There is more to workspace architecture and design that goes farther than merely creating functional spaces — it understands the ethos of a work culture, human interactions and its processes. The architecture of contemporary workspaces, with its emphasis on efficiency and clarity in design, many a times, fails to appreciate the culture inherent to a workspace. Focused on getting the job done, several corporate offices fail to realise the human element in work.
Delineating on this fact, Roshan Gowda, lead – India, Corporate Real Estate, Accenture, unequivocally believes that while designing a workplace, creativity and innovation should not be constrained into typical ideas of modular workstation units, glass partitions, etc. In this interview with Commercial Design, he talks about design ideologies that not only amalgamates human centric design but also about spaces that can harness the potential of technology and sustainable initiatives.
Which parameters are crucial in designing modern offices?
While different industries and allied workplaces need to develop their stylised design imperatives, the pre-eminence of the employee at the centre of all workplace design has never been so prominent. Anything that is not essential to human experience does not matter anymore. It is not so much a trend as it is a solid building block. Various manifestations of this experiential building block.
Technology that resides in the pockets of people will be expected at the workplace. In today’s digital world, we are treated to both tactile materials and interactive experiences. Why should workplace experiences be any different?
Agility and flexibility means different things to different individuals, and I am not one to champion a one-size-fits-all approach. The clichéd view has been that agile desking or collaboration-led designs are gospel. I reject that theory. What I espouse, however, is the need to offer options within the relevant business framework. A single, all-purpose work setting may not cut it for most knowledge workers. Designers need to provide a variety of “activity settings” or purpose-built areas for specific activities that are accessible to all. These might include impromptu meeting areas, formal meeting spaces, individual work spaces or work cafes, etc, that can make up for the constraints of dense, open-plan environments.
Needs of a diverse workforce need to be kept in mind. While there is always a lot of talk of millennials, many of today’s workplaces cater to mindboggling diversity in workforce — ranging from baby boomers to post-millennials.
Sustainability and wellness have started to emerge as a mainstream workplace parameter in the past decade. Certainly the desire to minimise the environmental impacts of buildings is the most significant driver of sustainability but indoor environmental quality and its impact on employees have taken on increasing visibility as well.
How can global companies, when setting up offices in India, adapt to maintain balance with the local context?
Workplace design can be local and global at the same time. Translating and maintaining a firm’s corporate ethos and brand into its workspaces across multiple regions is a challenge but local materials and sensibilities play a big role. The only way is to transcend the best of both worlds — balance global best practices with local efficiencies and sensibilities. There are often scenarios when within a workplace, you get a sense that you could be anywhere in the world. That points to a complete disregard for local sensibilities — be it material, business requirements, even budget constraints. That cannot be the way to approach workplace design. The key is to decipher local means to reach global goals.
How have the evolving technology and digital platforms impacted working patterns?
The transformation always starts at the business end. Organisations are becoming SME-led and liquid workforces are here to stay. Evolving technologies have resulted in delinking business revenues with ‘re’growth, which is a great thing. Ability to forecast growth has shrunk and business contracts are smaller and shorter. All this has resulted in a need for Workplace and CRE professionals to think nimble. Gone are the days when the workplace was merely a physical space that employees occupied during regular office hours. Today’s forever-connected, instant-access environment has blurred the lines between the physical office and the place where work actually happens. Secondly, as the distinction between professional and personal life dissolves, and the workplace becomes truly digital, employees are communicating and collaborating in unprecedented ways. To enable knowledge sharing across the organisation, they want the ability to forge productive business relationships beyond natural work groups. As a result, it is increasingly clear that the traditional ‘create and push’ information approach no longer meets employees’ evolving needs.
Which technologies help companies optimise and enhance their operational functions?
The entire spectrum of digital, automation, AI and IoT is being deployed, as we speak, to create the workplace of the future. While digital gets actively used in areas like asset management, automation is an effective tool in areas like transport and expense management. AI is a common building block to activate Chatbots for daily workplace interfaces and IoT is beginning to be a game changer towards increased smart, connected buildings.
When leading large scale projects, how does one establish synergy end-to-end?
Defining the project’s key objectives and identifying accountabilities from stakeholders right at the outset always helps. It is also important that the client backs up this clarity of thought with follow-up actions that are aligned to the original intent. However, despite the above, When you have multiple stakeholders in large programmes, you will always have unforeseen variables and differences of view. What is important then, is a strong and centralised managerial approach that keeps an eye on the parameters of cost, time and quality, and keeps pushing through the programme at all times.
Tell us about the biggest challenges in maintaining facilities of a company with widespread operations and working culture…
Employee safety and security: Identifying key priorities and roping in best-in-class products and suppliers is a good starting point
- Managing an ageing real estate portfolio: A proactive maintenance strategy with proper budget planning and conditional assessment audits of equipment and systems can effectively ensure well-oiled asset management
- Tracking compliances: A process needs to be in place (with appropriate personnel/expertise) to keep a track of ever changing regulatory and compliance requirements — and interpretation of relevant depth and applicability.
- Optimising operations: While maintaining high performance, deploying the right tools and technology can help in planning and prioritising tasks, and finding better ways to manage waste and consume less energy overall
- Record keeping and inventory management: Organised record-keeping starts from capturing accurate and reliable data, and data analysis leads to informed and strategic decisions. Smart technologies and IoT are increasingly playing a big role here
In your opinion, what are the most impactful measures that anyone can take to further sustainability?
As is said, when you sustain your resources, they sustain you. Balance is the key. We must balance our need to consume natural resources with the planet’s need to conserve them. Some high impact sustainability process-measures can be:
• Defining a long-term sustainability agenda with annual milestone targets
• Setting resources using benchmarking and Resource Conservation Measures
• Executing smart and sustainable buildings strategy
• Augmenting clean energy sourcing, enhancing green energy mix
• Implementing efficient employee transport and pilot green fleets
The need of the hour is to ensure that energy consumption is decoupled with real estate growth. Energy efficiency gains coupled with green energy adoption can help offset thousands of tonnes of potential carbon emission. Technology enablement (smart metering, digital platforms, automated building systems, etc) can go a long way towards enabling smart, connected and intelligent real estate. It is crucial to partner with developers and land owners and get them to think long term as well. Additionally, greening the supply chain becomes an imperative for large occupiers.