Designing with Tech in Mind

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Atul Bansal, Co-Founder & Partner, The Sheila Bird Group

Technology is everywhere. It’s around us all the time. What does it do? Well, it allows you to listen. It frees the mind and that really helps us and our clients to experience what’s happening in the world.

You can connect to interesting soundbites and absorb what they mean and sometimes even write them down. In interior design, words begin the creative process. Freedom of thought allows us to help our clients to achieve more, so instead of me just saying tech does this and that, I thought it would be better to give you some thoughts around what tech enables you to do in the places we work, play and sleep in…

It’s interesting that not only are we talking about the community in a business, we are now also talking about the community that works with the business. Community comes up time and time again. In design meetings we talk about community in every sense. Just as businesses link into communities, communities are now linking into businesses. Tech allows that to happen.

So what about the workplace? The workplace is becoming more of an experience and one that people want to enjoy for the social aspects as much as the networking, where the blend between work and home is blurred and where you can work collaboratively and eat and meet with other people. More of a club. Tech allows that to happen.

There is no distinction between work and life anymore, which means buildings need more public-like amenities. Coffee shops, clubs, classes – without these you will struggle in the war for talent. It’s a necessity, not an expectation. Tech allows that to happen.

Wi-Fi enabled balconies is a term that makes everybody smile. This made me smile. It made me think about how our lives have changed because of broadband. Life is just so much easier with Wi-Fi. Can you imagine a world without it? Tech allows that to happen.

A space that is a unique place to go to and work at as well as hang out in will become normal. Is that a good thing? Well who wants to be normal anyway? Tech allows that to happen.

Places aren’t just about the physical environment – it’s what is spoken in them that creates the character, the mood, the identity. Tech allows that to happen.

Innovation needs interaction

There is a range of opinions on the role of the office in a more flexible working world. Some see the physical space as a place for meetings and dialogue, as the foundation on which to build trust. I think that all the people in these organisations are individuals; they belong to tribes, they have cultures, they have rituals. That is not generally looked at. The solution lies in understanding these tribes, understanding these rituals. As an example, having Sunday lunch with the family is a ritual that unites people today. In the work context, how does one capitalise on and make the most of these things to build trust and community? Looking towards the future, I think the workplace is somewhere that more of this should be happening. Tech allows that to happen.

Maybe we have to work less to be more productive. Tech allows that to happen. Small teams have the intellectual freedom of a start-up, with the resources of a mature enterprise. Tech allows that to happen.

The office, like the smartphone, is ripe for total disruption. The phone you use today may look cooler, sleeker, have better apps and better cameras but it’s still essentially the same as the first smartphone in 2007. We have been doing the same with office space for the past 25 years. You can add more windows or couches or wood accent walls but it’s still an office. We have been trying to make the office look more and more like the third place. But what we should be doing is creating a third place that can do office functions when needed. If organisations aren’t tied to a physical space, it opens up all possibilities on what to do with space. If you’re paying for office space, especially as a small business or start-up, it can and should serve multiple functions. So why can’t your ‘office’ be public facing, providing value to your community? Why can’t it be a learning and mentoring centre, a coffee shop, a partnership with another business in the area where there is synergy. Tech allows that to happen.

There is a genuinely disruptive phenomenon out there. It marks a fundamental shift in the way office space is used. It may even be more accurate to suggest that the space is not occupied but rather consumed. It is based on a business model that does not see the people who use the space as occupiers, in the traditional sense, but instead as members. Tech allows that to happen.