The shift to more human workplaces

16 Aug 2017

Workplaces of the future will be increasingly focused on wellbeing, collaboration and the physical health of staff.

They will be better integrated with their surrounding environments and designed to adapt to technological change.

Technology and a generation of mobile workers have blurred the lines between work and home and driven a marked change in workplace design.

We're now less focused on desk space in favour of services and amenities that support a more collaborative style of working."

Macquarie Group Head of Workplace Design Anthony Henry says the major trend of the past decade has been a shift away from the physical hierarchies and personal workspaces of the traditional office to more open, flexible environment where there’s an emphasis on collaboration and communication. "We're now less focused on desk space in favour of services and amenities that support a more collaborative style of working," he says.

"If that trend continues – and it's reinforced by the fact technology has made people more mobile – you can imagine a world where people aren't so attached to their desk but have the ability to move between environments that suit personal workstyles and projects."

Millennials driving workplace change

As this evolution continues, workplace design will place greater emphasis on creating humane environments that consider the needs of workers and how they interact with their immediate communities.

Younger workers globally are driving this shift, seeking to blend their personal interests with work and the flexibility to determine when and where they work.

A report by Deloitte found that, excluding salary, a good work-life balance was the most important factor for millennials when deciding to accept a job.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics says almost a third of Australian workers work regularly from home, while freelance work and co-working spaces, accommodating people from different backgrounds in a common space, are also on the rise.

These major cultural shifts mean employees are increasingly looking for face to face interaction, collaboration and socialisation when they go into an office.

Macquarie Capital Executive Director Will Walker says office environments will provide more spaces for people to meet and interact and incorporate other interests, such as cafes and leisure areas.

In years to come, modern workplace design will focus on the impact buildings have on the health of workers, resulting in designs that allow for more natural light, fresh air, passive heating and cooling and contact with the outdoors.

"The importance of having a building is that it's like a giant hub. You're always going to have a sense of community, but I think people will also become far more health conscious about what it is to work in those spaces," Walker says.

A building's place within a city

The transition to more humane workplaces will also include greater attention to the role office buildings play in their broader environment.

Tzannes director Alec Tzannes says for modern workers to enjoy going to work, consideration must be given to how workplaces fit into the precincts around them and the contribution they make to cities as a whole.

"Going to work needs to offer activities you can't do at home, such as shopping, going to restaurants or bars, or to the theatre," he says.

"Going to work in a beautiful communal place that you're proud of and enjoy being in is vital to enjoying that work.
Tzannes points to European countries such as Germany and the Netherlands as examples of places where workplaces are built with a long life-span in mind and integrated into cities and cultural precincts with safe and reliable transport and pedestrian access.

Tzannes says the workplace of the future will significantly reduce the need to demolish and rebuild, rely on sustainably sourced materials and drastically reduce its carbon footprint.

Technology's role in workplace design

The pace of technological change means workplaces will need to be flexible and adaptable in their design.
Walker says technology will usher in new methods of working, such as a preference for voice technology over keyboards.

Henry sees an opportunity for data analytics to monitor which rooms in a workplace are utilised and which aren't.
"We're going to get a very sophisticated understanding of how buildings work and we'll get better at utilising them more effectively," he says.

A way to go

Walker believes companies are only just beginning to touch on the benefits of a great workplace and how it can foster life and activity in the communities around it. It is not just about the employee experience but better aligning places to perform.

"We're really only just starting to understand the impact of workplace and how that affects human performance," he says.

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