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A human centric approach to designing the future workplace

Designing the future workplace involves looking beyond a functional office, to also creating a civic central for talent to flourish.
Thursday, October 6, 2016 - 05:50
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Urban regeneration projects around the world such as Barangaroo South precinct in Sydney are creating environments that are fit for the future way of working.

THE concept of the workplace is evolving. Historically, the quest was to design the perfect workplace focused on the infrastructure and physical design, taking into account technological transformations, with business cost efficiency being a major driver. This approach, however, often neglected the human aspects and how the talent interacted in and around the space and how productivity was maximised.

This "single serving" mentality - buildings to house workers and workstations for employees - ignores the potential to transform urban spaces in cities worldwide into more holistic and human-centric precincts. As a result, commercial areas, especially central business districts (CBDs) around the world, turn into dead areas after dark and on the weekends. But it need not be this way.

A number of designers and developers are taking the lead with a more holistic, and more importantly, a more human-centric approach to designing the workplace and the ecosystem around it. The benefits are multi-fold - not only can employee talent be served better by increasing their productivity and well-being, the surrounding community may benefit as well.

Where the future works

This is what urban regeneration is about - as cities house more people than ever before, buildings need to be designed and constructed with people foremost in mind.

Many urban regeneration projects around the world are doing exactly that. From the vast Barangaroo South precinct in Sydney to International Quarter London, the centre of Europe's largest urban development, these large-scale projects are transforming not just the skyline but also creating environments that are fit for the future way of working.

The common thread among each of these industry-leading developments is the fact that they are not just one-dimensional workplaces. Each is designed to be mixed-use projects from the very start, integrating a variety of asset classes - including shops, hotels, offices, parks, residences and leisure and entertainment offerings, providing a broad spectrum of amenities and experiences for the working population.

The workplace of the future will be part of a greater eco-system of amenities and complementary businesses, bringing together large public spaces, vibrant round-the-clock retail, leisure and entertainment options and seamless transport connectivity.

These future workplaces will also have a strong community focus, building in broad-ranging cultural, living, and working spaces, catering not just for the wellness of inhabitants, but for their well-being.

Closer to home, the ambitious Jurong Lake District and other up-and-coming business hubs in Buona Vista, Woodlands Central and Paya Lebar Central represent a similar take on the future of workplaces - which are not just for business but also offer inclusive community spaces for the broader population.

Connected and inclusive

With progressive cities such as Singapore moving towards being more car-lite, future workplaces will not just be easily accessible via public transportation networks, but also have dedicated amenities to support the needs of other active mobility methods.

End-of-trip facilities with bicycle parking, lockers, changing rooms and showers will be ubiquitous in future workplaces, supporting cyclists' and joggers' commutes to work.

Workplaces of the future will be sustainable hubs that seamlessly integrate social, leisure and work spaces. With this hub model, amenities and services do not just serve workers during working hours, but also the catchment of residents within the development and in the vicinity, acting as a gathering place where residents and visitors are able to connect with one another.

To transform the face of the workplace, there will also be curated retail and entertainment options that reinvent the entire development into a destination in and of itself.

For example, instead of the usual shopping complex serving the lunchtime crowd, future workplaces will feature alfresco dining streets, lush green spaces and multi-purpose plazas for community events or pop-up concepts.

Collaboration and concentration

The recent trend in workspace concepts is undeniably more human-centric compared to the past, with employers embracing the productivity benefits that open-plan spaces and hot-desking provide. The future of work is seen as much more collaborative and flexible, responding to the behaviours and working culture of the millennial generation.

A CBRE paper on workspace preferences by different generations revealed that while millennials do value spaces meant for socialising more than other generations, the most important spaces to them are those that allow them to think and concentrate.

In addition, the paper also found that millennials actually spend slightly more time doing individually focused work compared to their older colleagues. What this means is that workplaces of the future should allow for flexible designs and account for a broad variety of needs, such as private nooks where employees can focus their thoughts, providing a holistic rather than a homogenous environment for all.

Healthy and happy

Apart from having progressive fit-outs, the future workplace should promote the overall well-being of occupants. Beyond taking care of the physical wellness of inhabitants, ensuring well-being actually goes one step further, to a state where employees are both healthy and happy.

Developers globally are recognising that there should be metrics to account for the shift towards assessing the well-being of workplaces. In Singapore, the Building and Construction Authority's Green Mark 2015 parameters include human-centric assessments on indoor air quality, lighting and acoustics, among others.

The improvements to productivity brought by a focus on employees' well-being are not intangible - a JLL research found that both improved acoustics and privacy boost productivity by 6 per cent each, while improved views, lighting and daylighting increase productivity by 5.5 per cent. Improved air quality also mitigates problems caused by the "sick building syndrome", cutting down short-term sick leave by 35 per cent according to one study.

In short, beyond function-driven approaches of providing fittings and layouts, a holistic approach to well-being ensures that every company's most valuable resource - its employees - are well looked after.

Designing the future workplace involves looking beyond a functional office, to also creating a civic central for talent to flourish.

  • The writer is managing director, Paya Lebar Quarter by Lendlease.