Leveraging Technological Advancements to Bring Workers Back to Office

Office repositioning is one of the biggest struggles global businesses face today. This stands true for both: architecture businesses and the clients you’re servicing with your design solutions. In the last 18 months there have been enormous transformations within the AEC industry and arguably across most industries, many of which have influenced and shaped business decisions made during the pandemic. You could say the pandemic has only sought to accelerate some of the transformation we had started to see. The biggest and most notable is in the area of communication and connectivity. Staying connected and providing employees with the tools and platforms they need to collaborate, innovate and stay productive has been at the forefront for all companies.

Gensler focuses its research and business value proposition on the client experience, as thousands of workers now go back to office. This bears tremendous challenges for their employee experiences, as well as their clients offices. I am fascinated to see how Gensler tackles this problem by bringing in highly sensible technological advancements to accommodate for the needs of fast changing work environments. With sensibility to technology, innovation and a sustainable mission at heart they bring in agile solutions, simultaneously generating new business potential with their existent but also new clients.

I sat down with Harry Ibbs, Director at Gensler to discuss this matter in further detail. He provided me with excellent research statistics that strongly support his purpose behind investing in technological innovation. This helped me better understand what Gensler stands for and also see the clear business intention behind their actions. Harry leads the Design Technology Studio within Gensler, committed to providing highly effective, economically and environmentally sensitive solutions, as he puts his clients wellbeing at the centre of his design approach.

Harry is one of the speakers at Disrupt Symposium a 5 day virtual event organised with architecture business owners and entrepreneurs in mind. The event welcomes to stage top level executives, directors, partners and leaders of world’s most influential architecture firms.

Topics covered include business strategy, business development, client acquisition, financial management, sales, marketing, communications, branding, social media, public relations, the business of expertise, expert positioning, publishing online and in print, leadership, team building, recruitment, retention, and leaving a legacy behind. 

Disrupt is a one stop shop for top industry advice and business education. 

At Disrupt Harry will speak about “How design and technology can help you grow your business”. Get your tickets now, at 50% discount. Early bird offer expires on the 1st of April. 

New trends in office and work structures can significantly affect your business. We’ve seen great technological advancements in this area with many new tools coming online or old ones getting a facelift which has enabled most employees to seamlessly transition into working from home with great ease. Whilst employers have been able to adapt to this new world, we know that they are still craving human interaction that can’t be replaced virtually. 

In Gensler’s recent UK Workplace Survey they reported that 67% of employees want to return to the office for between 1- 4 days a week and would prefer a hybrid of home, work and office work.

This survey was conducted between July 9th and August 5th 2020, and focused on subjects working in the office full time. A substantial 65% of employees' time is spent collaborating, learning and socialising with those around them, in comparison to a mere 37% when working from home. Conversely, time spent focusing is far greater at home at 63%, while only 35% of time in the office is spent on focused work.

“Post pandemic office life and home life will not be the same and Technology will continue to play a major role in our lives every day,” concludes Harry.

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Image Courtesy of Gensler

To aid the ‘return to work’ strategy for themselves and their clients, Gensler has leveraged generative algorithms to plan office occupancy, helping companies use data to bring people back to the office safely.

One of those tools is called ReRun, a system that works by importing a company’s existing floor plans, then overlaying social distancing bubbles that space out employees in ways that align with government health and safety requirements. The algorithm can be adjusted and updated as requirements change.

Extensive feedback received during the process fuelled later sprints to refine the algorithm’s approach to elements like foot traffic circulation and specialized spaces (huddle rooms and breakout areas). Perhaps most importantly, the team layered an extra step into the tech solution: human intervention.

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Image Courtesy of Gensler
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Image Courtesy of Gensler

Big Data is now becoming currency for the Architecture Engineering and Construction Industry, therefore Gensler’s approaches are now incorporating and processing data sets to inform design decisions more and more frequently.

 “This isn’t just a trend or a fad, data is becoming increasingly integral in the ability to design our projects seamlessly” says Harry. 

AI is playing an important role in tools that are coming to the market to help assist designers, architects and urbanists, although, Harry warns to approach with caution, as the tools need time to evolve and improve.

Nevertheless, he explains, THE RISE OF BIG DATA is upon us and the world’s data creation and consumption is growing exponentially as consumers rely on digital devices, and businesses use data to become more agile and competitive. Real-time data demand is driving this growth: by 2025, nearly 30% of the global data-sphere will be real-time information, according to IDC.

Harry's studio, has taken the approach to provide Gensler’s team with data-driven design tools and proprietary computational products gBlox and gFloorz that allow their world-class designers to bring deep design heritage and domain expertise powered by market-specific metrics to balance form, function and business insights during the design journey with their valued clients.

In his words: “Our compute-powered design solutions provide an unparalleled client experience for agile and predictable decision making. gBlox leverages client [and designer] defined metrics that are adjustable in real-time throughout the design journey, allowing our clients to study trade-offs that balance form-finding with business insights on capital assets.”

Harry shared with me some of these very telling statistics on why technology is so important in today's architecture design solutions, how that really impacts our clients and projects and what potential does it bear for the future of our practices, as we grow into a more technologically advanced world. 

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Image Courtesy of Gensler

According to Babak Beheshti from the New York Institute of Technology, in their publication for TechRepublic: 

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Image Courtesy of Gensler

18 seconds
“In 2025, each connected person will have at least one data interaction every 18 seconds.”

They also say that in 2021 nearly half of the world’s stored data will reside in public cloud environments.

IDC predicts that the world’s data will grow tenfold, from 33 zettabytes (ZB) in 2018 to 175 ZB by 2025.

By 2025, nearly one third of the global data-sphere will be real-time, up from 15% in 2017.

—IDC, Data Age 2025

What does all of this mean to business owners and entrepreneurs within the AEC industry?

AEC is proactively looking to find optimisations and efficiencies to improve our KPIs and financial margins and technology is a major factor in that discussion. We can learn from other sectors that have embraced technology in the past decade, most notably the financial sector. There are many trends utilising AI, artificial intelligence and algorithms to generate and evaluate thousands of design alternatives in order to find more profitable and sustainable solutions, arguably saving conceptual design time and resources. However, it is early stages and there is a lot to develop. 

As Harry says it himself: “I am cautious yet intrigued as to what the market has to offer to help the industry leaders shape best practices.”

The principal goals for generative methodologies are for quick generation of design variants, option, variants, efficiency, program, usage and exploration of the design space. Informed and extended means of interaction for user influence on the generation process, Harry believes that the developed parametric workflow for an automatic generation of design options can allow for a more efficient investigation of the design, mitigating procedural forms of modelling that can then be benchmarked by a direct connection of the design outputs, resilience analysis and simulations thus showing the performances of the solutions immediately.

Technology will continue to drive the future of our global communities—our cities, our buildings, our workplaces, and our daily lives, tech companies’ global footprints and influence rapidly expand, TECH IS SHAPING OUR EXPERIENCE OF CITIES.

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Image Courtesy of Gensler
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Image Courtesy of Gensler

Technology is changing the world’s skyline and the composition of every workforce. While tech companies flourish, there’s a sprint to lay claim to cities that can support their scale, and offer a lifestyle and a talent pipeline that will fuel their targeted growth.

The technology industry is leading the way in determining how we will work in the future, and other industries are following suit. Recognizing changing work styles, tech companies are providing workers with choice and balance, as well as the tools to support their work in any location—in and beyond the workplace. Data-driven insights that inform how space should be utilized, and spaces that enable fluidity and adaptability within the workplace, will be crucial to supporting tomorrow’s workforce.

“Shifting from our European HQ to our homes with minimal to no disruption is testimony to our one-firm firm vision for Design and Technology, adapting and being at the forefront of technology advancements,” says Harry.

Last year alone Gensler created 1.2 billion square feet of space. That’s why they are committed to designing with an unwavering focus on Human Experience as they work to shape the future of cities.

We are living through the greatest period of urbanization in history. For the first time, more people live in urban centers than don’t. By 2050, more than 70% of the earth’s population will live in cities. Cities are also responsible for 80% of global GDP—they are engines of creativity and economic innovation for everything from technology to healthcare. 

The world is changing. Global population shifts mean that over half of the world’s people now live in cities—a total of 4.2 billion people. By 2030, there will be 43 megacities on the planet with populations of at least 10 million people in each. These concentrations of people are already introducing tough new challenges. 

Economic volatility is perhaps the topmost concern for our clients. Markets can turn on a dime and are influenced by an increasingly unpredictable political and environmental landscape. The pandemic has affected all of our lives and science has connected virus vulnerabilities with climate change. Environmental imbalance data plays an important role in our design decisions as it is on everyone’s mind, and is affecting markets, governments, and people all over the world. More than 90% of all urban areas are coastal, putting most cities like London at risk of flooding from rising sea levels. 

As he passionately shares with me the grand mission behind the responsibility he and his colleagues bear, as any subtle change to their design approaches reaps huge and measurable results for the global ecology, he ads: 

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Image Courtesy of Gensler


This is not only true for Gensler, even though they are a big practice.

In some respect that mindset is one to be adopted by all future looking architects. A mindset of collective responsibility, but also a mindset that embraces and adopts entrepreneurially to new global economic landscapes. 

Gensler impacts millions of lives in cities around the world, they have an opportunity to address climate change and create a resilient future like few others can. But that is not to say you can not do the same with the resources available at your fingertips.

Buildings generate nearly 40% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions and 50% of the world’s energy usage. With an additional 2.48 trillion square feet of new building stock anticipated by 2060. 

Gensler feels the urgency and responsibility to lead our industry in meeting and exceeding net zero carbon targets, and Harry suggests better adaptation of all our business models to accommodate for that. 

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Image Courtesy of Gensler

of global greenhouse emissions are generated each year by buildings.
—Architecture 2030

Being an excellent role model, as the company takes on global challenges with these competencies, Gensler is uniquely positioned to tackle the toughest challenges facing cities. They are impacting climate change by reducing the carbon footprint of our buildings, using data to inform our design decisions, enabling us to take critical design directions in the early stages to reduce the impact to the environment.

Harry says: “A prominent trend I can see is that our clients are increasingly engaged in resilience, carbon footprint and exploring repurposing of their assets, we call this REPOSITIONING Architecture.” 

500M SQ. FT
Of office space is needed of significant repositioning in the U.S alone
—according to Urban Land Institute

Sustainable buildings have 20% faster lease-up rates- Ernst & Young

“To stand out in a fiercely competitive workplace or office building market, building owners are looking to increase asset value by curating amenities that optimise the human experience and enhance the communities they are in. It’s not necessarily about adding space or levelling ageing buildings—it’s about revitalising and revisioning buildings that are viable. Given the ample volume of existing building stock, thus reducing any project’s carbon footprint by repurposing existing buildings, we can recycle a large inventory of older, under-utilised buildings in growing urban centres. This offers a huge opportunity to transform these properties into greener sustainable Architecture. The Urban Land Institute estimates there is more than 500 million square feet of office space in need of significant repositioning in the U.S. alone.” says Harry.

If you want to see Harry speak to that topic live, you can not miss out on Disrupt. 

Go to the website now, and secure your spot: www.disrtuptsymposium.com

About this author
Cite: Sara Kolata. "Leveraging Technological Advancements to Bring Workers Back to Office" 16 Mar 2022. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/978646/leveraging-technological-advancements-to-bring-workers-back-to-office> ISSN 0719-8884

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