Leveraging data to create the workplace of the future

By Bong Xin Ying
/ EdgeProp Singapore |
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Located in the Zuidas business district in Amsterdam, The Edge is a 430,556 sq ft building dubbed the world’s greenest and most intelligent office building. Designed for its anchor tenant, Deloitte, the building integrates an array of smart technology and adaptable work spaces to encourage collaboration.
At The Edge, no employee has a designated workspace. Instead, a smartphone app finds employees a seat based on their schedules and preferences. Employees can choose to station themselves at a sitting desk, standing desk, balcony seat, work booth or meeting room.
Meanwhile, the 6,000 Ethernet-powered, LED-connected lights in the building measure a variety of factors from occupancy to temperature. This allows employees to customise their lighting and temperature preferences via the app.
“If you look at this building, it’s absolutely fascinating, because there’s 30,000 different sensors to monitor people,” says Charles Reed Anderson, founder of Internet of Things (IoT) consultancy Charles Reed Anderson and Associates. He was speaking at JLL’s Smart City Suite at Innovfest Unbound 2019.
He adds: “The most fascinating statistic I found about it [is that] since they opened the office [in 2015], job applications have gone up 2.5 times. Everyone wants to work in this open-plan office.”

Data-driven user experience

According to Anderson, there are some lessons companies can glean from The Edge when it comes to enhancing employees’ sense of fulfilment at the workplace. This could range from having facilities, like the option to control temperatures at The Edge, to monetary incentives.
One thing The Edge has excelled at is using the data collected to help Deloitte understand more about its employees and their needs. This allows the company to design a workplace that is centred around user experience.
Speaking at the same event, Ben Hamley, JLL’s Asia Pacific lead for future of work, echoes this sentiment. With the advent of IoT and workplace technologies, he highlights that designing a workplace of the future is not just about adopting and installing these technologies. Instead, it is about how a company leverages the data collected to improve these spaces for its users.
“[The information] we can get about the workplace and how people actually utilise the workplace can inform on how we design [the space] to give a ton of human experience,” he says. For companies looking to adopt a “people first” strategy, actively factoring this “human experience” into their workplace design is essential.
This in turn helps companies to retain and attract talent. He explains: “Companies need to be more novel in the way they design their workplaces, not just as parts – as co-working or flex spaces in the office – but more than that. How do they create this collaborative learning environment? How do they make it more of an integrated platform where people can have their life and work in the same place?”

Learning from co-working spaces

By 2030, JLL estimates that 30% of corporate portfolios will comprise flexible space, including co-working, incubator and accelerator space. “Co-working is the genesis of a novel solution to the problems in the knowledge economy,” observes Hamley.
These problems include housing and linking employees across different teams across countries and time zones. With co-working, companies of varying sizes can address these problems, whether it is collaboration or employee welfare.
He notes that the rise of co-working operators like WeWork is not surprising. “WeWork is like the McDonald’s of real estate. It’s the same thing and you pretty much can get everything you want there, whereas for us [at JLL], what we see is much more opportunity for customisation,” he says.
He adds that co-working serves as a good example of how companies can improve the workplace for employees. “[Co-working has] brought more awareness to how the experience can inform the quality of life that you have at work, to consumers, in the same way that having an iPhone has changed the way people’s expectations of IT infrastructure,” he says.
This is not to say that companies should rush to adopt new technologies. Hamley asserts: “The question is not so much about what new technology is coming through the pipeline or we need to scale up on but rather, how do we work together to use the knowledge, to crystallise imagination in a way that can be more valuable.”
Read more:
JLL SINGAPORE - Charles Reed Anderson (left), founder of Internet of Things (IoT) consultancy Charles Reed Anderson and Associates, and Ben Hamley, JLL’s Asia Pacific lead for future of work, speaking at JLL’s Smart City Suite at Innovfest Unbound 2019
Charles Reed Anderson (left), founder of Internet of Things (IoT) consultancy Charles Reed Anderson and Associates, and Ben Hamley, JLL’s Asia Pacific lead for future of work, speaking at JLL’s Smart City Suite at Innovfest Unbound 2019 (Credit: JLL Singapore)

Ahead of the curve

Beyond employee satisfaction, both Hamley and Anderson identify employee development as one of the key themes workplace design will seek to tackle and facilitate in the near future.
Anderson cites the example of Accenture that spends US$1 billion ($1.36 billion) annually on training and developing some 300,000 employees. “How do you train nearly half a million people? What [Accenture] realised is that you need to integrate learning spaces into real estate. You need to have training facilities to change [employee] behaviour,” he says.
Hamley concurs, raising the example of HP Singapore’s Smart Manufacturing Applications and Research Centre (SMARC). The company said in a release in 2017 that it conceived the facility as an “engineering playground for HP’s technical staff to ‘experience, trial and prototype’ solutions”. The aim of SMARC is to improve the company’s manufacturing processes and boost productivity. Spanning 6,000 sq ft, the facility is located within HP’s new 450,000 sq ft Asia-Pacific Japan campus at Depot Close.
Learning and development facilities aside, Hamley highlights that companies should look at how they share knowledge within the company and how they share this knowledge with the broader community. “More can always be done. It’s probably now a question of how companies collaborate with education institutions like universities to [achieve their objectives] because they [may not have] the education or design capabilities in-house,” he says.
While technology may offer a solution, both Hamley and Anderson note that companies should remember the example of The Edge and prioritise employee needs. Anderson remarks: “If you understand the users, you’ll also enjoy high [staff] retention because they enjoy being in that space.”

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