It has been said that — more often than not — a single, physical workplace is essential for day-to-day business operations.
Businesses have, without a doubt, spent a considerable amount of time and money trying to find the “ideal” space: one that is in a great location, has reliable transport and is affordable and “cool”.
We’ve seen the emergence of large, open-plan spaces. Fixed desks have been replaced by hot-desking. Meeting rooms have been replaced by “collaborative spaces”.
However, while the ‘role’ of the physical workplace has evolved in the last few years, the infrastructure around it has remained unchanged and restrictive.
It still relies on employees living within a certain distance of the workplace. It relies on physical transport links to get employees from A to B. And they’re still restrictive in tying businesses to a single fixed location.
Compare that to the evolution of technology, communication and IT infrastructure.
These have completely changed how we work, allowing us to send and receive information, and collaborate on projects with colleagues at the same time, from anywhere.
As we look to the future workplace, we’re going to see more investment shift from ‘physical connected’ infrastructure to web-based collaboration and data networks.
COVID-19 provided an ideal opportunity for businesses to take stock and reassess their working model.
Whether it’s moving to the cloud to promote better collaboration, or adopting unified communications so colleagues and customers can communicate easily across multiple platforms, everything is under review.
The workplace is no different.
Not only are managers trying to create safer working environments. But they’re also looking at how real-time information and data can help create workplaces of the future.
Instead of looking at rebuilding what was there before, organisations can transform their offices into spaces specifically designed for collaboration and interaction that can’t be replicated remotely.
Not all employees will work from a single workplace full-time in the future.
Technology can help facilitate this.
Simple room booking systems can allow teams to book times when they need to. Individuals can use these systems to see who is going to be in work on a given day, and how much room is available. Teams can coordinate their time better, only using space on those occasions when face-to-face meetings are important.
It’s not just for office-based businesses that this technology can make a difference.
In hospitals, for example, hospital design experts Ryan Hullinger and Sarah Markovitz suggest facility managers could use data insights to reconfigure waiting rooms or consultation areas, or even create more partitioned ICU areas, which would take up less space, but be more efficiently designed.
All of this, of course, will be guided by worker insights which provide real-time data and information on how workers interact with their new workplace. And can be enhanced using newer technologies such as Edge Computing.
Some industries are already using data captured by monitoring tools and connected devices to understand the workplace.
In manufacturing and factories, IoT devices, wearable technology, smart cameras and wireless devices are being used to transform the factory floor.
Using these technologies, managers can optimise the workplace and make it safer. For dangerous areas, they can create “no-go zones” for employees.
They can also use IoT to remotely monitor the performance of equipment in real time. This means they can reduce unnecessary downtime from broken machinery by fixing problems before they become an issue.
This is particularly useful for areas where large, heavy machinery is in use or moving, as well as for unfinished or structurally damaged areas of the site.
These worker insights can be used across all kinds of industries where it’s important to understand how a workplace operates, but wherever it’s used, the principles remain the same.
With Worker Insights, managers can capture real-time data from cameras or wearable technology to identify areas of high crowd density, occupation levels and the flow of traffic through an area.
This kind of information is invaluable when it comes to redesigning the workplace.
Not only can it help inform future policies and guidelines using actual data, but it can also be used to enforce those policies. For example, providing information on whether employees are wearing their face masks and practising social distancing.
If employees regularly gather in one spot, the layout can be changed to eliminate areas of higher density. This helps to maintain social distancing and a healthy environment.
Take retail, for example, managers would be able to understand if certain parts of the shop floor are susceptible to higher footfall or crowd density — perhaps because popular items are placed close together.
Using this information they’d be able to redesign the shop layout to better disperse crowds to help maintain social distancing.
Without this data, these kinds of decisions wouldn’t be possible.Some businesses are using employee data to rebuild the modern office.
Using data from interviews and employee surveys, as well as through workplace analytics, Wi-Fi connections and other ‘passive data sources’, HR teams are making design changes based on real employee feedback - helping create a productive environment for all.
Technology will play an even greater role in the workplace of the future — more so than just ensuring it’s safe to use.
Whatever the future workplace looks like, it will be driven and designed based on data and real employee insights.
Everything from the technology used, to the building layout, will be based on what employees need to do their jobs effectively and safely.
Worker Insights is just one piece of the puzzle.
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