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Space Fusion: Workplace design blends hospitality, retail, education and other influences

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I’d like to share a few highlights from Metropolis magazine’s panel discussion — hosted by architecture firm HOK at its local Culver City office — as it relates to our work up and down the supply chain of workplace design.

Moderated by the magazine’s editor-in-chief Avinash Rajagopal, the panel’s theme, “Space Fusion: Reshaping the Workplace,” addressed cross-pollination of workplace elements from hospitality, education, healthcare, retail, and gaming sectors. The panel brought together a senior associate at HOK, the HR manager for digital game developer Respawn Entertainment, VP of Design and Construction at Convene, and a Hackman Capital Partners member for a lively discussion.

What is “space fusion” and how is it changing?

Lately, we’ve heard hybrid terms like “resimercial” and “corporatality” in attempts to describe cross-pollination between sector-specific workplace strategies. While sectors continue to borrow spatial design concepts from one another, this blending is becoming increasingly people–driven, i.e., cultural. While the Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google [FAANG] workplace approaches set an undeniably high bar for the inclusion of costly amenities, a new measure of workplace success is emerging among culture-forward companies. Not only are end-users’ expectations higher than ever in regards to amenities, the workforce of today also expects that services – as well as physical spaces – adapt to streamline how they already work and live. The “wow-factor” of over-the-top amenities is waning as a talent attraction and recruitment tool. In the future, we will see more “borrowing” of workplace attributes that support people in more practical ways.

For example, check out sli.do, a platform that complements a physical audience hosting space by providing a new way to crowd-source audience ideas and streamline Q & A sessions, among other customizable features. As more sectors are beginning to adopt concepts like town hall gatherings, we will simultaneously see more cross-pollination of workplace products that support existing tasks in new ways.

Technology as a tool, not an end

Tech is an overwhelming topic due to the unpredictability and fast-changing nature of hardware/software, and popularity of digital products. Here’s how these professionals are thinking about a few workplace tech topics.

1. It’s time to stop integrating technology into furniture. The panelist from Convene pointed out that the lifespan of tech products has shortened to a point where linking digital technology to physical products – i.e., tech-integrated furniture – is likely to cause a foreshortened lifespan of the physical product.

2. Use technology to learn more about how people use space. In addition to end-user-facing tech implantations such as iPads in conference rooms or digitized check-in interfaces at reception desks, panelists recommend using technology to gather both quantitative and qualitative data on how the space is being used. At Convene, everyone who experiences the space is prompted to complete a quick survey and provide feedback. This qualitative data is automatically coupled with quantitative data from sensors to generate heat maps that shed light on how different areas of the work space are performing.

3. Use technology to streamline processes. Tech should remove – not add – steps from a task. For example, meeting room booking systems should auto-select a room based on user input (meeting size, screen requirements, etc.). Users shouldn’t have to self-verify that a room meets their requirements. This sort of implementation is groundwork for expanding usable real estate. As workspaces become more flexible and interchangeable with remote working capabilities, systems should assist the user in plugging into a workspace so that they can walk into any space to work, instead of forcing ties to one location. When employees become too intimately familiar with a space, they become resistant to change.

See examples of Convene’s take on smart technology integration.

Thinking [way] ahead

Finally, the panel inspired a few thoughts about trends affecting businesses up and down the supply chain of workplace design. Clients frequently ask how to future-proof their workspace with the intent of minimizing changes and additional spend post build-out. True “future-proofing” is frankly a myth. Workplace needs are always shifting and evolving, so feasible future-proofing lies in creating a space that is built to evolve seamlessly and [cost] effectively. To explore this idea further:

1. Innovation – unpacking the buzzword. We need to face the fact that eventually everything that can become automated will be. That leaves us to consider future gaps in performance; humans in the workforce will be performing the functions that AI cannot. This means imagining a future workplace with spaces that capitalize on emotional intelligence and human-to-human interaction, with technology assisting – rather than overtaking – these interactions.

2. Incorporate continuing education into the workplace. Education is one of the sectors that is expected to overlap with workplace more prominently in the foreseeable future. In our rapidly changing world, success is no longer supported by the 4-year degree model. In order for individuals, teams, companies, and organizations to compete, the workplace must offer spaces that support academies, seminars, collaborative learning and information sharing on an ongoing basis.

3. Be realistic. The reality is that as soon as – and even sometimes before – a space is built, it is outdated. The answer to future-proofing lies in the adaptability of the space. The Convene panelist said his company believes if it isn’t constantly making changes and updates to its spaces (either technological or physical), it’s not keeping up. According to the developer from Hackman Capital, Apple is constantly adapting within its space, which is not viewed as a failure of the original design, but rather as an expected part of the facilities management process.

Quick advice for industry professionals: Look for new windows of opportunity in business for managing this constant change. We serve our clients best when we engage with them beyond the transaction, and view their workspace as a living, breathing, ever-changing environment, where we can provide value on a continual basis.

You can view the entire 90-minute panel discussion on Metropolis Magazine’s Facebook page (event starts at the 17:30-minute mark).

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