Operating in the office of the future by Sam Cuccurullo
The office of the future will be radically different from today. Technological advances will change the way it is designed, constructed, managed, maintained and used. So how might an office of the future, for example 20 years from now, operate? The following reviews a day in the life of Simone and Phil in “the office in 2040”.
Simone is a property manager for an international real estate services company and Phil is a systems analyst in a logistics company specialising in ‘last kilometre’ delivery in the CBD. They live with their young daughter Lucy in a suburb of a major Australian city. Whilst electronic communication has improved to the point they can seamlessly work from any location, they generally prefer to come into the CBD. Simone and Phil enjoy the personal interaction of an office environment and whilst many functions are automated, still need to inspect their assets and facilities from time to time. In addition, the childcare facilities provided by owners in most buildings as part of a "wellness package’, provide care, education and social stimulus for Lucy while they focus on work.
There are a range of transport options such as trains, buses, bicycles and electronic bikes but this morning it’s raining so Simone and Phil order an autonomous vehicle (AV) to take them and young Lucy to work. Simone looks back at their home which shuts down automatically, sensing that everybody has left. They built their dream home several years ago with 3D printers and saved 40% on construction costs, she reflects on how modern and stunning the home appears. If they have more children they will simply build another few rooms at a fraction of the price (and time).
On the commute, full wireless connectivity across all her devices means Simone can set herself up for her day’s tasks even before she has entered the workplace. Phil checks his online colleague tracker to discover most of the colleagues he needs to collaborate with today are located in the one building. The location is quickly uploaded to the AV’s guidance system. By coincidence, this is also where Simone works as an asset manager. She manages a portfolio of buildings across the city for her employer. Phil’s company pays for access to a tranche of ‘flexi-space’ across any, or all of those buildings. In the current environment, flexibility is the key priority with leasing having moved to a user pays system.
They arrive at the building’s transport interchange and exit the AV. The AV’s artificial intelligence system notes there are no immediate bookings for it in the area and the rainy weather means its solar charging system has not been topped up sufficiently, so it heads to a parking/charging station in what was the building’s car park. With the rise of AVs, car parks have been repurposed. Whilst this particular building still maintains charging stations that AV operators can rent on demand, the rest of the basement carpark has been repurposed to a logistics hub operated by Phil’s company for goods and materials sent to the CBD that are then distributed by drones and AVs. Other car parks in Simone’s portfolio have been repurposed for retail, wellness centres (incorporating end-of-trip, gym, spa, mediation or sleeping pods), or storage space for tradies working in the CBD.
As they enter the building, facial-recognition technology linked to their mobile communications devices monitors Simone and Phil’s arrival and grants them access into the building and offers them a choice of working locations in the building depending on the tenants’ access plan. When clients visit, they are directed to central hubs where employees or their proxies can then grant them access. Security remains tight, but discrete.
Phil takes Lucy up to the rooftop childcare location, while Simone heads to work. Here they part ways for the day.
With Lucy successfully taken up to childcare, Phil looks at his diary and confirms that he has a couple of hours for concentrated, solo work ahead of some meetings and so heads to level 9 – one of the “Focus Pods” levels.
Long gone are the days when individual companies occupied set amounts of space. The occupancy model has evolved to allow greater user-flexibility, more closely-mirroring the hotel experience where customers pay for space as and when they use it. Depending on the subscription plan, occupiers have access to various parts of the building from a basic hot desk to the full offering including wellness centre and childcare. The rise of facial recognition allows for the building monitoring system to monitor arrivals and departures, and accrue occupancy costs accordingly.
As a result office fitout has evolved into vertical villages – Focus Pods, Collaboration Zones, Agile Meeting Spaces, Reflection and Creativity areas as well as Confidential space – offering workers a portfolio of work zones within the one building, each designed to perfectly suit the task at hand. Different work zones operate on different levels and each has a subtly different look, feel and touch to cater for differences in the human psyche – space that is tailor-made and customisable for each personality type to maximise productivity.
For now, Phil needs quiet space, with dedicated pods so that he can focus on completing a few tasks before his meetings. Once arriving at the floor, his mobile device is automatically silenced and only notifications from specified contacts are allowed. He moves to a pod – the lighting (natural) and micro-climate already have adjusted to his specified needs. For example, after returning from gym, sensors in his communications device increase the cooling in his pod. He settles in, orders a coffee from the roving-bot which will deliver his order and then clear it away.
Later that day he will be moving levels and spend time on one of the building’s Agile Meeting Space floors – he’ll find out which one later depending on the level of demand. The building management system calculates optimal room configuration across the floors to meet the demands of all the groups requiring meeting room space. Room availability and the eradication of double booking are guaranteed.
After spending some time on the logistics distribution floors, Phil plans to spend the last part of his day in the Creative zone – testing has told him he is at his most creative in the afternoon in an as natural environment as possible. The Creative zone is perfect for this with its biophilic design. While there is an abundance of greenery throughout the building, it is most heavily included in the Creative and Reflection zones. Greater greenery in the built environment is now a standard part of design as cities become more and more dense, while workplace research consistently proves the positive benefits on employee productivity, health and creating a positive culture.
He will leave the office today having accomplished his focussed tasks, conducted the group activities required of his team and had time to develop ideas for an expansion plan to be submitted next week.
As Simone settles into her work pod, she places her smart device on the desk which logs her in and activates the workstation. As the curved screen rises and a holographic display appears, she reflects on how things have changed since she used to visit her mother’s office as a child, a private office with a PC on the desk. The hologram shows the various occupants and any locations that may require action, however no alerts have occurred at the moment. In her early days as an asset manager, she was responsible for just a single building. Now she has ten prime grade assets under her control. The development of iSAM (intelligent-Strategic Asset Manager), has automated a lot of the more repetitive, process-driven tasks and eliminated all need for paperwork.
Simone’s first task is to review and action a complaint regarding cleaning. A collaboration area is particularly dirty following a group working through the night to complete a project. The cleaning process is generally fully automated with activity sensors monitoring how frequently each part of the building is used, from work pods and meeting rooms to café spots and bathrooms. High traffic areas receive more regular attention from the cleaning bots, while less used areas are just cleaned as part of the regular daily schedule. This usually ensures the building’s high standards are maintained in the most efficient and cost-effective way. However, occasionally additional cleaning is required and a maintenance specialist is dispatched to review and respond to the issue. Simone, ensures the details are entered into iSAM whose artificial intelligence program incorporates the data and will adjust future cleaning cycles and processes.
An alert pops up – the HVAC system in one of the buildings is operating outside of tolerances. Diagnostics reveals that a part in one of the coolers is starting to wear and needs replacing. Simone approves maintenance and the design file for the faulty part is sent to the company’s 3D printing hub in a section of what used to be the building’s underground car park.
Preventative maintenance, such as with the HVAC system, has dramatically reduced operating costs and down-times. Asset parts are now continually monitored through iSAM as each is connected via wireless sensors, sending a constant flow of information on its operational efficiency. Predictive analytics then assess how well each part is performing as well as its operational life expectancy. As that horizon draws near an alert is sent to the asset manager that it should be replaced, as with this part.
The process is seamless, from notification to printing and then transit and installation. Advanced robotics mean that once the part is printed, it is sent for drone dispatch to be couriered across the city to the relevant building. The loading dock is 20 storeys above ground and looks similar to a scaled airport, however completely automated with AI moving functions and access to various occupants and service areas. Drone shafts run parallel to elevator shafts to allow drone movement and deliveries between levels. However, while the technology to fit the part exists, the speed and cost of the technology means that skilled tradespeople are still the preferred maintenance option.
Later that morning, Simone has a progress meeting on the construction of a new building that will be in her portfolio. Participants join the meeting using communications that display holographic 3D imaging of participants and building details. Construction of the new office tower will be above a railway. Simone and the team are briefed on a new innovative design based on 3D printed materials recently received from the printing hub that will speed construction and reduce costs on a site where access will be difficult.
At lunch, Simone picks up Lucy and meets Phil in the foyer. Simone nods to the concierge and notes that the various welcoming bots are interacting with guest to the building. Phil presses a wall panel which converts to an e-commerce food screen, orders lunch and has it delivered via drone and bot to an open air grassed & tree lined floor located on Level 67 to eat before returning to their work areas.
In the afternoon, Simone reviews building occupancy, energy and water statistics before a meeting with the owners. From her display she has a real-time view of how many people are in each of the buildings she manages and which areas are most active. The system provides real time occupancy and income for the portfolio. She can also dive deeper into occupancy statistics, such as how many people from an individual company are in a building at any time with companies only paying rent for the time that staff are in the building.
Simone notes that due to the rainy conditions, the solar panels incorporated into the windows on her buildings are currently generating less power than they consume and additional power is drawn from the battery backup. While the rain has limited solar power generation, water harvesters in the portfolio are currently exporting to the city’s ‘grey water’ system - a network that collects and distributes grey water for use across the CBD. Contributions to the network are then netted off quarterly water bills. Neighbourhood electricity grids operate in a similar way with buildings receiving surplus solar input able to distribute it to other buildings within the neighbourhood grid. Equally buildings can receive additional green power when available, thereby limiting energy costs as well as demands on the national power grid.
With increased automation across the portfolio and within buildings, an element of Simone’s job is now monitoring and oversight rather than having to respond to incidents as they occur. This frees more time for other tasks such as managing her team of trades-people – automation hasn’t advanced sufficiently to deal with people management or providing personal service. It is for this reason that the landlord still employs concierge staff, though now concierge can operate across multiple buildings via virtual reality. Likewise rent negotiation is still a human experience and Simone uses her real time occupancy data to help decide on appropriate asking rents, though there is always a little room for compromise.
End of day
As the day draws to a close, Simone prepares to hand over operations to her counterpart based in Mumbai, a US based operator will take over later in the evening. Her company has a global presence which allows for 24 hour monitoring of assets. If there is an urgent problem, Simone will be notified, though in most instances the issue can be addressed by the on-duty manager.
Simone then meets Phil in the foyer with Lucy. The rain has stopped and they decide to hire electronic bikes to ride home. From a nearby rack, their coms devices unlock and pay for two e-bikes, one with a child carrier. On the way home, Phil remembers he needs some ingredients for dinner and voice activates his coms device and orders what he needs as he rides. The ingredients should be delivered as they arrive home at the end of another day.
While we cannot truly know what the future of asset services will look like two decades from now, the rapid advances being made in technology suggests that automation will become increasingly prevalent. Currently, elements of all the technology imagined above exist is some form today. The future will be as much about seamlessly melding this technology together into a single system as about developing new products and systems.
Technologies used in this article;
- 3D/4D Printing
- Retail e-commence
- Changing work practices and flexible space
- Automatous Vehicles
- Block chain
- Environmental Sustainability & Wellness Centres
- Interactive / desks with curved screens
- Facial Recognition