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How Big Data is transforming workplace design

The workplace is changing now more than ever. Data that designers are collecting from these spaces can help to transform workplace design into something much more effective and desirable.

03/11/2020 3 min read

Words: Alessa Lyle 

‘Big data’ has become a sort of buzz term. It’s the sort of thing we see in commercials for tech companies, and that obscure articles reference when broadly discussing near-future concepts. As much as this is the case though, big data has also arrived in a very real sense, and is beginning to impact industries in numerous significant ways.

If you’re not quite sold yet, consider this: according to a post about big data by Verizon Connect’s Simon Austin-Beckett, 90% of all existing data currently in existence has been created over the past few years. This is an astounding thing to read, but it speaks to just how much our capacity to gather and organise data has improved. Technology today can compile virtually limitless insight. And the very fact that so much data has been created just recently is further evidence to just how many industries are in on the action.

Typically, the rise of big data is logically associated with a few specific types of businesses. We know, for instance, that massive troves of information are stored by healthcare companies as a means of making care more efficient. We know that finance-related businesses are collecting data by the second in order to inform investment strategies and the like. And in recent years it’s become clear that big data can play a major role in reshaping shipping and logistics industries.

But what about workplace design?

This is an aspect of modern business that most wouldn’t think of in connection to big data. And yet, as David Thame revealed earlier in 2020, it’s expected that analytics are going to start playing a role in the way workplaces are run, costed, and occupied. It was stated that big data would drive the change, such that legitimate analysis — rather than pure design and creativity — will help to shape workplaces. As to what this will actually mean, it’s difficult to say. But there are a few concepts that come to mind.

For one thing, we may see analytics altering basic layouts. With the Internet of Things active in the workplace, there can actually be automated data collection concerning where employees spend their time, which people need to interact with which departments, and so on. This information can be analysed such that an optimal floor plan emerges — one that will put employees where they need to be, and cut down on wasted time crossing the office, seeking out open conference rooms, and so on.

On a similar note, big data is also going to be used increasingly to bring about greater collaboration between employees. Patrick Sisson of Curbed wrote about changing workplaces with respect to big data in a fairly in-depth manner. And while he focused largely on the notion of data-driven floor plans just discussed, he also noted that research shows that interior visibility, specifically how many other coworkers one worker can see from their desk, and how much space you can see in the 25 feet surrounding you, improves their ability to make connections and collaborate. A big data approach can be used to analyse the space around employees and help to bring about a plan for spacing out and/or grouping coworkers in a way that brings about better teamwork.

In a somewhat more straightforward application of data in design, modern insights can also provide space for employee feedback and broad workplace trends. An Inc. write-up on design strategies delved into this aspect of the subject, suggesting that listening to employee feedback and keeping a pulse on external trends can result in clearly defined design initiatives. For example, the article notes that 58% of employees in a survey wanted more natural light in the office. A company compiling this sort of data can implement design ideas that are strongly favoured (and not widely opposed), thus directly creating a better working environment.

In the end, the specific changes to workplace design brought about by big data will be numerous and varied. Designs will depend on data from one workplace to another. But that, ultimately, is exactly the point.

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