Rothelowman’s Michael Banak on What’s Shaping Workplace Design in 2017

The modern work environment is far removed from the days of the nine-to-five cubicle. 21st century trends like “hot-desking” and “co-working” feature in offices around the world and the role of digital technology continues to grow as “smart” buildings embrace the IoT and cities become increasingly interconnected.

With the landscape of modern workplace design changing at such a rapid rate, The Urban Developer sat down with Rothelowman Principal Michael Banak to discuss the major trends shaping workplace design in 2017.     

[Related reading: Melbourne’s co-working culture here to stay | Brisbane start-ups drive growth of the flexible workspace Co-working Giant confirms five-level tenancy in key $250 million development]

What will the offices of the future look like?

The role of digital technology will continue to create efficiencies in both design and interior fittings and fixtures in the office of the future. Think video conference meetings with augmented reality, wearing Google Glass or Microsoft HoloLens.

Think buildings where technology is used to connect into the building services, such as cooling towers, chillers and boilers, which are reported back to the client to make improvements for optimum efficiency.

The concept of “community” is also an interesting future development. Think offices that gradually shrink in size and meeting spaces outsourced to shopping centres or other community spaces, to reflect the growing generational requirement for flexibility and mobility.

Co-working spaces will continue to increase, as we’ve seen already in Australia, but interestingly, we’ll start to see a rise of inner city urban mixed use sites that are able to cater for a variety of purposes, further emphasising the Shared Base Workplace.

What are the biggest innovations in Australian workplace design?

Right now, the recently introduced WELL building standard by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) is driving change in the commercial office. Holistic by nature, it addresses behaviour, operations and design enabling green building practitioners to measure building attributes such as air, water, light, comfort and mind, to create healthier working environments for employees and increased productivity. This focus on Evidence Based Design has already been adopted by businesses such as Macquarie Bank, Mirvac and Lendlease.

Biophilic design is also a tool to boost productivity, where a sensory experience is created by providing an environment with nature components. We applied this thinking to our Eastern Road project, in South Melbourne, with community collaboration zones that frame key views of the city.

What are the challenges?

One of the greatest challenges we face today is how our future workspaces will adapt to an ageing workplace population. There’s a gap in this space, and a strong need to create a business model that caters for biodiversity and ageing workers. How do we best utilise the skills of an ageing workforce? How do we best harness their skills and experience? As the baby boomers start exiting the workforce, these are questions that must be addressed to find and keep the best people engaged through their working lives.

On a broader scale, we must design spaces to ensure that businesses can find and retain the best talent, in the face of our current skills shortage. Business productivity can only grow with employees who feel they are being taken care of. Beautifully designed spaces that allow for that in turn create workers who take care of their clients, and create workplaces of success for tomorrow.

Is hot-desking dead?

Hot-desking was the catalyst for inspiring a new wave of workplace design, and it was a great introduction to Activity Based Working (ABW). But although hot-desking was effective for fund managers and banks, it has been unsuccessful for businesses requiring a team environment, such as the design industry, which require specific spaces for specific tasks.

Today, its aspirations have been replaced by a fresh shift in workplace thinking, to better meet the demands of a changing workforce.

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