WorkTech 2015: Beyond the Basics

This year, a ‘softer’ quality of the workplace was at the forefront of many WorkTech conversations: wellbeing. Jim Taylour, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Orangebox and co-founder and chair of a special interest group on children’s ergonomics with the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (IEHF) spoke of this topic using intriguing terms: fitness-centered design and wireless wellbeing. According to Orangebox’s Mobile Generation research into fitness-centered design (also known as active design) we need to intentionally plan for opportunities and experiences that provide positive physical and psychological outcomes in our static work environment.

Now more than ever, we are dependent on our mobile devices 24/7. This dependency has some eye-opening consequences, including a negative impact on vision health, poor posture and ergonomics. This begs the question: how can we be more cognizant of wireless wellbeing for the mobile generation? One extreme possibility was touched on by Martha Clarkson, Global Workplace Strategist and Manager of the Experience Design Program in Microsoft’s real estate group. She shared that the company has introduced “no tech” zones in their workplace. 

Considering the increased media exposure regarding happiness at work (including the Happiness at Work Survey, the Happy Planet Index, and the International Well Building Institute), there is a clear focus on ways to improve human health and wellbeing through the built environment. This focus was also seen in the recent 2015 Executive Report on Workplace Wellbeing from the IIDA Annual Industry Roundtable, where 30 members of the real estate and design community provided new perspectives on the importance of human-centered design.

A major topic of discussion centered on ways the tech industry is influencing the financial industry’s approach to such elements as talent, space and culture. This influence is seen in the US and the UK, through the evolution of the financial workplace. Phil Kirschner, former Americas Head of Workplace Strategy at Credit Suisse, cited their Smart Working Program as an example of this evolution. The program focuses on how best to use policies, space, and advances in mobile technologies to address changing workplace preferences. The program also reduces occupancy expenses through better utilization of analytics to inform space strategies and performance.

How much has the “workplace” evolved over the years? Not as much as we’d like to think, according to Robert Lucchetti. He suggests that the ideas published in a Harvard Business Review article from 1985 remain at the forefront of workplace planning practices nearly 30 years later. Beyond the basics of square footage, workstations, and office allocation, it is reassuring that conversations about workplace design are being elevated to ‘softer’ qualities. Components that were not part of the prior discussion around work and the workplace are now at the forefront of our work-life minds.

Content originally published on dIAmeter, June 2, 2015.