New technologies are redefining our working methods and places. More flexible, professional spaces are transforming, making way for the digital workplace, a new environment which is transforming the employee experience and promoting productivity, collaboration and innovation.
How can you rethink workspaces whilst taking into account the implications of the digital era? How do you combine being increasingly hyper-connected with the occasional need for peace and quiet and privacy? These are some of the questions we asked Françoise Pitti.
François Pitti is Director of Prospective and Marketing Strategies at Bouygues Construction. It’s his job to look a few years into the future and look both inside and beyond buildings, at the area and the town, with a social, sociological approach.
Finding a balance between hyperconnectivity and the need for quiet and privacy
Digital transformation is both about new tools that are ever more powerful and continuous information flows. Because the extra efficiency brought by new technologies hides a risk of information overload, or infobesity, which can deteriorate working conditions. “One of the important matters we’re working on, is this balance between almost limitless power and the perspective we need to digest all this information, explains François Pitti.
One of the key issues is the need to combine periods of hyperconnectivity with the odd moments of “digital off-time” in order to think. “Studies vary, but it has been observed that people are interrupted every 3 to 5 minutes by an SMS or a phone call, while someone reaches full concentration after 10 minutes on average,” says François Pitti. To reduce this gap, a balance must be found in the configuration of spaces, particularly in terms of layout, acoustics, and choice of material: “All sectors are affected, from design to building and space management.”
“We often talk about mobile working, telecommuting and interactions between professional and personal life, but we sometimes forget this third point, which is an important parameter for both staff and employers” says François Pitti.
-> Further reading: “Telecommuting is a good way for companies to begin the digital transition”
After closing off spaces, then re-opening them completely via open-plan offices, could there be another way? According to the expert, the question is whether or not people still manage to focus with digital tools invading open-plan offices. The general impression is that it’s rather complicated.
“We are seeing rather odd situations: employees are working in meeting rooms, and meeting in open-plan offices. This is a bit paradoxical, and we have to find a balance between the two.”
To give them some ideas, François Pitti and his teams are looking at what is done in other countries. A few weeks ago, they went to Silicon Valley in California and came back with a rather funny anecdote, yet which is symptomatic of the situation. “Two start-ups offered to show us a ‘surprising’ concept: a phone booth in the middle of the open-plan office. This isn’t a revolution, but a return to what we had before: closed spaces.”
This global phenomenon is particularly present in the service sector, which is affected by information overload. “We ingest but we can’t digest. We need places to process the information, but there aren’t many left.”
-> Find out how Econocom is redesigning its workspace
adapting spaces to new uses
Aside from the need to create enclosed spaces, the digital era is strongly influencing the modular trend in workspaces. It’s now possible to collect data on the presence of employees at work, and use it to change the layout. “This wasn’t possible before because the technologies weren’t available, and if they were, they were too expensive,” observes François Pitti.
In the coming years, workspaces will continue to change, in terms of their design, use and construction. “In a few years, the term ‘real estate’ will no longer exist: walls, spaces, everything will be modular and real-time thanks to digital tools.”
Back in 2014, Econocom fully digitalised the Partech Shaker, a start-up campus central Paris. One of the challenges was creating a place where young talents could easily meet people, but also have the quiet and privacy they need, during development phases, for example. In 2015, we mentioned the Belgian social security department, where telecommuting has reduced costs and increased productivity for employees. Today, uses are still changing, along with the design of workspaces. The digital workplace is here, NOW.