There was a moment many years ago when laptops were just coming to the workplace and I could see the impact they were going to have on the workplace. Where once we were chained to a desktop computer, we now had the freedom to collaborate when and where we wanted to. That was one of those eureka moments for me, I suddenly realised there’s something interesting going on here.
Since then, technology has become increasingly democratised in the workplace – we’re bringing our own devices and using apps to help with organisation and productivity. And technology is facilitating new and exciting levels of collaboration within the workplace. The problem is a lot of our offices haven’t evolved with technology – they haven’t kept up with the way we’re using technology at work.
Design and Technology Should be a Happy Marriage
To create a truly collaborative workplace, we need to consciously think about where technology fits in to the office set up. How are people going to be using technology in the office and what do we need to do to facilitate this?
For example let’s say you’re working from your wonderful new Microsoft Surface Pro Tablet and your workplace have created some casual sitting areas. It’s great, you’ve got full mobility to move around the office. But at some point, your battery’s going to run out. So what do you do? You might find a meeting room with a free power point and you’re lucky if it works. Then it comes to hooking your device up to a screen to do a presentation. But the team that designed the office decided they love Apple TV so you’re out of luck.
So although they may seem like two separate elements in an office set up, technology and design are really very intricately related.
Technology Should be a Forethought of Design, Not an Afterthought
I’ve seen some very impressive looking offices that are very sophisticated in terms of physical set up, and then you sit down at a work station and you’re faced with a clunky, out of date intranet. It’s a frustrating situation to be in. I find that a lot of companies are spending big dollars on look and feel, which is great for the way the office looks, but they’re not actually giving people the tools to do the work they want employees to do.
The good news is more and more interior designers I’ve worked with around workplace projects are becoming conscious that they might be making a decision about the physical space which can actually affect how people can or can’t use technology. So they’re bringing technology to the forefront of design instead of treating it as an afterthought.
Digital Transformation Should be Led by Employee Experience
It’s becoming increasingly apparent that people want the integrated experience they enjoy in their non-working lives to be available in the workplace. People are not happy anymore having one Intranet for HR functions, and one with marketing functions. They want a seamless experience they are used to in the real world. Businesses need to be aware of trends emerging from the digital world as these are really impacting the way people use technology and how they want to collaborate.
Mobility is Enabling Interior Designers to be More Creative
Google is famous for creating quirky “collaboration” spaces – take the caravan in their Amsterdam office for example.
The problem is that a lot of these spaces are not set up with the appropriate technology to enable people to work. They inevitably become a funny, quirky little space that you might show visitors, but no one actually uses.
But mobile technology is changing all this. As mobile technology gets better and we have access to mobile phones, two-in-one devices, even giant Microsoft Surface Hub, we’re actually getting this really happy scenario where the technology is as flexible as some of the innovative ideas that interior designers are coming up with.
I think that the potential for the physical office has in the past been limited by the fact that technology hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. But now you really can have creative spaces, chill-out zones and hot desks that will actually function as intended, rather than just being a novel idea.
The Possibilities Are Endless
The great thing about technology is that it’s always evolving and that should be exciting for businesses and collaboration teams alike. I think the possibility for creating spaces to enhance collaboration using technology are virtually endless. One of the coolest things I’ve seen out there is an app that can control air conditioning – let’s say you’re in a meeting room and you want to adjust the temperature, or perhaps you can log in and it will remember your temperature settings. Just think about how many office conflicts that would fix!
There’s also some interesting innovation going on at the moment about how to integrate different functions within the business like building management, security, room booking systems etc. which is all being driven by the Internet of Things. It’s an exciting space to be working in and I think it’s only going to get better with more leaps in technology innovation in the future.
James Dellow is an experienced human-centred designer and a technology strategist. He is a specialist in creating strategies for collaboration, digital workplaces and activity-based working. His consulting career includes government and many well-known blue chip clients.