Smart offices to ‘recognise’ workers

14260118909_8515e4a53c_o.jpgBuildings will need to recognise who is using them and connect workers through apps and social networks, workplace experts have said.

Speaking at a November Worktech conference in London, workplace designers and managers debated the office implications of moving to an agile and co-working environment.

Andrew O’Donnell, real estate leader for consultancy EY, said moving to an agile way of working has meant the company’s offices have also needed to be redesigned. EY is moving to a new office at Canary Wharf, which prioritises hub and collaboration space over desks. “You have to go through collaboration space to get to any desks,” he said.

He added that trying to get people back together to collaborate in a big building becomes a real challenge. “Buildings turning into social networks and how you get people to connect is the problem we now have.”

Todd Budgen, director of UK real estate for insurer Aon, said the firm has moved from a very traditional building and way of working to a new headquarters and agile culture. At the same time, it has installed a permanent sensor solution in its new building to help monitor change. As well as desk occupancy Budgen said: “We also measure our alternative workplaces, meeting rooms and cafes. We get a good understanding of what’s working and what isn’t.”

As a result of the sensor information, the company is swapping out some of the less popular furniture solutions and areas in favour of the highly used ones.

Others predicted that smart buildings will go further before long. Answering the question of how to foster innovation when the right people are rarely in the same place at the same time, Derrick Bock, head of workplace design at eBay, said it has become necessary to “engineer serendipity”.

He talked about social apps being used to connect people when they come into a space and how to keep users active on those tools to get the big picture value.

Juliette Morgan, head of property for Tech City UK, said: “Developers are adopting facial recognition technology so buildings know who is inside them. Buildings are starting to churn out data not just on occupancy, but social interaction. At the moment this building doesn’t know I’m here but we will get to the point where the building does have the ability to see that.”

She raised the idea that in future co-working spaces could charge more for the higher value seats where interaction was higher. They could also offer real-time occupancy information – connecting to a community to let them know there is a desk available.

Not everyone agreed complex solutions are necessary. Chris Kane, who was previously head of corporate real estate at BBC Workplace, said: “I think we’re in danger of having the tail wagging the dog. At the end of the day it boils down to human interaction. If you like someone, you’ll find them.”

Photo by NEC Corporation of America with Creative Commons license.


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