Workplace design must consider how future digital disruptors will change the way we use offices, says AECOM

For the first time, a new book looks at the impacts of technological changes on the future of work and workplace

Digital disruptors are reshaping the way we work, yet too many workplaces are designed with little thought for the future, says global infrastructure services firm AECOM. The rise of agile working is already influencing office design, with a growing trend for a mix of space types that encourage today’s diverse workforce to meet, collaborate and socialise. With new technologies likely to make collaboration and individual work even more efficient, workplace design must consider supporting infrastructure early in the design process, says AECOM. The subject is explored in a new book called Future Office: Next Generation Workplace Design by Nicola Gillen, workplace market sector lead for Europe, Middle East and Africa at AECOM. The book, published by RIBA Publishing, was launched this week at a lively event in London.

Planning for future disruptors is challenging, as the time lag between the design and handover of a building is often many years with technology moving on. According to AECOM, office buildings therefore need to be highly adaptive, enable technological change and be easily reconfigured for changing user needs.

New technologies such as voice and sensors will help future offices adapt to their users’ needs. These types of technologies will personalise environmental conditions, learning people’s individual preferences for lighting levels and temperature, for example. Voice technologies will take minutes of a meeting and dispatch lists of agreed actions to the participants. The installation of sensors is relatively inexpensive if carried out during construction, but is difficult and more expensive to retrofit. Workplace designers and developers need to understand how these changes will impact future workplaces, says AECOM.

Sensors will also gather data to enable more efficient building operation. This will require a more in-depth understanding by workplace designers of what owners and tenants want from their building in use, argues AECOM. Architects and engineers will need to become more adept at understanding data about building and people performance. The future office will make much greater use of data science and the design process will be ongoing, with feedback loops from live environments influencing the next design.

Nicola Gillen, workplace market sector lead for Europe, Middle East and Africa, AECOM and author of Future Office: Next Generation Workplace Design, explains:

“The world of work is changing, but workplace design is slow to catch up. To stay ahead and play a role in designing the offices of the future, workplace designers need to keep a constant watch on new trends and developments. Retrofitting down the line is much more costly, so workplace designers need to become more adept at spotting and planning for disruptors that are going to change the way we work and use offices. Many of the offices of the future are being designed now. Work is leaving the building, following people wherever they go, so designers will need to become anthropologists and data scientists to keep up.”

People will always be an organisation’s most valuable asset. The needs of building users must remain at the centre of workplace design, says AECOM. Designers need to focus on who buildings are for and what those people and organisations want to achieve, as well as how building-supported technology can help them achieve it.

The book discusses the impacts of technological changes on the future of work and workplace. The collaborative work of twelve experts in their fields led by Nicola Gillen and including case studies from around the world, the book is available to buy here.