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How Machines Shape the Spaces for Work

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How Machines Shape the Spaces for Work

Check out my latest report, Space Matters. Work – and the space in which it happens – can now be thought of in two...

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Check out my latest report, Space Matters. Work – and the space in which it happens – can now be thought of in two separate categories: the work people do better than machines, and the work that machines do better than people. So, work that demands judgment, empathy and creativity, for example, is best done by human workers – let’s call this “blue work,” and this was dealt with in my last post the work people do better than machines. “Red work,” on the other hand, involves data analysis and pattern recognition. These two types of work require different characteristics of the workspace.

My take is that throughout the workplace, businesses need to support red work – the rote tasks, computation and pattern recognition that intelligent automation tools and technologies cope with so well. My take is that turning the space for work red means using inexpensive sensors and embedded software to instrument the entire workplace. Done well and it enables the work environment to sense, monitor, optimize, regulate and tune itself to the demands of its workforce. And you can see these red spaces growing everywhere: Connected building technologies like Philips smart lighting directs clients and employees to meeting rooms and improves worker productivity by syncing with their circadian rhythms. Philips are not alone because there is a whole host of smart connected products and software platforms that can turn a workspace red. Think of it like this:

  • Environmental apps that enhance the customer and employee experience. We’ve all been there but we workers can waste hours of time looking for open conference rooms, peering into "unbooked" rooms only to find them occupied. Solutions such as Cloudbooking.com among others can automate these types of tasks, saving employees time and frustration. Building-focused applications can also enable "hot-desking" scenarios for mobile workers or improve visitor management by allowing clients to use an app to navigate an unknown building, find an open desk, or even vacate the premises in an emergency.
  • Productivity apps that focus on teamwork and synchronicity. How great would it be if, post-meeting, your project management software, team workspaces, calendars and client records (where applicable) were all updated by the time you returned to your desk? Meetings could then be pivotal pieces of an interconnected process across a value chain rather than unwelcome clutter on our calendars (sound familiar?) Red spaces could feature group computing tools to allow multiple people to simultaneously use one computing device, in a conference room setting. Tools like Microsoft's Surface Hub or Google Jam board can help companies search for better ways to show data to potential customers, spur collaboration among internal employees, and visualize new approaches to old problems using white boarding technology.
  • Instrumented intelligence, everywhere. We have Alexa in our homes, so why not in the places where we work? We can now configure our homes to exactly how we like them, so why not our desks where we spend another chunk of time? Businesses are using a wave of instrumentation to drive worker productivity, such as smart lighting that guides workers around a factory floor or to a warehouse location or tracks free desks and conference rooms. Who knows where this will go—walk into the workspace of the future, and the elevator may automatically take you to the correct floor with your hot desk configured exactly how you like it, with the colleague from marketing automatically located next to you ready to tackle that pressing challenge.

This is happening now, and if truth be told, I am not sure where I stand on it. My report from a couple of years ago People—not just Machines—Will Power Digital Innovation predicted that employees would increasingly use their mobile devices/wearables to monitor the applets in the workplace. This would allow their bosses to understand better productive behavioral patterns. But how far should this stuff go because it is beginning to sound...well...a bit Cambridge Analytica creepy? Talking to our newest (and youngest) member of the team Caroline Styr, the balance of where this stuff sits is up for grabs, and I agree with her. Generational mores will play their part. Caroline is undertaking a very timely piece of research that examines how sensor technology can transform the work experience for employees (not their bosses); basically moving past the creep factor and imagining a transformative, personalized work experience that works for the employee. She has just started blogging about this as well so watch this space as these red spaces grow and grow.

PS. I wonder what an instrumented workplace would tell your employer about how you work? Do you tend to hog the conversation around the coffee machine...or not talk enough? Does your voice niggle everyone around you? Do you sit very still at your desk all day? Or do you fidget under stress? Where do you go in the office? How much time do you spend there? To whom do you talk? The big question is would you mind if this stuff was collected, mined, and logged.


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