Who doesn’t want to be in a good neighborhood – one that’s aesthetically pleasing, has a controlled traffic flow, with great neighbors close but not too close? The office “neighborhood” is predicted to become the primary workplace model for the new hybrid workstyle.
The hybrid workplace, combining a flexible schedule, WFH (work-from-home), and in-office work, sprang up as a way to reduce the risk of covid transmission. It has delivered unexpected benefits: Surprising productivity increases, along with reduced real estate overhead.
Even with a covid vaccine in sight, the hybrid office isn’t likely to disappear any time soon. According to research this year by workplace design consultants Gensler, 52% of workers want to continue dividing their time between home and office. Only 19% wanted to work in the office full time.
Now designers are defining the shape of the ideal hybrid workplace, and the “neighborhood” format seems to answer all the design criteria. Work activities are clustered into “zones” based on the need for privacy or collaboration, quiet head-down tasks, or work involving conference calls or in-person conversations.
Elizabeth Lowrey of Elkus Manfredi Architects describes the hybrid office neighborhoods as incorporating support tools for remote workers (video conference equipment and imaged documents), and flexibility to manage future workplace change. She emphasizes the need to make the hybrid office a magnet. If the office is a choice, not a mandate, it has to be an attractive one.
Neighborhoods also have to be defined physically. As Robert Frost said, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Guiding foot traffic through the office is especially important for maintaining social distance and for preserving quiet in heads-down neighborhoods.
One option for office boundaries and traffic is a locker structure. Modern lockers have customizable finishes to complement office furnishings, adding to the attractiveness of the workplace. Many include keyless touchless locks to reduce contagious touch surfaces.
And lockers provide essential storage for hybrid workplaces. Employees who aren’t in the office full time tend to bring a lot of stuff with them when they come into the office. Without an assigned workstation or office, all that stuff has to be stored somewhere.
The new hybrid workplace can be defined as a place where people feel welcomed, where they have supportive tech and a sense of social belonging, where their best work can be done. That sounds like a neighborhood we’d all like to live in.
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Like many familiar aspects of business life, the form and function of offices are undergoing rapid change to fit the new reality. Today’s challenges have been an opportunity for reflection and reinvention, in business as well as in our personal lives. As our business operations adapt to the new normal, office designs are shifting to accommodate new workstyles.
Hybrid offices are one example of a pre-Covid trend accelerated by the pandemic. WFH has been far more productive than expected, but teams still feel the need for face-to-face collaboration for certain tasks. Consulting firm Gensler describes the hybrid workplace as promoting collaboration through activity-based design, using advanced technology and unassigned seating within a hospitality-driven atmosphere. Teams work remotely, coming together in a hybrid office as required.
A few major organizations have been test-driving the hybrid office in a hub-and-spokes design. A centrally hub office in the city center provides room for larger group activities, while smaller outlying offices give support to WFH staff living nearby. Hybrid offices reduce office space in the expensive city center, while preserving a visible presence.
Repurposing office buildings’ lobbies is another new-normal trend. In a hub-and-spokes office, the spokes facilities can be integrated into the surrounding community, creating connections among WFH staffers, clients, and the neighborhood. Buildings’ public spaces offer a branding opportunity for tenants to underscore their community involvement, as well as a meeting destination for workers and visitors.
To ensure that these new workplaces function well, designers and office managers are applying the latest in digital technology.
WFH staff need access to project materials whether they’re at home, at a spoke office, or at the central hub. In the hybrid office, paper documents may be stored at the hub, with limited access. But imaged documents are accessible to remote workers no matter where they are. The paper originals remain safely stored in the hub office.
Touchless technology is another asset for the reshaped office. RFID-based apps enable safe touchless entry to secure areas. Touchless lockers provide personal storage for WFH workers traveling to spoke or hub offices. Designers can even use touchless lockers as a physical divider to guide foot traffic and maintain safe social distancing.
Gensler predicts that the new style of office building will be far less insular and self-contained, and far more responsible to its community through creating public spaces, support businesses, and a live-work-play environment. Technology that supports human capital will be the key to successful office design in the new reality.
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Museum designers have been working hard to change the musty, dusty reputation of museums, and RFID is helping with innovative applications. No longer is the hands-off “Night at the Museum” look the standard for U.S. museums. To attract new patrons, museums are bringing advanced technology to bear, including VR and RFID.
RFID in particular has been easy to adapt for new creative purposes. Many museums already use RFID to manage their collections, affixing unobtrusive RFID tags to art and artifacts. Doorway readers record when items are moved, whether from storage to exhibit, or from one room to another. Curators can check inventories as simply as walking into a room with an RFID scanner. Tags can be programmed to store a variety of data about the object: name, age, and collection information; restoration status; climatic requirements; maintenance schedule; and much more.
But beyond inventory management, RFID offers opportunities for interactive, immersive experiences for museum patrons. Some creative RFID applications:
- Washington, D.C.’s International Spy Museum uses RFID-enabled badges to let visitors take on a spy’s persona. Visitors test their espionage skills as the spy of their choice, and receive an online “debriefing” after their visit.
- Touring exhibit “The Science of Survival” allows visitors to make lifestyle choices in various sectors of the exhibit (transport, building, food and drink), collecting their answers via RFID entry badges. The results are compiled to forecast the future environmental impact of those choices in the year 2050.
- At the O2 in London, visitors at the British Music Experience “collect” their favorite items on museum-issued RFID cards. In-depth information about their favorites is then sent to them in a follow-up email.
- Visitors to the Horsens Prison Museum in Denmark can choose a specific guard or inmate to learn about – for example, a prisoner who escaped by digging a 59-foot tunnel. Visitors’ RFID badges activate videos and images related to each visitor’s particular subject, for a customized experience.
From museum managers’ point of view, RFID ‘s enhanced visitor experience helps to define and reinforce the museum’s brand, build visitor loyalty, and create publicity opportunities. From the museum patrons’ perspective, RFID creates a visitor experience that is far more personalized and immersive than the old-school museum walk-through. It’s fascinating, it’s imaginative, and most important, it’s just plain fun!
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Everyone is discovering the benefits of working from home (WFH), yet 94% of employees want the option of returning to their offices at least some of the time. How are businesses redesigning their offices to get the best of both worlds?
WFH really came into its own in 2020. Organizations with pre-existing telework policies and infrastructure were well-positioned to expand WFH when the pandemic hit. Others were able to pivot quickly to WFH, and they discovered the valuable benefits: Reduced office space requirements and increased employee productivity. Those benefits, along with greater employee satisfaction, translated into lower costs.
But 100% WFH isn’t practical for every business, nor is it practical for every employee.
A hybrid workstyle balances WFH and office time. Many businesses are downsizing their old offices to a central hub office, where teams meet on a rotating schedule – marketing on Monday, product design on Wednesday. Heads-down work remains WFH, without the interruptions and distractions of day-to-day office life.
To create this hybrid workstyle, prominent businesses like Deloitte, KPMG, and the Bank of Montreal are redesigning their offices into a hub-and-spokes form. A downsized central office serves larger group meetings, and houses centralized functions like IT and document storage. Smaller teams meet at satellite offices or co-working spaces, giving them a shorter commute as well as cheaper office space. With a small hub in the expensive downtown real estate market, and less costly spokes in outlying areas, these organizations are seeing valuable cost savings.
However, hybrid offices do not relieve businesses of the need to build WFH infrastructure. To realize the full value of the hybrid workstyle, WFH must be supported with e-devices, software, and most important, data access. Sharing physical documents is relatively easy in an office, but often the information in those documents is needed during heads-down WFH. Document imaging is an essential part of a hybrid office. With imaging, the data contained in physical documents becomes accessible to all team members, searchable for greater efficiency, and secure through multiple layers of redundancy and permissions.
“The office will shift to become less about sitting in a desk all day and more so as a safe place for colleagues to collaborate, engage and interact,” says Todd Burns, President, Project and Development Services, JLL Americas. The hybrid office offers the best of both worlds – the productivity and employee satisfaction of WFH, and the cost savings of downsized offices. But only if the WFH infrastructure, including document imaging, is supported and maintained.
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Safety is on everyone’s mind these days. The same forces which have disrupted daily life is also disrupting the way facilities are designed, utilized, and maintained. Fast Company is forecasting that the hottest new job in commercial real estate and facilities management is the director of environmental health– a medical expert, preferably with expertise in infectious diseases.
The director of environmental health will be tasked with assessing the health risks posed by current operational systems and policies, and making recommendations for facility-wide changes that reduce health risks. However, individual landlords and tenants are going to be responsible to some degree for including health and safety elements within their own spaces.
Every office uses space differently. High-touch surfaces, traffic patterns, and distancing policies will have be designed to fit each tenant’s needs. Touchless technologyis already available for doors, electronic devices, and personal storage lockers. Touchless lockers with attractive design-friendly finishes can also be used as a separation structure to guide internal traffic, maintain social distance, and reduce contagion.
Also useful in social distancing are RFID wearables that alert staffers when they are too close to each other. RFID(radio frequency identification) is a mature, proven technology for asset management, from inventory control to document tracking to process management. It’s a simple matter to add RFID proximity wearables.
Angelo Bianco of Crocker Partners, a commercial real estate owner with 11 million square feet of office space, predicts that many commercial office space organizations will hire environmental health directors. A focus on enhanced health and safety systems could be a strong marketing advantage in the highly competitive commercial real estate industry. Additionally, having a medical expert on staff is a risk management strategy; owners and operators of commercial properties are protected from claims of health-related negligence.
Tenants, too, can derive some risk management benefits by installing hardware and furnishings specifically designed for workplace well-being. Although many businesses have learned that work-from-home is a productive and cost-effective workstyle, a hybrid of WFH and office is emerging as the new normal. As offices are repopulated, either part-time or full-time, health-oriented designs and policies are going to be the new future of facilities management.
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Congratulations to the honorees of Fast Company’s 2019 Innovation by Design Awards for retail environments. These companies are recognized for their forward-thinking designs that serve markets better and offer more productivity and profitability to their owners. From our perspective as space utilization and information management experts, two businesses in Fast Company’s 2019 class stand out for ingenious uses of commercial space and data technology:
The co-working company Spacious is built on an inventive model that takes freelancers out of their overcrowded daytime “Starbucks office” and places them in restaurants that are closed during the day, open only for dinner. These restaurants are climate-controlled, and the lights are on for the day prep crew, but the dining areas are completely empty until late afternoon; in essense, the restaurants are paying for underutilized space. Restaurants team up with Spacious to provide co-working space in the unused dining rooms, and the Spacious on-site team provides power points, wifi hookups, and user assistance. With memberships set at an affordable $95 per month, which Spacious splits with the restaurants, it’s a win for everyone.
This is the kind of maximized space utilization that NOS encourages with our document conversion services and high-density storage systems. Big thumbs-up to Spacious!
Walmart has been a pioneer in retail technology for many years. An early adopter of supply-chain RFID, Walmart recently installed a pilot program of retail AI in the form of an Intelligent Retail Lab (IRL) in one of its highest-demand locations. Sensors and cameras send information to a room-size data center, which in turn generates alerts to maintain the in-store inventory. Availability of products, freshness of produce, even the number of empty grocery carts in the parking lot, all is monitored by the IRL rather than by store associates. Staff are freed up to focus on face-to-face interactions with customers. Productivity goes up, and the cost of outdated inventory and lost sales goes down.
We strongly advocate the use of asset management technology. RFID and bar coding are proven information management systems with a positive impact on profits. Well done, Walmart!
Good design isn’t just an aesthetically-pleasing façade; it contributes to the success of a business, and enriches the community in which that business operates. Our highest compliments to these enterprises for their outstanding designs!
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