Workplace design’s evolution – how form and function became ergonomics and economics

Twenty years ago the perfect workplace was planned for plenty of square footage, cubicles and offices with permanent desks, large conference rooms with enormous tables and monitors or overhead projectors for AV.

And don’t forget the C-suite in all its glory. This was the comfort zone of Baby Boomers and Generation X. Workers performed independently toward a group goal.

The internet and world wide web were in their infancy and email was becoming the new way to communicate. Phone calls were still predominant, and chunky personal computers were part of the business protocol. And in the midst of all this new technology, office design was trying to fit form and function into interiors.

Fast forward to 2018.

Having visited companies around the globe, I’m well versed in today’s office design – and the workplace has certainly evolved.

What do I see today? Open workstations with huddle spaces for collaboration, digital wayfaring, AV and video conferencing technology, social media and mobile apps. Collaboration technology allows remote employees to work when and where they want – so much so that 80% of employees consider working remotely a job perk.

It’s true that this flexible workspace is less easy to control than the old formal version, and it can be a challenge to make sure every employee gets access to the facilities needed to be fully productive.

Fortunately, technology has also evolved to meet the challenge, and today’s workspace management technology enables offices to run smoothly. Once installed, this software can typically be accessed by employees from any location via their laptops, mobile devices and smartphones.

Need a meeting space? No problem, just find one and book it with room booking software.  Add catering, AV, and video conferencing all in one touch. Need a hot desk?  Just secure a place to work for the day, using the same booking system.

Another important development in the modern office is the easy integration of today’s workplace technology, connecting the silos —linking the booking of space with digital signage, sensors and in room controls.

This integration gives office users an unprecedented control over their working environment, and gives managers and FM professionals a genuinely end-to-end view of how the space is being utilized.

For example, global law firm DLA Piper recently moved its Chicago office to a 52-story office tower on Lake Street where it is leasing 175,000 sq. feet. Every day, hundreds of employees attending meetings in 33 rooms – so meeting room management technology was implemented make the process efficient.

The integration of meeting room booking technology with a leading enterprise management system for digital signage and building control created a fully connected workplace.

Thanks to the integration of the two systems, workers can find a suitable meeting space, book the room and services and bring remote offices into the meeting by video conferencing, seamlessly. They can even set up lighting, control temperature and lower window blinds.

Display panels outside the room means workers can see the room’s status, book it from the panel, or release it if it’s not being used. The result? Kevin Wertlieb, Senior Unified Communications Engineer for DLA Piper, says:” This new technology has increased our productivity at DLA Piper.”

So let’s take a look at how this new technology affects how we feel when working in the office (ergonomics), while at the same time enabling an employer to reduce costs, by maximizing utilization of valuable workspace (economics).

Ergonomics

According to the National Institute of Health, our workstations should be ergonomically correct for optimal performance. Twenty years ago, ergonomics included adjustable chairs. Today there are ergonomically correct workstations and desk surfaces for computers, laptops, monitors etc. And don’t forget standing desks.

Karen Ricciardelli, principal at KLR Interiors, located in NYC and South Florida, says good ergonomics and the provision of areas that foster collaboration are key elements in today’s office design.

“I’ve seen many changes in workplace design over the past twenty years, but the two top focus areas now are wellness and lifestyle spaces. Technology has prompted ergonomically correct workstations, standing desks, treadmills and the ever-evolving chair.

“There’s also a design focus on incorporating leisure areas such as office coffee bars and juice bars as mobile collaboration between colleagues can take place anywhere.”

Economics

The change from permanent office staffers to remote workers due to the availability of new technologies and use of mobile apps has helped corporate economics abundantly.

Here are 5 ways companies can save on costs with the help of technology:

1) The use of hoteling or hotdesking –  the sharing of office space and desks, opening workspaces to employees on a “booking basis” rather than for regular use. Desks remain unassigned and are booked through an online office reservation system whenever required. Having less permanent desks and equipment allows offices to cut back on square footage.

2) Room scheduling software is a tool every organization should incorporate into its digital workplace. It not only finds an appropriate meeting space or desk, it also allows the employee to book it via a mobile device before they even come into the office.

3) Resource booking can be a chore but with the correct scheduling system everything from catering to video conferencing can be booked in one step – all together at the same time when scheduling a meeting room.

4) Video conferencing used to be complicated to set up due to different time zones, which sometimes creates a barrier to uptake by employees. Not any longer, when an office is equipped with the correct scheduling software. The system alerts all participants including caterers if the meeting time changes (through Outlook) no matter where in the world they are located – with time zones taken into consideration. Big savings here on travel expenses, and saving time increases employee productivity and reduces stress.

5) Occupancy sensors linked to room scheduling software add a great deal of value. The system intuitively releases the room back into availability when the meeting ends. Dashboards provide access to comprehensive reports that allow managers to quickly analyze usage patterns for future planning.

It all adds up to the greatest opportunity for an end-user to easily find the right space, the right time, the right equipment needed and even the right food. All in a few clicks, saving time and money while reducing stress and improving employee satisfaction.

That’s quite a workplace evolution to take place in just 20 years…So don’t forget to sit back in your ergonomically correct chair and take a minute to relax! Then look for the next blog in my new series on “Workplace Evolution Over the Past 20 Years”.

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