Shaping the Workplaces of Tomorrow

Can we design a workplace which nurtures and enables people to thrive?

Megatrends in our society are transforming the workplace. As emerging workplace trends redefine the way we work, it’s time for the industry to break the paradigm and seek innovative solutions for designing sustainable and resilient workplaces.


At the recent Honeywell Users Group (HUG) Asia Pacific Symposium on the Gold Coast, WSP’s Director of Property & Buildings, Wayne Bretherton, challenged the workplace status quo on some of the best practices for responding to these megatrends and fostering future-ready workplaces.


Mr Bretherton says, “The Honeywell symposium was a great opportunity for our industry to come together and share ideas about shaping future buildings in an evolving world and the role technology plays in enabling the process.’’


Wayne Bretherton talks shaping workplaces of tomorrow at the Honeywell symposium


Responding to the Demographic Shifts in the Workforce

According to a study by EY, ‘Global Generation’ found that by 2025 roughly 75% of the global workforce will be classified as millennials. Millennials are known to have greater expectations from their place of work, wanting the environment to enhance their work experience.


Millennials are seeking more than just a pay cheque from their employees; there are several factors they consider which can contribute to a workplace design. These include: flexibility in how they work, a technology-rich and collaborative environment, as well as green design elements to reduce carbon footprint. When we consider the current national average tenure quoted by McCrindle is 3.3 years, greater mobility presented in the workforce highlights the increasing need for our clients to nurture and design places where their people can thrive.


Similarly, as new technology enables more tasks to become automated, traditional office design has shifted into a modern space for knowledge workers, with skillsets that are characterised around creativity, problem-solving and critical-thinking.


Mr Bretherton believes that in responding to these demographic shifts in the workforce, our workplaces of tomorrow need to foster an environment which is both inspiring and an enabler for the employee experience.


Designing the Employee Experience

“We’re no longer just designing an environment, we’re designing the experience’’, is the poignant message by Kay Sargent, Director of WorkPlace at HOK design firm.


As organisations look for innovative ways to attract and retain employees i.e. their most valuable resource, incorporating a human-centric design is the key to enabling the employee experience. Elements of this approach include: health and wellbeing, activity-based working and flexible working conditions, branding and culture, collaboration and connectivity.


Fostering Health and Well-being

A body of research by the World Green Building Council indicates that our physical work environment directly influences the health, wellbeing and productivity of employees , which led to the introduction of the WELL Building Standard.


This indicator provides a comprehensive approach to addressing the behaviour, operations and design of a workplace, based on seven components: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. Research by the Centre for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has also found that workers in green, well-ventilated offices recorded a 101% increase in cognitive scores.


A great example of designing for the future is the headquarters for Medibank, at 720 Bourke Street in Melbourne. This was the first existing building to achieve the WELL Gold Shell & Core Certification in Australia.


Having played a key role in this development, Brenda Kingston, WSP’s Director of Sustainability commented, “This building marks a growing shift towards workplaces that support the health and wellbeing of its occupants. The outcome is a flexible workplace designed with the mental and physical health of people at its core, which was designed six years prior to the WELL Certification tools being created and demonstrates the benefits of early engagement with the client to understand their overall aspirations.’’


Medibank as a workplace of tomorrow


Creating an Environment to Thrive in

One of the key elements of positive employee experience is fostering an empowering work culture. Organisations can utilise a workplace design to reflect their branding, culture and values through possible avenues such as: flexible working options, promoting diversity and inclusion, hardwiring green building design elements and featuring work spaces which foster collaboration and creativity.


Further, a recent study by JLL found that 91% of workers desire more control in their workspace; an agile work environment based around Activity-Based Working (ABW) has been proven to empower staff.


A great example of this is the Macquarie Bank project in Sydney which became the first office in Australia to be designed with ABW floorplates in 2009.


Mr Bretherton lauded the project for its innovation. He says, “The design focused on delivering ‘speed to market’ collaboration for its staff and fostering an environment which would enhance client service and support.


“While it was challenging to change the culture of how staff worked in a time where this type of design was new to the industry; our role as the engineering consultants was to challenge the status quo and find solutions for enabling this change.


“We used a combination of technology innovations, tailor made settings and environmental building systems resulting in a workplace experience which fosters collaboration.”


Workplaces that promote wellness


High Performing and Cost-effective

While it’s crucial for a workplace to nurture the performance of employees, we understand that a work environment still needs to be cost-effective. Some of the measures which can be incorporated into a design to enable a high-performing workplace are: energy-efficient building services and minimal whole-life building costs.


Following the Paris Agreement and the targets set by our State and Federal Governments for 2030, this will also bring monumental changes and in designing a high-performing workplace.


With sustainability measures, such as Green Star and NABERS ratings becoming the standard –it brings forth an opportunity for organisations to find innovative ways to target net zero emissions and foster a sustainable and resilient workplace.


Technology Can be An Empowering Tool

Underpinning the human-centric design and high-performance of a workplace, is interoperable technology – the ability to exchange and use information. In the past the approach to implementing technology into a workplace has often been an add-on consideration, which can have knock-on effects to the end design and the potential to create an impractical work environment for employees.


In shaping the workplaces of tomorrow, we need to employ a smarter approach to technology and IT infrastructure which can foster mobility and accessibility for a flexible work environment.


With the digitisation of work, and key megatrends such as the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality all becoming more prominent in the workplace; now more than ever, there is a need for the integration of technology in future-ready workplaces.


Opportunity Gateways are the Key

 Mr Bretherton asks, ‘’What do smart solutions mean to me? I believe it’s a combination of early engagement and a holistic approach which drives the framework, so technology can be employed as the enabler.’’


By engaging with all stakeholders in the early briefing stages we can understand how the workplace will be used from the occupants themselves, find out what kind of experience they want from their new workplace and what this might look like. Early engagement not only enables a seamless design process, but by undertaking a holistic approach it becomes the opportunity gateway.


The key driver of this opportunity gateway is by involving all specialised disciplines from the beginning of a project. This way, integral elements of a future-ready workplace, such as sustainability and technology systems are hardwired into the design. This also ensures that the framework for delivering the project has considered all factors in shaping a future workplace, from frictionless technology solutions, to formulating policies around flexible working and cyber security.


Mr Bretherton concludes, “As an industry, there is still some work to do with breaking down the paradigms for a future-ready workplace design, but by undertaking a holistic approach and early engagement, we can employ technology as the enabler for a human-centric design, to help shape the workplaces of tomorrow.”


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