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Data-driven design: the workplace of the future

It’s time to embrace a fact-based approach to office design, argues Murray Hibbert, Client Relations Director of office and design build company Habit Action

The impact of your workplace decisions is far reaching and can often have substantial financial implications. Getting your workspace right can be a game changer for any business. But how do you know what style will stand the test of time? What will the workplace of the future look like? And how can you ensure you stay ahead of the design curve?

Workspaces, like life and business itself, evolve over time. Just think back to the Mad Men era when office workers could expect teak veneers, Knoll-style couches, ashtrays and old fashioned telephones. If you were the boss, you could also enjoy a large office to yourself complete with geometric wallpaper, a drinks trolley and blinds to shut out the rest of the office.

Fast forward through the grey cubicle farms of the ‘80s and ‘90s to today and it’s clear that office design has become much more user-friendly. Advances in technology have precipitated a more flexible way of working, which design is increasingly accommodating, with spaces to suit different needs and coworking and collaboration becoming more of a priority.

So, what’s next for the office? Have we taken user-friendly design as far as it can go? Far from it. In fact, one thing we can count on is that science will play a bigger role in influencing design decisions, as savvy companies increasingly harness the power of technology to help them make more intelligent use of space.

The next big thing
Evidence-based design, where decisions are made using a data-driven approach, looks set to become the next big influential factor and is likely to change the face of office design for good.

An evidence-based office design scheme takes data from an organisation’s working styles and patterns that it converts into a tangible workspace design scheme. The data, often gathered via an app, can give insights into how employees feel about their current workspace, provide a ‘heat map’ showing what areas are being used the most and when, and detail precisely what activities each space is being used for.

By giving decision-makers a comprehensive picture of how their workspace is used, data-driven design allows any new design and space plan to integrate seamlessly with employee requirements. This could mean creating special workstations or even removing them altogether for a more flexible approach. Or, it could mean the introduction of innovative furniture, specially designed break-out areas, or new technology. Crucially, data-driven design takes the guesswork out of office decoration, instead allowing decisions to be made based on facts.

From looking at layout, the conversation can move on to encompass all elements of an interior that make a difference to employee performance and that aren’t currently being optimised

The right lighting for example, both in terms of illumination and colour temperature, has been shown to help combat fatigue and enhance wellbeing. The right acoustics are also important, helping people concentrate and produce their best work. Research shows that just 30% of office occupants are happy with the noise levels in their workplace, so there is clearly plenty of scope for improvement.

Multiple benefits

The benefits of such an approach are legion; from a financial point of view, it allows a workspace to be leaner, potentially reducing real estate costs by identifying and eliminating wasted space. It also helps to create a unique, attractive environment that employees want to work in, so that a business is better able to retain talent and maintain a positive atmosphere.

The future workspace will be smart, taking into account usage and culture. Crucially, its design will be inspired by data insight, rather than emotions and individual opinion, and will be very much led by the diverse and continuously changing needs of the 21st century worker.

We know from our customers that there is already an appetite amongst forward-thinking companies for tackling office design holistically, putting thought into how every element can benefit employee performance. In future, we can expect increasing numbers of firms to look beyond aesthetics, as they switch on the productivity benefits of employee focused design.

By using a data-driven research approach, businesses can get a better understanding of how well their processes suit the space in which they work, which could prove invaluable for the future. Is it time to embrace a fact based approach to office redesign? Our experience suggests it could make a real difference.