- Environment & Infrastructure
- Strategic consulting
- Specialist consulting
- The Living City
- Happold Consulting
I have been working for a number of years on a series of new office buildings and corporate headquarters and it's given me time to reflect on the changing workplace. One of the issues is that by the time the workplace experts get their research together the need for something different has passed. Whilst considering data about the past to predict the future is useful, it is very difficult to predict the future with the level of accuracy needed to convince our clients that they should invest large sums of money to change the form and function of their workplace.
One hint that this is changing can be found in the world of education, specifically regarding private education in the United States, where competition to attract the best and brightest students is intense. To attract these students it’s critical that the facilities (classrooms, student centres, athletic facilities, dorms, etc) are on par with the quality of the academic programs. So, is it any wonder that universities are making a major investment in their campuses and designing new academic and support buildings of all types?
Learning behaviour has changed dramatically. What used to occur in a formal classroom from 9 to 5 can now happen anywhere; 24/7. Now, everyone is wirelessly connected meaning that they can listen to lectures remotely, carry all their textbooks on an iPad, and share information on a social media site. The need for the classroom and formal hours are no longer a requirement for either learning or teaching. We are seeing this change in some of Buro Happold’s recent higher education projects. Yale University’s new school of management building, designed by Foster+Partners, is a great example of this changing behaviour. The building, which is currently under construction, will have more social and transient spaces than formal learning spaces; classroom pods filled with the latest IT/AV technology are surrounded with lots of informal teaching and lounge areas. So, if students are successfully learning in an informal and collaborative environment, what are they going to expect in the workplace?
We are creatures of habit. And the behaviour of informal work has evolved out of the habit of informal learning. So it's no surprise that the streams of new graduates entering the workplace each year are demanding a different type of workplace that builds upon their educational experiences. Technology has totally driven the ability to make informal working possible. It wasn't that long ago that the only way to make a phone call was to use a landline phone while sitting at your desk. Indeed, it wasn't that long ago that an internet connection could only happen at the huge desktop computer, again attached to our desk. Now we can go virtually anywhere in a building, and outside too, and work efficiently with the help of wireless cell phones, tablets and laptops. We are not even tied to storing our work; file rooms have been replaced by thumb drives and the Cloud, and virtually any mobile device is a conference room for a virtual meeting.
The phenomena above aren’t new and neither is the idea of creating informal workspace. Design has evolved though and it has now become a necessity to promote efficient working practices and ratio of informal workspace in lieu of the old formal desk space as mobile and wireless technology becomes cheaper, reliable and more secure.
For me the interesting aspect of all of this is that as informal teaching and working environments become more commonplace, the personal environment within these spaces will need to be different or adaptive. If I sit at a desk for eight solid hours with no ability to control my own environment I expect it to be monitored remotely so that I remain comfortable. If I have the ability to work in different spaces, such as a coffee bar or lounge areas, my personal environment change becomes more variable. Adaptive comfort goes well with an adaptive workplace. Wider temperature and humidity settings are acceptable in the social and informal workspaces. From a sustainability point of view, this means the ability to create buildings with a smaller energy footprint. It also allows us to consider designing naturally ventilated workspaces instead of hermetically sealed, climate controlled boxes.
Organisations that see the need for an adaptive environment in order to help create an efficient workplace are leading the way and will attract the very best of talent. The next generation expects choice in their environment and they expect it with minimal impact to our planet. PNC Bank's new headquarters is a great example of providing an adaptive work place, (www.thetoweratpncplaza.com). One of the largest banks in the US, PNC Bank is committed to sustainability. Their headquarters, located in Pittsburgh, PA, will be the first high rise office building in the United States to utilise natural ventilation as part of its energy and comfort strategy. This building is a leader, not a follower, and I am sure there will be plenty of followers as the demand for adaptive comfort becomes the key measurement of success for the workplace.