As a perfect introduction to our Round Table discussion (starting on the next page), Dale Sinclair, Director of Digital Transformation at AECOM, takes a qualified look into the future of the workplace and the technologies that will help shape that future.
Although technology has always been influential in shaping the workplace, its effects have never been felt as profoundly as they are today. For example, although the shift from paper to computers and onwards to flat screens defined space standards and new furniture solutions, these tweaks followed a wider transformative trend away from cellular offices to more open plan areas, driven by the need for businesses to leverage their estates more effectively.
Similarly, more recent workplace initiatives, such as the increased uptake of agile working, aim to reduce further estate costs per head and increase business efficiency and success.
In AECOM’s book, Future Office: Next Generation Workplace Design, published by RIBA Publishing, we look at the growing influence and reach of technology in shaping workplace environments. Chapter four focuses on how digital solutions that enable increased mobility will change where we work and the role of voice technologies in the workplace of the future. Chapter 10 considers how digital transformation will transform the way we design and deliver workspaces in the years ahead.
A core goal of technology companies is to make us as mobile as possible. We can argue that once we can work anywhere, we will work in new and different ways as our businesses move to support teams located well away from prime office space. But, as armies of freelancers will already attest, while local cafes offering free WiFi enable you to work outside the office and home in a busy, companionable environment, they are not suitable for private business calls or for videoconferencing across the globe. We suggest that more locally-based spaces, such as community centres, designed to support new technologies, will become part of a company’s network of flexible workspaces as we move away from single office locations. This shift, in turn, will change what we do when we engage with our corporate hubs.
Of all the nascent technologies on the ascent, we see voice as one to watch. Many of us already have voice-activated devices at home, capable of answering queries, playing music on command or ordering the shopping. The era of manual minute taking will soon be gone as we turn towards tools, such AI-driven Watson, which can instantly transcribe meetings into multiple languages. The conundrum in the slow metamorphosis from cellular to open plan is that, in this context, open plan becomes neither suitable nor relevant in the face of voice-orientated software and the associated changes it will deliver to the way we work. If it’s inevitable that voice technologies will be prevalent in the future, then the environments we create will need to accommodate and include more spaces for using these tools effectively.
Greater consideration will also need to be given to the increasing automation of routine tasks at work. What will be left for us to do is the harder, more creative stuff.
As a result, more and more of our offices will need to shift from being spaces where we craft emails and reports, to become collaborative hubs more akin to speaker corners or recording studios – environments focused on facilitating team working and generating creative solutions to the complex problems and challenges that remain. One radical solution suggested in our book is a virtual meeting room that comes to the conversation rather than the more traditional way round.
Imagine it, you’ve bumped into a colleague in the corridor and your informal chat turns to a pressing business idea. As you start to discuss possible ideas, your workplace tech enables you to call a ‘room’ to the meeting – essentially an acoustic bubble, on call to provide a suitable environment for wherever you are, and whatever the task.
In summary, we predict an exciting, but very different tech-enabled workplace of the future.