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The Future of Offices

It is clear the office norm is changing with digital and cultural shifts.  There are vastly different offices spaces out there with the newest development of ‘smart’ buildings.  By 2050 offices are going to be smart, interactive and fully personalised – and they’re are already on the way.

There needs to be a shift in office design, offering a network of physical and virtual places than allow employees to do their best work.  This will bring ‘reconfigurability’ to the office, which is different from the standardisation we see today.  Open-plan offices with ranks of desks are giving way to features that enable the environment to adapt to workers’ needs.  Movable furniture, phone booths and modular walls are also starting to be featured in offices especially shared office spaces Head of occupier business performance at property agent Cushman & Wakefield, Despina Katsikakis, states that there will be more diverse and flexible on-demand workspaces, based on convenience, function and comfort for individuals.

The pace of innovation will accelerate over the next 20 years.  This will influence the workplace and different ways of working with the adoption of new technologies.  This development of technology will enhance the tools available to office workers.  Smartphone apps have been created for companies to help employees find car parking spaces (if they need them) and adjust the office environment to suit the individual.  Connected buildings learn how people work and what their environment needs to be so will tailor the air, light, desks, even the coffee, for individual users. Soon there will be no need for conference calls with language and communication barriers.  These will be replaced by seamless virtual meetings with real-time language translation.

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) will be taken advantage of as well, eliminating some repetitive office jobs, such as tax preparation, according to a study from Oxford University.  Humans will be left with the jobs that require problem-solving, social and emotional response and creativity, according to JLL.

The office space needs to foster these skills in employees, as well as create an environment that inspires greater personal interaction.  The design and layout of an office should encourage activity and connection with the use of canteens and breakout areas.  Desks will still be required, but there is an increase in concern of the sedentary lifestyle of office workers are leading.  The use of sit-stand desks offers the flexibility of standing and can be adjusted to suit the different heights of workers.

With the development of smart offices and buildings, workers will have to sacrifice some expectations with regards to personal space including having their own desk. Cushman & Wakefield found that the average space per person shrank by 8.3% between 2009 and 2018. By moving from fixed to flexible working, companies can cut costs.  This is due to fewer desks being required as people are working from non-desk spaces within the office or from elsewhere.

Something else that may suffer from new developments with technology is individual privacy.  This is due to the increase in sensors that track activity.  Employees are often seduced by convenience such as finding colleagues with an interactive floorplan or finding an appropriate car parking space.  So, more often than not, the issue with being tracked is not major.

A big benefit of these developments in office design is the ability to improve a building’s carbon footprint.  Being able to switch off parts of a building off to save energy is beneficial for both cost savings and the environment.  For examples, the Edge uses 70% less electricity than comparable office buildings, according to BREEM.

The possibilities with ‘smart’ buildings are endless.  It can be described as making a computer out of a building.  The advances in technology allow for various opportunities that are incredible.

However, these new high-tech offices will not suit everyone, and proper change management will be vital.