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    Data, occupant wellbeing and flexibility the future of workplace design

    Nathan Johnson

    New monitoring and wireless power technology will play a significant role in the shaping of future workplaces, as will post-occupancy data and behavioural studies.

    These were just a few of the forecasts deriving from the Industry Q&A panel at Architecture & Design’s Commercial Connect event, held in Sydney in October.  

    The panel topped a jam-packed day of roundtable discussions, industry keynotes and a host of networking opportunities, and was a highlight for most delegates.  

    On the panel was Valerie Mack Interior Design Leader at Crone, Bureau Proberts Director, Terry Mcquillan, Warren and Mahoney’s Donna Wheatley, and Director of the Digital Design Institute Australia, Ben Coorey.

    The correlation between improved staff wellbeing and increased productivity was a major talking point for the panel and it lead to a whole host of smaller questions surrounding how to incorporate occupant wellbeing into design strategies and how to then prove the merit of these strategies.

    The answer seemed pretty obvious for the panel members—evidence.

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    Panel members from left: Director of the Digital Design Institute Australia, Ben Coorey, Valerie Mack Interior Design Leader at Crone Warren and Mahoney’s Donna Wheatley, and Bureau Proberts Director, Terry Mcquillan. Photography by Nicholas Rider

    Whether it is from occupant-feedback or from new monitoring technologies that can track staff movement and working patterns, space and services use, and biological responses to different interior environments, the panel agreed that it will be big data that will be the big driver for future workplace strategy.

    That data will help architects and designers map floor plans and layouts, choose fitout materials, and determine the number and variety of work stations needed for each business. It will also aid management in knowing how to get the best out of their space and workers.

    Historically, says Donna Wheatley, the data collected on patterns of use has been fairly rudimentary, and gathered by consultants who visit organisations on and off to make observations. But this is no longer the case, says Crone’s Valerie Mack, who believes that the future will see even more technology able to track occupants, collect data and then used to improve working environments specific to the needs of different organisations.

    For Terry McQuillan, evidence could prove a valuable tool for architects already advocating for these new types of workplaces. “It just provides evidence for what’s already intuitively obvious to the architect,” he explains. “It’s a really great tool in helping the client understand your vision for a space.”

    REMAINING FLEXIBLE

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    Terry McQuillan of Bureau Proberts added a very grounded, realistic and experienced viewpoint for the panel. Photography by Nicholas Rider

    Key to the success of flexible workspaces will also be a built-in flexibility by the designer. Post-occupancy data will be able to track the performance of the space next to forecasts, but that space will need to be flexible in order to improve. If monitoring shows that a conference room is not being used for its intended purpose for example, the space could then be altered and re-equipped to serve another, say for relaxation or team collaboration.  

    WELLS STANDARD

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    Warren and Mahoney’s Donna Wheatley says behavioural studies are making a resurgence in architectural design. Photography by Nicholas Rider 

    The WELL Building Standard, an evidence-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring the performance of building features that impact health and well-being, was also thrown out by the panel as key to the future of workplace design.

    The building standard can be applied to all typologies, but in particular for workplaces would focus on how greener and healthier spaces can have a positive impact on people, productivity and bottom line.

    Valerie Mack noted how her practice is already adopting the principles of healthy workplaces in its commercial building designs by focussing on things like air quality, increasing natural light and introducing greenery.

    It echoed an assertion by the panel that behavioural studies are making a triumphant return to architectural design after a 30 year hiatus from the profession. Wheatley, an environmental psychologist herself, says that studies tracking human response to different environments are gaining the attention of businesses looking to attract the right talent and bring positive measurable results to their businesses.

    As is the case for agile and flexible workplaces, key to the adoption and success of things like the WELLS standard and behavioural studies in office environments will be the monitoring of their performance.

    So I guess only time will tell. 

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