Workspaces must constantly evolve to become smarter, and smart tech offers the possibility of using space in more efficient, proficient ways – important as we respond to changing working habits driven by the pandemic, writes Andrew Cooke, strategic director of Bruntwood Works.
Smart tech – or technology that self-monitors, analyses and reports back information via sensors and data points – has transformed our lifestyles and the way we connect with others. And now, the nascent smart tech revolution in the workplace is responding to changes in the way we work.
As we look ahead to the post-pandemic recovery, brought into sharper focus by the promising news that a Covid-19 vaccine could soon be available, how will smart tech meet the new needs of the office?
It goes without saying that there have been monumental shifts in how we work over the last year, and initially, we expect the focus of smart tech will pivot to create a safe and secure return to the office. As just one example, smart digital kiosks in building entrances that can provide guidance and wayfinding advice will help to regulate traffic and monitor footfall within buildings, helping to inform and reassure those travelling through.
But in the longer term, smart tech will also underpin more seismic changes to working practices, particularly as we move towards a future of hybrid working models. It will support greater operational flexibility, by empowering employees through access to tools – from digital networks to innovative presentation platforms – that help them to collaborate and interact with others in the office, and those working remotely.
As a result, physical workspaces will also change. We will see a greater emphasis on meeting and events areas in central hubs that allow employees to engage, collaborate and interact in person. This will be supported by the strides we’re seeing in display technology, with high-quality and interactive video streaming allowing teams to connect with wider audiences, no matter where they are.
Smart tech will also play a fundamental role in shaping human experience at work. Our programme of Pioneer buildings is at the forefront of workspace design and innovation, and customers stepping into 111 Piccadilly, due to launch later this year, can expect to be greeted by the next generation concierge. Digital systems will be positioned to solve routine requests, freeing up front of house staff to answer more complex queries and roam freely to provide an enhanced customer experience. Visitors will also have access to a multi-functional kiosk, providing a range of updates from TFGM timetable information to air quality standards. The space will be one step ahead of the needs of every individual.
Smart tech will be key in improving mental and physical wellbeing in the workplace, too. At 111 Piccadilly, we’ve installed cutting-edge circadian lighting and air monitoring systems, designed to mimic a natural environment by replicating a 24-hour cycle of sleep, wake, hunger, alertness, and body temperature. Another creative feature is the interactive digital art installation by local artist, Andrew Small, that reacts to people’s body movements.
The site is also set to become the first coworking space in the UK next year, and potentially one of the first in Europe, to achieve Platinum standard WELL certification – a building standard that takes a holistic approach to health in the built environment by addressing behaviour, operations and design.
As well as helping to boost health and wellbeing within a workplace, smart tech will connect buildings with their wider community. We’ve illuminated the iconic 111 Piccadilly building with a ground-breaking lighting concept, comprising a 200ft LED display powered by sustainable energy, to act as a focal point within the city. With its proximity to Piccadilly Station and the Northern Quarter, the innovative lighting installation will act as the gateway and beacon for Manchester, and will soon support power generation through renewable solar energy technology known as photovoltaics. We can also update the display in response to live events, connecting the building with the community – such as when we illuminated it in blue in recognition of the NHS’ efforts during the pandemic.
And as we focus on building a more sustainable future, active buildings with sensors, metrics and dashboards that can communicate where we can dial down energy usage based on customer demand will be critical in tackling the climate emergency, and will remain just as important as the smart tech revolution gathers momentum.
At 111 Piccadilly, we’ve installed a ‘central nervous system’, a smart system that connects the physical space with people, processes and systems to develop insights of how they are used. The building will act as a living lab, and we will use sensors and data points to collect and analyse data, to produce insights that will help to influence our future developments.
Smart tech offers the possibility of using space in more efficient, cleverer ways. As people in the workplace evolve, and their working needs change, it’s important that working environments keep in step. By incorporating cyclical feedback systems at the heart of building development and design, we will help to drive more sustainable developments in the future, and create better, more supportive ways of working.