New Technologies Present Seismic Shift in Workplace Design

New Technologies Present Seismic Shift in Workplace Design

Originally posted in IFMA’s FMJ Magazine

by Marc Margulies, Margulies Perruzzi, and John Civello, PTC

New technologies are disrupting traditional ways of working and standard concepts of workplace design and facility management. These so-called “disruptive technologies” for real estate and facility management functions offer opportunities to fundamentally change the workplace paradigm in three primary categories: real estate transactions, property ownership and tenant/workplace occupancy.

While each category provides distinct benefits that facilitate better interaction and more efficient management, tenant/workplace occupancy is the ultimate market driver because tenant users create demand for real estate product in the marketplace. A better understanding for the implications of these disruptive technologies can help building owners construct more cost-effective buildings and help facility managers improve efficiency and service levels for a wide range of facility management functions.

The shifting workplace — and workstyle According to a survey by Herman Miller, 40 percent of workstations are occupied less than half of the time, and private offices are on average occupied only 25 percent of the time. Corporate real estate executives and facility managers are coming to realize what an enormous waste of resources this represents — one that feels increasingly jarring as we move toward a more shared economy. Many companies are shifting their workplace from fully assigned seating to free address space allocation for activity-based work.

According to a survey by Herman Miller, 40 percent of workstations are occupied less than half of the time, and private offices are on average occupied only 25 percent of the time. Corporate real estate executives and facility managers are coming to realize what an enormous waste of resources this represents — one that feels increasingly jarring as we move toward a more shared economy. Many companies are shifting their workplace from fully assigned seating to free address space allocation for activity-based work.

For workers who are not devoted to one focused task all day long, the free address concept allows them to choose where they want to sit based on their daily or hourly task, who they need to collaborate with or what other adjacencies are important to their productivity. Remote working has also become ubiquitous as many companies develop remote working policies to help attract and retain talent. The trend toward open-plan offices, collaborative work and remote work is thus driving the use of disruptive technologies to maximize workplace utilization, increase productivity and communicate with staff to improve employee satisfaction.

Managing such a dynamic office environment — one that must be highly flexible and responsive — is only possible via a software support platform that is both simple to use and portable, and those technology systems now exist. The world of IoT (Internet of Things) has enabled an increasingly robust interaction between the interior environment and its occupants. Sensors installed in office spaces, light fixtures, workstations, HVAC equipment, hardware and audiovisual equipment facilitate the ability to gather data on activity, light levels, vacancy, temperature, security and media interface. With the data comes the ability to understand patterns and using that data to improve facility and productivity outcomes.

Myriad disruptive technologies can provide facility managers with aggregated data across the office to analyze trends, optimize building performance and reduce operational costs. Some systems known as “people analytics programs” gather data by tracking how and where workers engage each other, highlighting patterns of interaction and providing information to plan for the most effective strategic adjacencies. Some options include:

  • According to National Grid, 35 to 45 percent of an office building’s energy cost is due to lighting; the potential to save energy and money by turning off unnecessary lights is enormous. New lighting control technology is moving beyond just code-mandated occupancy sensors in offices in favor of control systems that dynamically modify the light fixtures in open-office areas too. These more refined applications allow users to adjust LED light levels in their work areas to individual preferences.
  • User comfort is always a priority for building managers. One person’s hot is another person’s cold. New energy management technologies now allow for more efficient heating and cooling, and customized area controls are becoming more common. CrowdComfort, for example, addresses user comfort and organizational communication by allowing individuals to use their smartphones to communicate with building management directly, facilitating micro-adjustment of systems to user preference, as well as smooth dialogue with building engineers.
  • Security is of global concern, for reasons related to life and physical property and safety, as well as protection of intellectual property. Building reception desk greeters have become security guards, and front doors have become entry gates. At the tenant level, smartphones can now be readily programmed with owner identification. Mobile access control has the advantage of simplified and centralized credential management and offers the benefit of full data gathering and analysis. Knowing who and when users enter and leave a building facilitates a better understanding of how much space is really needed. An increasingly mobile workforce does not operate according to a traditional 9-5 schedule; thus, the amount and location of required space must be more deeply scrutinized.
  • AV systems have become the mainstay of collaboration. Few meetings in the knowledge economy are conducted without technology support, and screen sharing has become universal. Confirmation that the right AV is available for the meeting size and purpose is one of the functions of companies like TEEM (recently purchased by WeWork), a software that not only schedules rooms and equipment, but simplifies the sharing and display of information.
  • Finally, there are applications that interface with services and vendors inside and outside the office building itself. Corporate cafeterias now support the ability to order food via an app, either for individuals or catered groups, in advance of the rush-hour pickup. Many new dining facilities offer state-ofthe-art software capabilities for viewing and ordering customized selections from any of the variety of their culinary options. Other services ready to ride this technology wave may include dry cleaning, health and wellness services, day care scheduling and access to other amenities.

PTC, a global provider of technology that transforms how companies design, manufacture, operate and service things in a smart connected world, recently relocated its global headquarters from suburban Needham, Massachusetts, USA, to a new 17-story, 400,000 square-foot office tower in Boston’s Seaport District. PTC’s vision for future growth drove a business transformation for its new 250,000 square-foot, technology-rich headquarters and a dramatic shift to a new way of working with an activity-based, open-office and free address concept for the workspace. PTC’s three project goals for its new headquarters were to: elevate the PTC brand and profile of the company; deliver space that attracts and inspires talent and taps the potential of its urban setting; and create a world-class technology experience for customers.

While PTC management was embracing the new changes to come, it recognized that moving to the Seaport District represented a major shift for the company’s workplace and workstyle, most notably:

  • Suburban location to urban hub;
  • Three-story horizontal campus to nine-story vertical workplace;
  • Private offices and workstations to an open office plan;
  • Assigned seating to 100 percent free address.

PTC’s previous office planning model was dated, cramped and did not allow for cross-pollination of departments. Of the 1,000 employees in headquarters, 40 percent worked in private offices and 60 percent in workstations that limited interaction. Conference rooms were mismatched to size and function. Based on facility data, the office had just 65 percent utilization on any given day and 40 percent attendance ratio on average, necessitating the rollout of a remote work policy. In sum, PTC’s former space was sub-optimal for how it needed to work.

To address these challenges and improve workflow, PTC collaborated with architecture firm Margulies Perruzzi (MP) and the Boston office of project management firm Cresa to devise a workplace strategy that embraced an open, activity-based workplace design with an abundance of technology. The free address model facilitates accidental collisions among employees and creates opportunities for interaction across departments. PTC’s transformational new headquarters reduced from 321,000 square feet to 200,000 square feet overall and 321 square feet to 196 square feet per person.

As with any new facility where a new workplace paradigm presents a major shift for its occupants, PTC’s goal was to implement facility management and employee productivity technologies that would facilitate input from their 1,000 employees in the 250,000 square-foot workspace, ensuring the new facility works properly as designed, gathering facility data in order to maximize space utilization and identifying employee concerns to respond in a timely fashion.

As part of the design of a new physical work environment, PTC recognized the opportunity to meld its role as an innovator in software for product design, IoT, and Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) to make its headquarters a global model for excellence in the use of disruptive workplace technology. The task? Evaluating the most appropriate workplace and facility/real estate management technology in an industry known for lightning-speed evolution.

To assist PTC and MP with evaluating the most appropriate technology options, the MIT Center for Real Estate (MIT/ CRE) was engaged as a research collaborator in the use of disruptive technologies. With a strong background in understanding disruptive technologies, MIT/CRE was well-positioned to help facilitate a conversation about the goals, opportunities, challenges and processes for a variety of potential technological directions.

The day-long workshop led by MIT/ CRE’s Innovation Lab helped the team define the technology landscape and curate the building technology stack. Discussions included how to work differently, engage the community, provide smart green spaces, use technology to improve commuter and visitor experiences, and integrate technology solutions into PTC’s platforms. After a collaborative team process, MIT/CRE provided recommendations and a roadmap for researching and evaluating disruptive technologies to incorporate into PTC’s state-of-the-art headquarters.

The selected technologies measure space utilization and heavy-use patterns in real-time and provide PTC’s facility managers with aggregated data across the office to analyze trends and adjust space allocations, optimize building performance and reduce operational costs. These technologies included:

  • CrowdComfort crowdsources occupant and building information to improve efficiency and service levels for a variety of functions, from climate control, lighting and acoustics issues to maintenance, audiovisual needs and space utilization. The CrowdComfort mobile application delivers an employee-driven data set, including geo-location and photo evidence, that facility managers can analyze to make informed maintenance decisions, saving time and money.
  • Steelcase’s Room Wizard and Workplace Advisor help to maximize productivity, collaboration and space utilization. With sensors installed in all workstations and conference rooms, facility managers will be able to identify areas of heavy utilization and communicate with users how to change meeting schedules to avoid congestion or modify facilities to meet the need. The software can be accessed by users remotely via their mobile devices to book collaboration space, and facility managers can measure heavy-use patterns in real-time, anticipating pressure on the space before it becomes critical.

Perhaps the most interesting lesson from the adoption of these dramatically impactful technologies is that new management practices and skills are necessary to interpret and respond to the plethora of data. For example, anecdotal reaction soon after move-in was that there were not enough desks available to meet demand. Sensor data, however, showed only 65 percent occupancy. Upon visual inspection, it became clear that users were leaving their personal possessions (laptops, coats, shoes, etc.) at workstations even if they were in meetings elsewhere. When the policy on using and vacating workstations was clarified, the problem went away.

The feedback through CrowdComfort has been voluminous. Just the newfound ability to easily comment has encouraged thousands of comments about the interior environment. This has allowed PTC to categorize issues and bundle them for efficient response and brought to their attention to seemingly small issues that can be easily addressed to increase staff satisfaction. It is clear that these new tools have radically changed how PTC operates its workplace. PTC’s facility management team itself has noted that it cannot imagine trying to manage a workplace this dynamic without these tools.

As companies seek to offer highly personalized employee interactivity within the work environment, it is essential that facility managers research and evaluate the most appropriate workplace management technologies for their facilities.

PTC is employing disruptive technologies to evaluate and manage the effectiveness of their new workplace strategy. Even in the first few weeks of occupancy, the benefits are being realized. For example, PTC’s new headquarters uses a 100 percent free address workspace model, a big change from the assigned seating in their previous Needham, Massachusetts, office. In addition, just 750 seats were provided for the 1,000 employees, with ancillary seating in collaboration areas to accommodate peak attendance.

Shortly after moving in, one group indicated that they were running out of space. The facility management team was able to leverage the data collected from Steelcase’s Workplace Advisor reports to determine that the group’s portion of the floor had consistent vacancies. The issue was with employees not following policy regarding claiming workspace overnight or during meetings.

Similarly, another group reported a lack of meeting spaces on their floor. In this case, facility management determined that employees were reserving rooms and never using them. While the rooms were automatically released after a few minutes of not being occupied, the facility management team was able to take the extra step of addressing these specific individuals, requesting they omit unnecessary meetings from their scheduling systems to make them available in advance to others.