Tech comment: Watch this space
Julian Lebray, Midlands regional managing director of Overbury, on how the rapid advance of business technology will have a major impact on the workplace of the future.
The design of an office as a workplace is constantly evolving, but the process of evolution currently feels more like a revolution as advances in technology drive change at a startling pace. We’re constantly looking at what this means for our clients in existing spaces across the office, retail, leisure, education, and technology sectors and how we can help them to meet the challenges of the 21st century workplace.
Much of the last 30 years has been accompanied by growing complexity in office design and construction to accommodate an ever-growing array of networked technology. Complex cooling and fire suppression systems, power and data networks along with voids and risers have influenced building design and created “fat”, expensive space. But we are witnessing a step change as new technology and the drive towards sustainability reshapes office properties into leaner, fitter and more agile workspaces that can accommodate 21st century organisations.
We are already seeing how the accelerating uptake of mobile devices and outsourcing to the “cloud” by businesses globally will have a profound effect on IT infrastructure and storage. Full cloud adoption will reduce space requirements for servers and other IT equipment and much of the associated “fat” space. In the short term, this means being able to fit out or refurbish a building to increase the number of people using the existing space, or to reduce the space used.
In the longer term, it would enable designers to develop “thin” buildings that don’t require large amounts of space given over to IT infrastructure. The design process could therefore become much more flexible, allowing different shapes and structures to be developed, enabling buildings to be more sustainable in their use of materials and energy. Thin buildings could be physically thin as well as metaphorically thin — increasing natural light penetration and creating a more effective working environment.
This concept also applies to existing office stock, which today is frequently shunned in favour of new buildings purpose-designed to accommodate current technology requirements. As the uptake of Cloud, 4G and mobile devices increases and the need for “fat” space reduces, the refurbishment of existing office space, often within prime city-centre locations, could be seen as a more viable option for firms looking to relocate or set up regional offices. This would certainly benefit Birmingham where, according to the Birmingham Office Market Forum, vacant supply currently amounts to approximately 4.1 million sq ft.
As well as shaping the nature of buildings another revolutionary outcome of full cloud adoption will be the idea of Workplace-as-a-Service. With new technologies enabling workforces to be more flexible and mobile, companies could provide office space in a variety of regional locations which employees will use as and when they need to.
An alternative to the provision of regional company owned offices would be the use of co-working spaces – drop-in business clubs and serviced offices available on an hourly or daily basis. The trend is already growing with global provision of shared workspaces increasing by 88% since 2011. There are already 61 such co-working offices in the UK with a number already established in and around Birmingham, such as that in Moseley Village.
Regardless of which route an organisation chooses to follow, the enablement of employees to live and work outside of the capital could not only boost productivity by cutting out wasted commuting time but might also benefit regional economies.