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Markets & Geopolitics

Tomorrow’s workplace today: Part 2 – Technology as an enabler of personalised and collaborative workspaces

Tina Paillet is Chair of RICS Europe and a senior executive at one of the world’s largest real estate asset managers. She writes here in a personal capacity. In this series, she will consider what new workplace paradigms mean for investors and occupiers, employers and employees. This week, she looks at the shifting role of the workplace as a tool for attracting, retaining and nurturing talent.

Tina Paillet, Chair, RICS Europe
12 August 2020

The human need for interaction is profound. Collaboration is an essential component of any successful enterprise culture. Both have been severely tested by the Covid-19 lockdown. Nonetheless, this extended period of remote working has proved rewarding for many. It may be difficult to convince those people to return to “yesterday’s office.”

Vast swathes of our social lives have already been quietly handed over to the tech giants. In everything from the banal to the lifechanging, whether we’re choosing reading materials or soulmates, tech is a key facilitator. We use it to shop, to meet people with common interests, for inspiration on fashion and décor, and for self-improvement. Every day on YouTube over a billion learning-related videos are viewed. The lockdown has seen to it that iterations of these types of tech platforms have become central to our working cultures as well. The design and service offering of the new workplace must reflect this new reality.

The performance of the GAFAM firms (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft) during this crisis has been astonishing. By the end of March, Google’s Classroom app had been downloaded 50 million times. Amazon was responsible for 32% of all packages shipped worldwide in Q1 2020. The number of voice messages sent through WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, have doubled since the start of the pandemic. As of June, 44 million people were using Microsoft teams on a daily basis, while Apple sits on a net cash balance of near to US$100 billion.

But these commercial gains are not limited to the industry giants. The collaborative platform, Zoom Inc. is a case in point. In early March, 14 million people were actively using its apps. By late May, that number had reached 173 million.

Woman using smartphone
The use of collaboration and messaging apps have increased exponentially since the start of the pandemic

Managing people and processes through data driven technology

Such growth cannot be quickly reversed. Technology has, and will probably continue, to facilitate remote working and remote collaboration for the foreseeable future.

Collaborative platforms are seemingly deeply embedded in new ways of working and have proven to be effective management tools for many.

How about training through technology? Aside from YouTube, there has been a proliferation of learning platforms, e-conferences and webinars, that have largely replaced in-person events. Online learning academies were already in vogue for many corporations prior to the Covid-19 crisis.

The emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI), most notably in the finance and legal sectors, has eliminated the need for junior professionals to perform vital but repetitive tasks. This points to a shift away from learning by doing, to learning through technology assisted simulators. Mentoring and shadowing could also be at least partially moved online.

None of this, however, will resolve an issue already well understood by employers seeking to recruit new talent for their organisations. Remote working does not easily allow new employees to assimilate into company cultures and create professional and personal networks within the business. This will be most keenly felt by those starting out on their career. It may become common practice for new recruits to spend a prolonged induction period on-site or in-situ.

Using big data to personalise environments

Collaboration and interaction will remain key to successful enterprise. It will be therefore necessary to attract staff to the office by providing them with a space “fit for purpose”.

Data gleaned from building sensors, cameras, mobile devices, lighting, wearables, etc. must be properly leveraged. If used correctly, they can provide insight into space utilisation, individual comfort and interactions. In turn, these insights can support continual improvement and adjustment of the workspace to individual and collective needs.

The Internet of Things (IoT), big-data and AI can be used to inform the best office configuration for specific tasks, or to measure air quality, acoustic quality and lighting level. The ultimate aim is improved end-user satisfaction.

Recent case studies in workplace technology are proving its effectiveness in measuring interaction and collaboration. Data generated by intelligent buildings and connected devices is of better quality and more prevalent than ever before. It can be tied together to drive and curate working ecosystems, to analyse what winning teams are doing differently and to encourage the adoption of similar practices.

Data generated by intelligent buildings and connected devices is of better quality and more prevalent than ever before. It can be tied together to drive and curate working ecosystems, to analyse what winning teams are doing differently and to encourage the adoption of similar practices.

Such technology could also facilitate part-time remote working/office working by informing pre-booking platforms to ensure desks and meeting spaces are cleaned and readied as needed. It will be possible to digitally map out ecosystems and to alert the user that particular colleagues will or won’t be in the office.

Social interaction, learning and co-creation in common spaces will remain an important part of how we work in the future. A good part of that necessary interaction can, and will, be facilitated both remotely and on-site by technology. Not only will this fundamentally change our interactions with one another, it will alter our relationship with workspaces, both at home and in the office.

Concerns remain around data privacy for the individual; before we can really progress in this domain, they will need to be resolved. But the office of tomorrow must be optimised to support collaboration and co-creation, and to measure and enhance well-being and productivity. Technology will not accomplish this alone.

Design of the workplace, in the wider sense of the word, will also need to undergo vast change.