Designing a workplace that enables a company to successfully compete in today’s business world is a huge challenge – but new technology is helping to simplify the process.
Workplace strategists, architects and designers are streamlining office fit outs by using advances in data and analytics, utilization technology, 3D renderings and even augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR). These tools are helping organizations hone in on the right workplace plan—and see it through.
“When you can spin around a 3D model and even ‘walk’ inside the yet-to-be-built space, you get a truer sense of whether it fits your needs,” says Megan S. Mackinson, Vice President, Occupancy Planning Consulting, JLL. “Recent improvements in visualization and ‘walk-through’ technology bring so much more confidence to the decision-making process.”
Getting a heads up on what works
New technology enables better decision making even before an organization sketches out a rough idea of what their new dream workspace will look like.
These tools are helpful in a world where the basic questions around how best to use space have become increasingly complex.
The rise of mobility programs, in particular, has complicated workplace design decisions. In the offices of yesteryear, where employees sat at an assigned desk from 9 to 5, workplace planners simply needed to provide a 1:1 ratio of desks to people. Today, many employees work remotely at least some of the time, or frequently move around to different workspaces when they are in the office. Future-proofed workplaces are more likely to have one desk for every 2.5 people, with more collaboration spaces such as conference rooms and informal lounges. But what’s the right balance for each organization?
Technology is playing an increasingly critical role in the workplace decisions that no longer have straightforward answers, by offering a data-driven picture of how employees use and enjoy the space today—or not. A variety of utilization tools—from badging data and phone apps to wireless access points and sensors that detect when a space is being used—can collect detailed insights on how employees are using the space.
“With advanced analytics on how today’s work areas are being utilized, organizations now have the data to see how their space is actually being used. They can leverage these findings to determine if they need or even want all the space they’re used to,” says Mackinson.
Such insights can fuel decisions about office size and indicate whether it’s time for a shift to new seating arrangements or floor plans. For example, if seat sensors indicate that only half of the desks in a workplace are occupied on any given day, a company may consider whether it’s time to shed some square footage and move to unassigned, open-plan seating.
Immersive visuals of future space plans
Once an organization has narrowed down its priorities, technology can help illustrate how the new workplace will come alive.
Tools such as InSite and Foyr offer 3D renderings of space to visualize how a design strategy will play out in real life, offering unique insight into whether a workplace vision can be accomplished within the footprint of a particular building.
“Sophisticated 3D renderings provide a highly immersive experience similar to virtual reality—but without the goggles.” says Mackinson.
Renderings created by InSite, for example, allow users to drop a pin and enjoy a 360 view of any point in the design. But Mackinson warns against relying on technology alone.
“Even the best visualization tools still need human insight,” she says. “When you engage experienced professionals from the start, you can trust that your design is feasible, code compliant and can be easily turned into an architectural plan.”
The future of workplace design technology
With technology evolving fast, workplace design tools will only get more sophisticated. Buildings are growing smarter, with Internet of Things (IoT) technology providing ever more detailed data to understand how spaces are being used. Meanwhile, advances in VR and AR are creating new possibilities for visualizing yet-to-be constructed buildings and spaces.
The biggest potential, however, may be in the prospect of automating test fits directly in AutoCAD, the software architects use to create their plans. If that technology is developed, it would allow the user to take into account building customizations, such as floor plans that are not rectangular.
“While today’s rendering technology is impressive, not all products produce renderings that can be directly translated into architectural plans,” says Mackinson. “Whoever can crack that nut will unlock tremendous opportunities to increase efficiencies in the build-out process.”
While designing a workplace will always be a complex process, workplace tools are helping to align data and business priorities in ways that not only save time and resources but most importantly, create workspaces that meet the needs of the people using them.