The Smarter Workplace

The new workplace is universal, customizable and seamless—and instructions are not included.

Smarter, seamless environments have become the norm for today’s increasingly mobile workforce. Enabled by advanced technology, new corporate policies and an influx of millennials, the demand for a workplace that presents a platform for discovery, inspiration and collaboration—think of the iPad’s intuitive interface and apps—is building momentum.

Traditional corporate methods and practices have been turned into engaging, interactive experiences that are transforming how companies are doing business. And the true power of these platforms is realized in their ability to inspire innovation—arguably the most valuable currency in the marketplace today.

The evolving relationship between new technologies, smarter workplaces and a mobile workforce is  providing today’s companies with an opportunity to realize the full potential of their most important asset: their people. Together, they are creating a solid foundation for business in the 21st century, one that is capable of supporting dynamic workplace experiences while smartly streamlining resources.

This is only achievable, however, if the design of the workplace is a vehicle for the user’s journey—allowing workers to log on, dial in or connect wherever, whenever and however it supports them best. Gensler’s Workplace Survey research findings confirm that aligning work styles with flexible work settings within the office and giving people the choice of where they want to work is the key to supporting them cost-effectively on a global basis (Gensler Dialogue 22).

The old model of designing workplaces that establish boundaries and limitations through architecture, infrastructure and organization of resources (or lack thereof) is something of the past. Users now have control and choice, and the smarter workplace enables this.

Reflecting on the success of the iPad, one can’t ignore its unique appeal to a wide audience of users. Whether it’s an 80-year-old grandfather reading an iBook or a 4-year-old playing an interactive learning video, the iPad consistently evokes the same reactions: delight and wonder. This is made possible by the range of apps it offers—individual solutions that are customized to and chosen by the user. Apps make the user experience authentic and personal, despite the iPad being a universal design solution with only two sizes for everyone.

Critical also to its appeal is its ease of use. Its intuitive design makes it much more likely to not just be used, but customized. This holds true in the workplace, too. Planning a smart workplace that appeals across the generations employed in today’s workforce requires more flexibility, adjustability and choice than ever before. One size does not fit all, and in most cases, neither does two, but if the form is malleable enough to flex to the individual’s needs, it just might be successful.

it’s customizable
The trend of designing for control and choice in the workplace shows no signs of easing—if anything, it’s only just the beginning. Increasingly, we are finding that the ability to control one’s experience is prioritized over more conventional rewards such as a higher salary or a larger private workspace. In fact, a 2011 Cisco Connected Workplace Study reported that 33 percent of employees under the age of 30 said they would select social media freedom, device flexibility and work mobility over salary in accepting a job offer.

For several years, we have seen workplace design become more universal in its execution; now it has become smarter about its neutrality. The successful workplace’s building blocks are smaller in scale, less precious and increasingly multifunctional, which creates the ability for the user to “hack” or reshape their environment to be something even greater than originally imagined.

This is evident in the Gensler-designed campus for Facebook at Menlo Park, which features a workspace solution that gives employees the ability to reconfigure their desks to their desired layout, and an art program that encourages them to use the campus as a canvas for self-expression—and subsequently, brand building.

These new design principles, centered around customization and control, have dramatically stretched the spectrum of potential workplace outcomes. Increasingly, there are no longer set workplace guidelines in place, but rather policies created by leadership that are reinforced by the self-governing culture of a company. This structure requires a smart design that can be easily pulled apart and put back together again. The goal is that it serves the company better than what was originally planned, as the user designs it.

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