How Data Will Shape the Future of the Office

Jamie Feuerborn of TMA shares how new technologies and data tracking can help designers cultivate sustainable, inclusive, and collaborative workplaces.

During the early stages of the pandemic, some researchers and journalists tried to understand how the spread of COVID-19 affected people’s behavior, so they relied on location information from smartphone users. The data offered a comprehensive look at the movement of millions of people. The New York Times, for example, used location data provided by a company called Cuebiq to uncover where people are following social distancing rules and where they have traveled—enabling analysis of potential hot spots.

Collecting data is one of the most critical changes in the COVID-19 era. And as the workforce evolves with the hybrid workforce model, companies have a unique opportunity to utilize data tracking for making intelligent decisions about the workspace experience. Over the course of the new year and beyond, technology and data tracking will be crucial in piloting and testing the success of various workplace solutions. We will experience more integrated technology systems that create seamless systems for employees, from space utilization to desk reservation systems and collaboration tools. Individuals will be able to directly track things like how often they are in the office and how they use the space. And most importantly, staff will be comfortable adopting new technologies that provide a direct value to them.

It’s worth noting buildings that improve the quality of air and water can bring in up to 7.7% more in rent per square foot.

Leveraging Smart Tools for Office Design

For the workplace design industry specifically, the implementation of the Internet of Things and smart building tools allows designers an opportunity to study how employees navigate offices throughout the day and, in turn, design spaces more efficiently. This data also helps firms design infrastructure systems that go a long way in assisting buildings to run more efficiently. For example, data can show how many team members occupy a particular space at a given time, allowing managers to easily install smart climate control systems to ensure air conditioning and heating systems are running as efficiently as possible. With the same data, developers and office managers can also optimize lighting design and usage, further cutting energy demand. Upgrading buildings to operate more efficiently is both a moral and financial issue for developers as real estate contributes 40% of global carbon emissions. It’s worth noting buildings that improve the quality of air and water can bring in up to 7.7% more in rent per square foot.

Keeping track of how employees utilize office space can also help alleviate growing concerns surrounding public health. It’s a cruel irony that the need for social distancing suddenly arose as flexible and open office spaces reached peak popularity. Still, designers are working with clients to help alleviate these concerns. Digitally-enabled work areas, from a single desk to a large conference room that allows team members to make reservations ahead of time, help employees and HR teams seamlessly maintain social distancing protocols. Further, some designers are helping companies enable employees to scan a QR code before entering a building or a particular meeting room so that it’s easy to initiate contact-tracing procedures if the need arises.

Catering to Different Workstyles

Beyond using data to analyze if employees are using offices, designers are also diving deeper to research how they work in various spaces. With many employers turning to a hybrid model, staff are more likely to tackle “heads down” work, such as developing a spreadsheet or collecting research at home, but more eager to approach collaborative projects like developing a pitch deck or discussing goals for the upcoming quarter in-person at an office. Armed with this information, designers are reconfiguring offices that cater to individual work to support productive group meetings and improve overall camaraderie. Not only could this include implementing additional meeting spaces but also creating more cafe-style areas that are centrally located within the office, allowing employees to build relationships that positively impact their personal and professional lives.

Companies are now returning to office spaces at a time when building equity has become crucial. Workplace designers are stepping up to the plate to build new and innovative tools to cultivate more democratic environments so an intern can feel just as empowered in a meeting as the CEO. With technologically-driven meetings that include some folks sitting around a table in addition to others joining over via video conference, designers are facing a new set of challenges to help clients support equity. How can a parent who chooses to stay home to take care of a young child feel they are just as part of the team as a recent college graduate who is available and eager to get in-person face-time with managers? Workplace strategists are now heavily investing both time and resources to explore these new challenges. New technologies and data tracking gives designers the information to cultivate sustainable, inclusive, and collaborative workplaces that encourage firms and employees to return to offices.

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