While some recent office construction plans have focused entirely on open-plan layouts and stand-up desks, one particular feature of the modern workplace has shot up the priority list of many companies – interactive technology.
Ten years ago, technology costs represented about seven percent of a company’s interior construction budget. Now, they can consume 25 percent or more of a total build-out cost.
Companies are much more focused on digitization and connectivity, with common examples including more sophisticated conference rooms featuring interactive audio/visual technology and smart TVs, as well as cloud-based solutions for employee mobility.
The focus on technology has influenced workplace design as well. “Spaces are being designed to accommodate what the technology can offer now,” says David Roberts, International Director at JLL.
“Pioneering workplaces consist of tech-enabled meeting and huddle areas, and employees can work seamlessly whether they’re in an office, cubical, meeting room – or even at home. The physical personal space matters less now while tech-focused spaces matter more.”
Of less importance to many of today’s offices are material finishes. “Materials, fixtures and finishes are getting less attention as the technological components of the workplace grow in prominence,” says Christian Beaudoin, National Director, Research & Strategy at JLL. “Offices are becoming more minimalist and decreasing expenses on millwork and granite, for example, so they can allocate more of the budget for technology.”
What a tech-enabled workplace looks like
One example of this is UI LABS, a first-of-its-kind research and development facility in Chicago dedicated to advancing high-tech commercial innovation. “It’s minimal in design but maximized in technology,” Roberts says.
Zurich Insurance‘s North American Headquarters in Schaumburg, Illinois, has also created a tech-enabled workspace. The simple task of setting up a video conference call used to require at least a week’s worth of notice and several steps. Now, employees simply agree to a meeting time, walk into the conference room and touch a screen to begin the meeting.
However, what works for one company may not necessarily be a good fit for another: Companies which are successful in using technology to maximize both a workspace and an employee base start by thoroughly researching how their own employees work.
This prevents the use of technology tools that don’t have the end user in mind. Companies embracing technology can use quantifiable data like seat sensors to show how much time people are at their desk or, for example, working in co-working spaces in an office. With that objective data, they then develop solutions built around the end users – a company’s employees.
A successful IT build-out also doesn’t put much stock in brands, manufacturers and providers until the planners have a clear understanding of the technology needs of each team. Once that is established, the appropriate components can be selected.
Change comes from within
Often IT teams work in a reactive capacity, but that should change in a tech-enabled workplace. A technology system should be intuitive and user-friendly so IT experts can dedicate time to solve actual problems rather than troubleshooting and re-booting computers. The design and support team should be an integral part of the IT build-out process from ideation to implementation, and they should continue to be involved even after.
“Companies may have to be prepared for more frequent updating of the systems in their space than people have been used to,” Beaudoin says. “During a 15-year lease, for example, they may need to upgrade technology as the business and the solutions evolve. It’s a much more continuous cycle of advancement.”
Finally, the budgets of companies that successfully embed technology in the workplace go beyond the rough cost-per-square-foot metric. They include cost allocations for pre-design research, envisioning sessions and data analysis, change management communications, adoption training and post-installation analysis and modification.
“With new technology frequently coming to market, the modern office is changing rapidly,” Roberts says. “Companies that take a holistic approach to IT can get the most out of their employees, their workspace and their technology.”