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How tech companies are embracing tech in their space to create the office of the future

How tech companies are embracing tech in their space to create the office of the future

Technological innovation has been a relentless force in transforming modern workplaces. Leading tech firms, for example, are constructing smart offices to explore the limits of integrating workplace design with digital innovations.

Smart offices are distinguished from their conventional counterparts in two areas: layout and integration with technology. While the bulk of a standard office’s real estate is assigned to individual workers in the form of rooms and cubicles, smart offices focus on providing a variety of flexible work zones.

Smart offices are also equipped with technology-enabled features that help employees make more productive use of their time in facilities.

Companies leading the innovation of smart offices

Technology firms such as Apple, Uber and Microsoft, which have deep expertise in computer engineering and hardware design, are leading the charge to create smarter workplaces.

Form and function

Although Apple’s Campus 2 and NVidia’s Endeavor campus are futuristic in their exterior design, what actually makes them “smart” is their use of flexible work zones and integrated technologies. Such novel spaces include lounge-style work areas, sound-dampened video chat booths, design thinking zones and outdoor meeting spaces.

Employees are encouraged to explore these unconventional areas, which are designed to promote chance encounters that can spark the next big idea. And workers are free to relocate as they please, thereby breaking up the monotony of long workdays. In fact, some of these facilities intentionally maintain a deficit of conventional cubicle workstations, thereby thrusting employees into these more thought-provoking environments.

Supplementary resources, such as workout and day care centers, dry cleaning facilities and even medical clinics are being built within easy reach of workers, often on the corporate campus premises themselves. While not necessarily integral to establishing smart offices, these perks are much sought-after by the highly skilled people employed by these industry-leading technology firms.

Older buildings can also be converted to include the activity-based work zones described above. For example, WeWork, the US-based coworking space developer, has repurposed an old Bangalore movie theater into a full-fledged smart office that boasts Microsoft as one of its tenants.

How is technology incorporated into these spaces?

Technology firms regularly resort to building in-house solutions to address problems faced by office employees. A few of these challenges—and their matching solutions—follow:

  • Finding space to hold meetings: Scheduling apps allow employees to find and reserve available rooms. These apps can inform the user of the room’s occupancy limits and amenities available.
  • Finding a comfortable spot in which to work individually: Live office maps can be viewed by smartphones. Infrared sensors embedded within the building identify warm and cool areas. Sensors embedded within chairs signal which desks are currently unoccupied.
  • Finding coworkers on a large campus: Office maps plan walking routes you can take to reach an unfamiliar office. These paths can be varied based upon whether you need to reach your destination quickly, or if you have time to spare for a more leisurely stroll.
  • Security management: In-house AI-based facial recognition is used at NVidia to scan and identify building occupants.
  • Dynamic air filtration: A smart office in Helsinki has installed an air purification system that measures air quality in real time and switches on as needed.
  • Reducing checkout time at the dining hall: AI image scanning systems in the company dining area can be used to identify which food items employees have taken; a bill is automatically generated and the amount is deducted from the employee’s wages.
  • Remote collaboration: Slack, Trello and other online tools are used to bring virtual teams together across geographic locations.

Benefits of smart offices

Workers are better able to plan and rationalize the usage of smart offices thanks to the feedback provided by sensors incorporated into the building itself. Finite space resources are easy to find and manage thanks to real-time internal mapping.

People can also work more productively with remote colleagues through the use of collaboration software. Within the building’s walls, people enjoy more consistent ambient conditions thanks to sensor-based HVAC monitoring systems. And unneeded lights and other utilities can be automatically switched off when not in use.

Smart offices allow employees to tend to their physical health and personal wellbeing by offering soothing outdoor rest areas and nature-inspired workspaces, as well as fitness centers and health clinics.

Challenges of smart offices

Much of the “magic” that makes smart offices so adaptive—and informative to occupants—is made possible by sensors. These monitor workers’ identity, location, activity levels and a whole host of other ambient variables. Taken together, they require employees to cede a degree of privacy in exchange for the benefits they confer. Designers should be respectful of workers’ rights to privacy when designing, testing and implementing any technology that may encroach upon those rights.

Likewise, it is possible to “underbuild” conventional workspace resources in favor of the flashier lounges and design thinking breakout zones so commonly associated with futuristic offices. Workers can be productive behind desks and designers run the risk of causing needless irritation by not including enough of them in the floor plan.

Key considerations for real estate managers

Smart offices work because they join people-friendly workspaces with technology-based solutions to some of the challenges faced by modern office-based workforces. It is important that all planning and design activities take into account the human factors involved. Seek out expertise in ergonomics and office space usability. If third party technologies are going to be incorporated into the space, work with professionals to ensure proper implementation.

Any technologies installed now can be changed in the future with relative ease; changes to the built environment, however, is not as flexible. Take a cue from Apple: the parking garage of the company’s new Cupertino headquarters has space for 11,000 cars, but Norman Foster, the project’s lead architect, has voiced concern that changing driving patterns may render the space irrelevant in the future. Unfortunately, the garage’s ceilings are too low to easily retrofit into office space, should the parking garage become obsolete.

Smart offices are capital-intensive. High-end aesthetics are currently the norm and building tolerances are often tight. They are also large-format affairs. Consider Google’s London HQ, nicknamed the “landscraper”, for its long horizontal profile.

However, many of the features found in these cutting-edge buildings can be incorporated into smaller office spaces. While internal mapping may not be of much use for offices that occupy as single floor, smart HVAC systems and collaboration software certainly are. For that reason, tomorrow’s smart offices may come to occupy the conventional office buildings of today.