Where technology fits in

Smart businesses are creating smart workplaces in service of people
  • The rapid changes in technology reinforce the fact that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all workplace

  • If tech and workplace enable, then tech, workplace and culture empower

  • With careful leadership consideration, the tech-enabled workplace can become the most humane workplace

The modern workplace has been transformed by technological advances such as digitalisation, automation and the Internet of Things (IoT). While tech innovation is a constant and fast-moving process, it is important to focus on what is available now within the range of affordability and skillsets rather than become distracted by future-gazing deep into the digital age.

Enlightened practitioners of workplaces are now taking a tech-focused strategy, from retrofitting offices to purpose-built buildings, to achieve the best results. These results are possible as the IoT and available information enable greater individualisation and customisation, greater performance optimisation through data analytics, and greater agility that promotes results-driven intervention and management. Gartner predicts that IoT deployment in commercial buildings will continue to grow at a rapid pace over the next few years and will include more than a billion connected things by 2018.

However, UK companies are only just starting to grapple with how to get the most out of their workspaces and many are still only beginning to address the immediate considerations that were laid out in sections 1 to 4 of The Stoddart Review.

The rapid changes in technology reinforce the fact that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all workplace. Within a workplace each business function or team has different needs. Workplace, enabled through tech, can therefore be viewed as a series of interconnecting eco-systems.

Tech has been the great enabler of our workscape – the wider portfolio of formal and informal space where we now work – and this reinforces the idea that employees do not need to have a specific work location to carry out their operations and meet their goals. Technology and real-estate expert Antony Slumbers has said that the workplace will only remain relevant as somewhere ‘exponential humanity counterbalances exponential technology’. Slumbers is talking about great design, somewhere that inspires people, a place for creation, somewhere people use their imagination, a place where empathy abounds, where ingenuity and innovation is what matters, and a space for collaboration.

Industry leaders were keen for our researchers to understand the difference between organisations that use tech to enable their employees, rather than to demand more from them, either explicitly or implicitly. If tech and workplace enable, then tech, workplace and culture empower.

Employers who are ahead of the curve when it comes to workplace design are already very aware of these elements and are striving to instil them. This is demonstrated in the Leesman+ responses, which consistently show higher scores for social infrastructure and other aspects (such as the opportunity to have chance meetings) that encourage collaborative working.

Smart workplace

OVG’s Amsterdam building, The Edge (of which the main tenant is Deloitte), is one of the smartest workplaces in the world. It’s a tipping point project for real estate developers, as it gathers information on the workers’ needs and responds to them. Workspaces within the building are allocated according to specific scheduled needs and once workers are there, things such as light and temperature are modified according to personal preference. The Edge is also the greenest building in the world, with a BREEAM rating of 98.4% – the highest score ever awarded.

Deloitte constantly collects data on how staff inside the building interact with each other. A central dashboard tracks everything from energy use to coffee machine performance. This means that when fewer staff are expected on certain days, whole offices can be closed down, minimising heating and lighting costs. While data collation is part of the equation, so too is the need for human behaviour to be as adaptive. For Deloitte to realise the benefit of closing areas down, their people need to be able and willing to work somewhere else. Behaviour and culture have to be programmed into the new workplace genome.

There has also been an increase in the number of products that help deliver smarter individual performance. A good example is wellness tech that can lead to higher levels of worker satisfaction. A report by ABI Research, Wearable Wireless Devices in Enterprise Wellness Programs, predicts that by 2018 at least 13 million workplace wearable devices will be integrated into wellness programmes. At The Edge, smartphones are used to find colleagues, manage gym bookings and adjust heating and lighting temporarily to reflect personal preferences. To facilitate this, work areas are equipped with built-in wireless phone chargers.

By using tech that gathers quantifiable data – such as seat sensors to show how much time people are at their desk – companies can then better develop workplace solutions focused on the end users

A 2014 study from Stanford University found that creative thinking improved while a person was walking and shortly thereafter. Outside of a lab environment, organisations such as Lendlease are using new technology to measure how much time employees are spending at their desk or walking around. Measuring this allows them to instigate schemes to encourage people to walk more in the office or engage in active commuting (and this can be encouraged in the physical workplace by providing end-of-trip facilities such as showers and bike parking). Companies are now able to measure the peaks for runners and walkers and rework strategy accordingly. ‘When you provide great facilities it encourages people to use them,’ says head of workplace and wellbeing, Duncan Young. Tech plays a key role in getting this right.

Lendlease encourages its staff to wear heart-rate variability monitors. These monitors show whether people are in ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ mode. Once this has been observed the company has a behavioural change system in place to educate staff on how to breathe properly, how to make the most from micro-breaks and to develop a healthy sleep and eating routine. This all ties back into the productivity benefit. Seminal studies of elite athletes suggest that top performers sleep on average eight hours and 36 minutes compared with the average person who sleeps for six hours and 51 minutes. Research by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) suggests that promoting a culture that improves the health and welfare of employees leads to a healthy and productive workplace as it reduces the occurrence of workplace illness (which it estimates leads to around 27 million lost working days per year and costs the economy £13.4 billion annually).

Focus on staff

Organisations that want to be successful in using technology to improve the workplace must start with the staff in mind rather than jumping on the latest tech trends.

By using tech that gathers quantifiable data – such as seat sensors to show how much time people are at their desk – companies can then better develop workplace solutions focused on the end users. Unless those planning the workplace have a clear understanding of the needs of its users, the tech cannot be implemented properly. The best solutions are created with the employees in mind.

It might be tempting to picture this tech-enabled future workplace as a soulless place, run for and by robots. But the strong message from the research is that with careful leadership consideration, the tech-enabled workplace can also become the most humane workplace. ADP Research Institute’s 2016 Evolution of Work study of more than 2,400 employees and employers across 13 countries found that, while there is a sense of fear that increased technology will lead to automation and job loss, 37% of UK staff are technology advocates. They believed it improved connections with co-workers and employers, made their working life easier and helped them operate more effectively with global staff, not to mention reducing travel costs. A recent report on co-working from Corenet Global suggests that in the long term, VR, AR and even holographic solutions will enable remote workers to satisfy their own social needs virtually so the workplace can be tech-enabled to improve the environment of people who are not even in the building.

The Leesman data supports these innovations. It sees that offices that are making good use of the tech available, such as sensors to control temperature, lighting and IoT, have the highest satisfaction with their workplace because it is a comfortable place for people to work in.

Both the qualitative and quantitative research shows that rather than isolating and alienating workers as one might assume, workplace technology can bring them together and facilitate greater levels of collaboration and innovation.

Of course, a multitude of factors will equip the workplace for future business success and each organisation will continue to have its own priorities based on its workforce and outputs. But we are confident that what successful businesses will all have in common is that they have shifted workplace further up the value chain.

Also found in partner