By Tica Hessing, Human Geographer and Urban Planner
The Scene in 2040
It is the year 2040. Age old mindsets have been dismantled and the gig economy is in full swing. Governments have revamped regulations for the digital economy. Enhanced connectivity has made workers more mobile and economies have become more flexible and dynamic. More than 60% of the world’s population now live in cities, crammed into less than 3% of the world’s land area. The pressure on resources will entail a new paradigm in smart urban planning.
A new wave of computerization and digitalization has revolutionized the service sector, eliminating 47% of jobs in the last two decades and changing organizations from within. The core of the organization has shrunk as most manpower requirements are outsourced. In this new era, the focus will be on human interaction and the need for workers with high emotional intelligence. Work will increasingly take place in the third place; social surroundings with community life, cafes, and co-working spaces.
As such, things are changing quickly for the typical workday, worknight, and workhour. How will we want to work in an era where we can be in the driver’s seat? How can we build workplaces in perspective of the user in a world where work, shop, and play is blurred? How will we navigate the space daily in future? And what does this mean for Corporate Real Estate? To build a better future, we must first imagine it.
Lisa turns around and looks outside. Big rain drops are splashing against the window, she activates the glass and looks up her schedule for the day. She has her first meeting at 10 a.m.
It’s SAL again. Lisa can’t live without her. No, SAL is not her partner, SAL is Lisa’s smart home.
Devices in our smart homes, cars, buildings, and cities will interact with each other to make life easier and quicker for us, which makes us even more flexible.
The Daily Commute
During Lisa’s ride to the city, she catches up on some work. Humans are banned from driving in cities, all cars are selfdriving and there is no need for parking spaces.
She can’t even imagine that early in the century, the average commute in London was 74 minutes a day and you had to drive by yourself.
The car drops Lisa off in front of her office and continues to the next commute-request. She enjoys the view of the vertical gardens on the office buildings. There are still some ugly outdated tall buildings, made of glass and twisted steel from a bygone era. Nowadays, it’s not allowed and buildings are made from living eco-friendly and sustainable materials.
She gets a notification that SAL has booked an Elevates trip for her 4 p.m. meeting today. It has a stop at the rooftop of the building of one of her clients. On-demand aviation makes a journey that would normally occupy two hours of stop-and-go commute in only 15 minutes.
Lisa enters the building and immediately is greeted by a friendly robot concierge who informs her that her meeting is on the second level, that her manager has already arrived and that she needs to drink more water.
The smart building knows and learns how the people inside interact with each other and informs you when potential collaborators are passing through the building.
The smart building observes and understands stress-points and recommends changes and creates strategies that will improve either the physical workplace or human behavior. It can happen that an employee gets fired or hired by the ‘decision-making software.’
Don’t be fooled though. Security is tight, but discreet, with routine facial recognition scans; visitors have critical parameters that are monitored regularly.
Indeed, the security check also scans your overall health. It doesn’t let you carry a virus; it will call a car to bring an employee home, to a nearby doctor, or hospital when necessary.
‘Good morning Lisa! How have you been?’ She enters the meeting room and greets her manager.
This is her 15th assignment in the last three years. Lisa and her manager have a meeting with two graduates, beamed in from Asia; she gives them a hand through her AR headset.
Recruitment is global, and workforces are very diverse. In 2040, employees can work 24/7 on projects, it’s just a matter of getting the right people from the right time zone areas. Emotional intelligence is what everyone is looking for – people skills have become valuable in a world full of technology.
When Lisa walks around, she doesn’t see any cables in the office: wireless charging and working via the cloud is standard practice. Open plan offices are obsolete and so is paper. These days work is arranged around projects. Neighborhoods are created for the project teams. If Lisa wants to work on individual tasks, she stays home or goes to a café. She only goes to the office to interact and collaborate with people. What she needs are soundproof rooms, and the people Lisa wants to work with online or in the room. All walls are flexible, and the work environment can be reshaped every night based on the workplace needs of the coming day.
A Brave New World
There will be no loyalty to new office supply. Buildings must be flexible to adapt to changes, meet the lifestyle needs of its permanent and transient occupants, and successfully meld physical and digital spaces. There will be a greater variety of options as organizations will require diverse, activity-based workspaces that are needed to attract and keep the right people.
Workplace monitoring continuously assesses how people work and what they need from the space now, physically and emotionally. Spaces will have to become more fluid and dynamically configurable; 3D printing will emerge to be the perfect answer to revolutionize office fit-outs, highly customizable and easily recycled. Leases will encompass both the use of fixed and temporary spaces, with co-working concepts evolving to be a staple. With the demand for space turning more fluid, occupiers will want the smallest amount of space with commitments not exceeding the hour.
While any attempt to foretell the future will almost always fall short, the changes envisioned have already been set in motion. Rapid advances in smart building and digital technologies will invariably compress the life cycle of office buildings, posing a challenge to landlords to maintain performance as their assets age. The emergence of co-working concepts – the single biggest disruptor in the office real estate industry – shows how demand for office space can be shaped in the future. In all probability, that future is now.
Tica Hessing is a Human Geographer and Urban Planner in Strategic Consulting at Cushman & Wakefield. Working with clients in the development of workplace strategies, enabling organisations to work and use space more effectively in response to changing work processes and technology solutions in alignment with the business objectives and organisational culture.