David Paeper, AIA, CID, Principal, HGA Architects and Engineers and Rebecca Greco, AIA, Principal, HGA Architects and Engineers (Spring 2011)
For the past 15 years, planning strategies for corporate workplaces focused on minimizing such entitlements as private offices on windows in favor of open office spaces, shared daylight, and views. As work-at-home strategies emerged, companies provided employees with Internet access to allow them to do a portion of their work from home.
Recent changes in the economy, improvements in technology, and generational shifts in the workplace, however, have made the planning of corporate workplaces anything but business-as-usual. Worldwide, corporations are re-thinking their definition of "workplace" and implementing new strategies that fundamentally change the way we work.
The ongoing convergence of communications and computing is resulting in ever smaller and more mobile devices with which to do our work. This is creating a fundamental change in the workplace, un-tethering us from our desks. As we are released, our sense of ownership in our individual workspace can diminish, supporting a trend toward smaller workstations and shared workstations. As a result, square footage per person is trending down, while flexibility in where we work is trending up. Add to this the business drive for increased collaboration and knowledge transfer, and we have a combination of new forces that are fundamentally reshaping the workplace.
1. Technology Meets Mobility
Technology and mobility are inextricably connected. The miniaturization of technology gives people the tools and flexibility to do more anywhere. In an increasing number of companies, a laptop and a smart phone are now standard-issue. When we're not tied to a desk phone and computer, we can work anywhere, anytime.
2. Technology + Mobility = Flexibility
As a result, today's workstations are evolving into free-address work settings that support multiple workers. Employees move throughout their department, their building, their campus, and their city, whether working alone or as a team. Mobile technology, wireless access, and cloud computing allow us to move seamlessly between work settings, while instant messaging provides co-workers up-to-the-minute information about our location and availability. Since younger workers expect the flexibility that comes with mobility, this trend will only strengthen over time.
3. Technology + Mobility = Flexibility + Productivity
How do you measure innovation and creativity in the workplace? Is productivity due to environment, hiring practices, or company culture? As we delve into research as a practice trend, we're discovering that the benefits to the current changes in our work environments are substantial. Ongoing workplace research will allow corporations to quantify productivity improvements and employee satisfaction in ways that historically have been difficult to measure.
In conclusion, the reality of planning for a changing corporate workplace means recognizing that we're in a tremendous period of convergence. The convergence of technology, communications, and computing is real. In addition, such factors as sustainability and the balancing of work and family life are also converging with technologies that increase our mobility and flexibility. As these elements continue to complement each other, our workplaces can become more positive and employee-focused than they were 20 years ago. Tomorrow's work settings will continue to be respectful and responsive to our individual needs, while at the same time supporting the new ways we collaborate, socialize, and learn at work.