Interconnected & Evolving Workplaces

Interconnected & Evolving Workplaces

By: Jill Mendoza I recently was invited to Grand Rapids Michigan as a guest of Steelcase.  The main agenda of the trip was to experience and discuss new ideas about the way we work and explore possibilities about what the future holds for the “next workplace”.  Although the agenda for the trip was packed full of stimulating discussions surrounding “Interconnected & Evolving Workplaces”, it was the tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s(FLW) Meyer May House that reminded me how powerful design can be. (Seen in the 2nd & 3rd photo to the left) In 1909 this small house full of very big ideas was designed and built in Grand Rapids, Michigan by FLW.  FLW believed in creating total environments, buildings and interiors to “make the human relationship to buildings not only convenient, but charming”.  Years later during 1936 to 1939 and 1944, FLW continued to take his big ideas into the commercial office marketplace when he designed the building, interiors and the furniture for the Johnson Wax Headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin.  (Seen in the 1st Photo to the left) This rich history of the office landscape has always taught us, organizations occupying and managing large corporate facilities will continue to push their expectations in assessing the structures that host – and the interior architecture that defines their enterprise.  The ideas explored on this most recent trip to Steelcase confirmed that the “next workplace” will be a progression of that assessment unlike any that have preceded it. Although FLW’s Johnson Wax 1936 office was progressive for its time, today’s contemporary business landscape is about leveraging one’s primary asset, one’s staff, allowing them to achieve their highest potential and the organization’s strategic objectives.  With the focus now on those who work in these new workplaces, research has shown that a new trend is emerging.  The trend taking hold indicates there is a relatively constant set of imperatives that cross multiple market sectors.  These imperatives; collaboration, interconnectedness, multiplicity, infrastructure, sustainability, and effectiveness, in turn, have spatial and design implications. Collaboration Perhaps the most challenging dynamic facing knowledge worker today is the increased need for collaborative work practices. The single greatest obstacle to implementing these practices is the gravity of old, culturally reinforced stereotypes that assess contributions to the enterprise largely on an individual basis. In reality, history has shown that while individual genius, like FLW, is responsible for remarkable steps in society’s development, the progress that defines human achievement is almost always a collective effort.  In the design of the next workplace, collaboration takes center stage as an enabler of impromptu, informal meetings and discussions. These discussions encourage the generation of informal knowledge-sharing networks, with in turn accelerated the dissemination of new thinking throughout an organization. Interconnectedness Today’s high-performance work cultures depend increasingly on the seamless interconnectedness of three workplace fundamentals: systems (data network, telecom systems, reservation software, meeting collaboration tools and environmental controls), services (facility teams and outsourced vendor support) and space (physical composition of walls, ceilings, finishes and furniture). Multiplicity The accelerated speed of business has created a spatial dilemma in contemporary office design. The certainty to which organizations can fix the proportions of required worksite types over time is rapidly dissolving. The notion of multiplicity, flexibility and inter-modularity become central to any broad scale approach to the next workplace.  The ability for a space to host one function in the morning and another in the afternoon reduces the requirements for dedicated functional spaces, thus driving down the overall programmatic area requirements and adding greater return on the investment of the work environment as a whole. Infrastructure The underlying foundation of a basic framework weaving its way through the next office, the next classroom or the next laboratory is the next generation of technology infrastructure. The degree to which wireless computing, either through mobile PCs or tablet’s, is practical will determine a whole host of wireless network flexibility issues. Finally, the degree to which virtual desktop/video collaboration is likely to occur will drive network capacity and distribution patterns. Sustainability By now, most organizations are keenly mindful that the increased awareness of the societal and economic costs of the world’s current use and generation of energy from nonrenewable resources. Implementing a sustainable planning approach in their own workplace may have significant benefits far beyond energy cost savings and marketplace-driven improvements in systems performance. Effectiveness The final imperative is the compounding effect that the sum total of these imperatives brings collectively to a business enterprise. The final design must go beyond measures of geometric and systematic efficiencies of the past. Today, the design composition or “interior assembly” must synthesize branding and messaging, enable the cross-marketing of clients with the organization, support vital social structure, and life-cycle functionality. In summary, unlike any other time in our history, the demands of the next workplace are rapidly diversifying and understanding the marketplace imperatives and the design principles they inform provides a platform upon which our clients can realize and communicate their brand promise.  Perhaps the lessons of FLW, who believed in creating total environments, buildings and interiors that “make the human relationship to buildings not only convenient, but charming”, is as relevant today as it was 100 years ago.

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