (a fixed desk in the office), club (a flexible approach between both office and elsewhere), home (at home at least three days a week) and roam (almost always out of the office). Underpinning the adoption of this practice is sophisticated hardware and software to enable these agile workers to get the job done. Tools like cloud computing, video conferencing and wearable tech are all there to make it possible.

The thing missing is of course those informal collaborative moments: the sharing of ideas across the desk, the ‘water cooler moments’ and serendipitous encounters in the corridor. In a bid to preserve both creativity and organisational culture, the means to encourage that kind of collaboration becomes all the more important.

Dropbox’s tool Paper pro-actively encourages agile working of the creative, collaborative kind. It allows multiple people in any location to work on one project and although it is designed to look like a document, it is permanently online and always up to date with additions, including video and spreadsheets.

Co-working spaces

With entrepreneurship on the rise, individuals and start-up companies often look to co-working office facilities to provide them with a convenient and cost-effective office environment. Typically co-working spaces provide the necessary components of deskspace, WiFi and meeting rooms as well as a dynamic atmosphere and the chance to rub shoulders with those of a similar profile.

Emergent Research has predicted that the number of people co-working in dedicated shared spaces will total one million globally by 2018. For these individuals and small businesses, there is a whole range of options to choose from.

A member of slick WeWork can make use of the high tech conference room facilities as much as the karaoke, meditation space and free beer on tap in its worldwide locations. Meanwhile, Bloomsbury Beginnings in London prioritises crèche facilities over funky design.

Tom Dixon’s interiors for Atrium, a London co-working space launched earlier this year, take inspiration from hotels and private members clubs. With modular components that allow for a fluid, dynamic office environment, it comprises 600 work stations in both hotdesking areas and private offices. Aimed at entrepreneurs, start-ups and self-employed creatives, the space by architects Barr Gazetas features a central spiralling walkway, interaction spaces, covered terraces and vertical gardens.

Artificial Intelligence

The robots are coming and they are going to have a huge impact on the world of work. The impact on the manufacturing sector, where many processes once performed by humans are now automated, is clearly evident.  And, robots are making inroads into the white-collar sphere too. “VR design tools, razor-sharp virtual personal assistants and desk deliveries by drone are speeding up processes, freeing workers to focus on more important decision-making tasks,” says Kate Johnson, Consumer Lifestyle Editor at Stylus.

New technologies leverage AI to make workers speedier and more efficient in the office. Smart Virtual Personal Assistants (SVPAs), such as Google’s virtual Assistant, launched in May 2016, manage organisational tasks, including travel itinerary, schedule planning and commute details. Similarly, Microsoft’s Cortana, responds to verbal instructions and decipher email messages, address books, calendars and task lists and can anticipate and suggest the next action.

Artificial intelligence also helps to make the global workplace smaller by removing language barriers. Skype’s AI translate service offers real time translation of calls into several languages. The service’s reliance on machine learning means that the more it is used the smarter it becomes.

Wellbeing In Office Design

Are we ready to say goodbye to fluorescent strip lighting, stale air and utilitarian cubicles? Moving beyond environments that sap creativity, enlightened offices today are spaces rooted in the values of curiosity, creativity and collaboration. Better lighting, verdant plant life and the chance to be active in the office all contribute to a sense of wellbeing. Amazon demonstrates this trend with new Seattle headquarters, housed in three enormous intersecting glass orbs which provide ‘green space’ of hanging gardens and flowering shrubs.

The recently established WELL certificate international building standard is an accreditation system that reflects how a building impacts the wellbeing of those inside it. It encompasses elements including air, light, fitness, comfort and “mind”. It might include design features such as daylight-mimicking light bulbs, inspiring common areas and materials that cancel sound. One company seeking to attract and retain talent in this way is medical supply brand McKesson.

It targeted WELL building certification with new headquarters in Richmond, USA, and had design work carried out by IA architects’ including enhanced ventilation, a high level of daylight and incorporation of inspiring environmental motifs into the interior design.

‘Well’ workers perform better. In Montreal, Canadian tech company Lightspeed’s revamp of a former industrial building follows a strategy of making its youthful staff feel both inspired and at home in the office. Architects ACDF have layered witty design elements to create a relaxed environment where teams can do their best work. For example, private workspaces in brightly coloured cabins, respect people’s need for privacy within an open plan format.

Innovation labs

Some of the most disruptive business thinking – think Airbnb and Amazon – of recent years has come from start-ups. Hoping to acquire some of that fresh thinking and agility, big global brands such as GE and Mastercard are experimenting with innovation teams and “labs”.

“Labs” are innovation centres within the main business, which are designed to help an organisation find new ways of tackling the complex challenges of modern business. Notable companies that are working in this way include Google, which runs a semi-secret research and development lab known as Google X and US burger brand Wendy’s, which has launched a lab to focus specifically on Millennial consumers.

In Copenhagen’s hip meatpacking district, IKEA funds Space10 to run a series of three-month labs to envisage what modern living design will be in the future. Each lab, which takes the form of talks, workshops, pitch nights, design residencies, exhibitions and collaborative projects, sets out to tackle a specific urban living challenge.

The strategy allows the behemoth to be daring, with Space 10 serving as an external innovation hub for IKEA to get vital inspiration, gain fresh perspectives and new ideas to invest in. “The tangible aspect of what we do is the task of creating a lot of sparks,” comments Guillaume Charny-Brunet, vice president of Innovation Services at Space10. “In the end, whether or not those “sparks” are turned into “wildfire” by IKEA and made available in everyone’s homes it is out of our hands – but the better story we tell the more chance we have to create enough curiosity within the big IKEA machine so they are willing to set aside the resources to deliver those sparks at scale.”

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