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As Our Work Lives Become More Dynamic, Offices Need to Match

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Not too long ago we welcomed routine. We got up, went to work in the morning and left in the evenings, our commutes were long, we sat at the same desk with a picture of our dog, and we rushed home for family dinner. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked well enough. Now, our lives are much less structured. We wake up, maybe put pants on, and decide where we want to set up our electronics for the day. This freeform working style has taught us how to work dynamically. We have learned to weave in and out of tasks, juggling meetings, and dishes and dogs and self-care somewhat effortlessly. This freedom won’t be easy to give up.

But at the same time, we miss the office. We miss interactions with our co-workers that haven’t been scheduled days in advance or hearing about the cookouts over the weekend. We even miss the routine, the podcast that fits neatly into our commutes, and stopping off to buy that great loaf of bread from the market for family dinner. If we want to continue to work dynamically, yet live that office life, at least sometimes, then we must adapt our offices to be as flexible as we are. In comes the dynamic workplace.

Just what is a dynamic workplace, you ask? It’s an adjustable environment, one that is constantly adapting to meet the needs of the people that use it. It has flexible desk seating, or seating that combines fixed and flexible options. It can give feedback to those that manage it and it can let us choose who we sit with. It can take changing health recommendations into consideration and rearrange seating to match the new requirements. It’s something Smarten Spaces has implemented into the vision with their new Jumpree WorkFlex product to address current space and remote work challenges. It is everything we want from an office and nothing that we don’t.

Cut the office fat but keep the watercooler

We live on our mobile devices. This has allowed buildings to use RFID and Bluetooth to help us control access to buildings, elevators, and other shared spaces, just like we control our social media apps. Or just our face. But this isn’t just a nice convenience. This connected technology can keep us from violating social distancing recommendations or touching any shared surfaces. And, like in a movie or an airline, we can choose where we sit and who we sit with. No matter what we’re trying to do, chances are good that reaching for a smart, connected device is among the first steps.

Synonymous with our devices is data. We don’t love the idea of being tracked when our health app recommends we take the stairs to lunch based on our big breakfast but we do appreciate waltzing through the monitored entrance of an office without a hitch. These same devices when connected to building services and platforms create this dynamic effect of a seamless experience. This becomes especially convenient when our routine 9-5 moves to a shifted schedule of Monday and Tuesday 8-6 and a few chosen hours on Friday. 

The office becomes dynamic when it already knows about the shift through the integration of intelligent software. These integrations may include team work from home and office scheduling software as well as desk or room booking functionality, access control and more. Moving access control data into the cloud allows for access to be granted in accordance with schedules. For offices that are open but on an unusual schedule, it can include cleaning functionality. As an added bonus, this could keep costs low by eliminating unnecessary cleaning of unused spaces. At a more employee-based level, proximity alerts and contact tracing is less complicated when both occupants and visitors of a building are running the same software. 

You can’t manage what you don’t know. Because so much is known in both real time and about future plans, dynamic workplaces can be managed more than traditional offices. Image: Smarten Spaces

Dynamic offices are possible through AI-powered tech stacks that take otherwise overwhelming and multiple variables like when and where people will be and consolidate them into concise scenarios. These scenarios can be optimized for health, productivity, and costs, and for creating a positive company culture, while keeping those that need to know abreast of any changes or areas that could be improved. This data enables all of our favorite aspects of the office to be kept like the expectations of where we’ll sit and who will be near us while avoiding hassles like our key cards not working.

No one puts the VP in the corner

While the CDC continues to modify their guidelines and debates abound about the efficiency of social distancing and masks, workplaces still need to stay on top of the moving target of health-related recommendations.

No one likes surprises and being stuck between two people shouting a conversation across twelve feet or so isn’t a good start to the day. Without rooms packed with static desks, less space is needed as coincidently fewer people are in the office. This makes it easier to keep an environment safe but also makes office spaces more expensive per employee using them. By syncing data about who is going to be in the office and when, the guesswork is taken out of seating arrangements while capacity numbers are closely monitored. 

“As work from home, back to work, social distancing, employee safety and cost savings become top of mind for business, the new workplace needs to be dynamic to cater to all this,” explained Dinesh Malkani, Founder & CEO, Smarten Spaces. “Employees are looking for transparency and flexibility when it comes to their workplace. Businesses are seeing the value in introducing technologies which allow them to easily manage people returning to work and those working remotely.” Suddenly dynamic offices sound like a must-have vs nice-to-have. 

By allowing employees to book seats in advance, not only you give them the option to sit where they would like to, but also help the workplace management team to know how many employees to expect and the housekeeping team to manage sanitization. 
Image: Smarten Spaces.

An opportunity revealed through dynamic seating is that space can be different every day according to what is needed by those in the office at that time. With occupants being able to reserve preferred seats or rooms via their ever-present mobile device, the familiar routine and stroll to the desk are back in action. Integrating sanitization processes reduces anxiety or questions around the last time an area was cleaned. New visitors to the workplace can get turn by turn directions to their reserved seat, eliminating wandering occupants and ensuring that only approved personnel are in certain areas. When they’re done with the seat, simple ways to   “check out” and alert cleaning teams to the new available desk keep the process efficient; for example, Smarten Spaces’ Jumpree Workflex uses QR codes and real-time sensors for this.

With our new offices comes a revolving door of people. If an employee comes in with the expectation that the rest of their team will also be there but ends up being alone, the office will lose its appeal and will attract fewer people. This hurts more than the team’s productivity as paying for unused space is a waste of resources. To eliminate crossed wires, groups that need to occupy the same space at the same time can be reserved ahead of time.

Digitized floor plans are a powerful and accurate way to book seating, follow space requirements and, bonus, they’re already part of the real estate tech stack. They’re used from the moment a building is constructed to later enabling interior design. However, these floor plans are regularly underutilized for space management. Pairing floor plans with seat booking and occupancy sensors accurately represents how space is being used. Revealing high traffic areas and days, teams can be alerted to the best times and places to meet. If a low percentage of space is being used, businesses can know precisely how many extra seats they have and rework their office contract more efficiently for the next term. Same idea for if there are more people that want to be in the office than there are seats.

Depending on current recommendations and personal preferences, spacing needs to vary between seats. Making sure all requirements are met can lead to complicated calculations. However, the right software can modify 6’ seating to 8’ seating arrangements with just a few mouse clicks. Image: Smarten Spaces.
Depending on current recommendations, digitized floor plans paired with occupancy sensors and booking software can clarify expectations, reduce anxiety and ensure people are where they should be. Image: Smarten Spaces.

Dynamic offices must make data-informed decisions for day to day operations as well as long term success. By understanding the real time environment as well as future plans, building teams can change “let’s do Plan A and see what happens in a couple of months” to “if we do Plan A, we know this will happen so let’s skip the failure and go with Plan B.” Foreseeing the effects of decisions before they’re made is a must for dynamic spaces to ensure occupant health and productivity levels while managing overhead costs.

The office isn’t dead, it’s evolving into a better, smarter place. By understanding how occupants prefer to use a space and using software to optimize it, these dynamic offices can be exactly what we want and what we need to match our flexible lives. Where we are now isn’t permanent, but the way we work will probably be changed forever. However, making a space adapt and fit its purpose while changing with us is a new way of looking at interior spaces. Years from now, we will look back and wonder why we ever did it any differently.

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