Robots, Wearables & Connectivity: The Offices of the Future

Peter Guest

With co-working and hot-desking taking off around the world, companies with fixed headquarters are having to rethink their workplace to attract and retain top talent and enhance employee performance.

According to a recent study titled The Workplace Advantage by The Stoddart Review “An effective workplace can improve business productivity by as much as 3.5%. Economist Duncan Weldon believes that could add up to £70 billion to the UK economy.” So it really is worth a company getting it right.

We look at how offices of the future will use effective design and technology to maximise productivity, employee wellbeing and overall job satisfaction.

  1. Design

According to workplace effectiveness experts, Leesman, 91% of us still work in a single location, and 64% of UK employees are based at their own desk in an open-plan area.

The open-plan concept is a hangover from Frank Lloyd Wright’s days when doing away with walls and partitions was seen to lower costs and increase worker cooperation and interaction, and thus productivity. This was fine for a while, sometimes, but the nature of our work has evolved, and workspaces mostly haven’t.

Companies are realising that to attract and retain top talent, they need the right office to do so. Great design should inspire people to want come to work. Future offices mimic the environment of co-working spaces, hotel lobbies, airport lounges, coffee shops and tech giants. They cater for flexible working and collaborative working to attract millennials, who make up the largest segment of the workforce and, who, according to Deloitte, will make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025.

Architects and designers are looking to tech giants such as Google – whose fun offices are renowned – for inspiration. Sleep pods, in-house baristas and rooftop gin bars are joined by living walls, lots of natural light and greenery, which has been shown to reduce stress and increase alertness and productivity. In fact, as the future office becomes more high-tech, so nature plays an increasingly vital role.

  1. Wearables

Companies will provide wearables to monitor employee health, heart rate, concentration levels and location. Wearables will know when you’re busy and ‘in the flow’, and switch off all distractions for you until you complete the task. They will also encourage you to move around rather than sit at your desk all day, thus improving circulation.

Chairless workspaces are much healthier, so we’ll have to get used to completing much of our work standing up. Ultimately, tech will enhance productivity and wellbeing, rather than demand more from its workers.

The Edge in Amsterdam is one such example of a tech-enabled workplace. “In the future, we expect to see the rise of the intelligent workplace that monitors its workers’ environment, mood, wants and needs to create an all-encompassing, intelligent and unobtrusive working environment,” says Euan Davis of the Centre for the Future of Work at Cognizant.

In fact, experts from The Stoddard Review suggest that, with the right planning and leadership, the future tech-enabled office could be the most humane of all.

  1. Social

Office are increasingly places of collaboration, social interaction and the sharing of ideas. Many are doing away with fixed desks and embracing hot-desking, where employees take their tech around with them, and sit (or stand) wherever they need to be to get the job done.

Future offices are also breaking out of the 9-5 rut, opening 24 hours and including sleep pods and even nurseries to make life easier for working parents. New co-living, co-working spaces, such as Roam and WeWork’s new WeLive in New York are opening to cater for those who want to eat, sleep and work in the same building, with the same people, and whose itinerant work or lifestyle doesn’t fit with the status quo.

In an interview on Raconteur.net, industry leader and workplace transformation consultant, Despina Katsikakis says: “People who have friends at the office are at least four times happier at work than those who don’t, and 71% of millennials want their co-workers to be a second family.”

  1. Robots, AI, AR and VR

In the future, Virtual Reality headsets will immerse workers in whatever environment they wish to be in, making them more productive and creative. Headsets are already being used in industries such as engineering and design, but the applications for other sectors are endless.

3D printers will make much more of an appearance, creating objects on demand. Already they’re cranking out cars, food and body parts – the sky really is the limit.

In terms of AI and AR (Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality), we’ll soon be checking in with a hologram receptionist and sitting next to AI colleagues, who will take the strain off our existing workload by completing all our boring tasks, leaving us to focus on the more creative, fun, original and strategic job at hand. Far from ‘stealing our jobs’, robots will assist us and make our lives easier, just as calculators and computers do. And if you don’t already have an AI personal assistant, maybe get in there now with your request.

Even doctors’ surgeries are getting in on the act, as seen in this article in Business Insider about the futuristic doctors’ office Forward in San Francisco. We talked about health tech in a past post, but wearables combined with great office design could spell huge leaps for the health sector.

However, as the Stoddard Review suggests, to get the most out of technology, businesses need to start with their staff in mind rather than the latest, greatest innovations.

  1. Internet

Gone are the days of snail mail and lethargic broadband, the offices of the future will be paperless, and wifi will be super-fast, or even replaced with li-fi – a light-based signal that can transmit in-office data up to 224,000Mbps.

Technology such as instant messaging, cloud-based working tools and video conferencing will connect workers virtually, whether they’re in the same building or not. Workers will be fully connected to the cloud, enabling them to work from anywhere – at home, hot-desking, or from their hammock in Bali.

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