February 21, 2017 | Liz Austin

Tailoring an office for the modern-day, tech-savvy worker requires an eye towards functionality and flexibility.

Minimal, open spaces with seating pods and tables on wheels. Ergonomic seating that contours to the specific curvature of a laptop user’s spine. Quiet areas where people can work alone, and then freely transition over to a quad setting to work with colleagues. Technology that eliminates the need for fussy cables and landlines, catering to a more mobile user.

No, this isn’t a scene from a sci-fi movie depicting the utopian workplace of the future. Many companies have already realized that integrating cutting-edge technology into their office spaces allows for increased productivity, flexibility, and satisfaction. A tech-enabled workspace accommodates the modern worker, who possesses multiple cloud-connected devices and requires a flexible space that can keep up with the speed of business.

Components of a Tech-Enabled Space

Looking around at Cisco’s San Jose offices in the middle of the day a few years ago, you would’ve seen a lot of empty cubicles. In order to collaborate on complex business and technology issues, employees were required to physically congregate in conferences rooms, rendering huge swaths of office space designed for individual use underutilized.

So Cisco set about designing their first tech-enabled space in the name of reducing real estate costs — but what they ended up getting was so much more. The streamlined floor plan and technological connectivity of Cisco’s new workplace allows for spontaneous and planned meetings, collaboration with other groups through audio and video conferences, interactive white boards, and instant messaging.

In addition, the freedom to switch between spaces also allows for individual preferences to be met. Acknowledging that the optimal setup for participating in a conference call would be different from that required to work alone on a spreadsheet, the office features a variety of seating in environments designed for specific tasks.

Specific features of Cisco’s connected environment include individual workstations, which feature a docking station consisting of a computer and phone; collaboration spaces, ranging from formal, closed spaces to informal spaces with seating on wheels and mobile tables; and a library, where employees can work without distraction.

Starting Small

Even if your company isn’t ready to plunge into a complete design overhaul like Cisco, you can roll out a tech-enabled workspace in more gradual steps. A tech-friendly workspace should, ideally, be tailored to your own employees’ needs. So, the total cost of the project should include pre-design research alongside architectural updates and installation of new technological components. For example, Green Street’s work to revitalize 2351 Market Street in St. Louis — a building with a fair amount of high-tech infrastructure already in place — was focused around the specific needs of its future tenant, tech company Avatara. Adaptive reuse of vacant buildings can be a cost-effective strategy for companies searching for tech-enabled spaces on a budget.

Companies should collect quantifiable data before they begin, monitoring how employees utilize their current office space. For example, a company can install seat sensors to discern how much time people spend at their desks or in co-working spaces. With this information, they can proceed with customized solutions that best fit their employees’ habits.

An Investment with a Big Payoff

The benefits of an environment designed for connectivity are numerous. For one, a shared workplace design can be financially expedient. Cisco, for example, was able to accommodate more people in the same amount of space with their reconfigured floor plan. Flexible furniture eliminated maintenance costs. Wireless infrastructure simplified day-to-day processes, reduced the need for cable management, and eliminated countless IT headaches.

As you can see, designing a workplace based on how employees already use their space produced great results for Cisco. Employees enjoy the variety of available work spaces, the open, well-lit environment, and the ease with which large meetings can take place. While the space required a transition for workers used to spending all day at their desks, they quickly acclimated and appreciated the technologies available to them.

Perhaps the largest benefit of a tech-enabled workspace is that it can just keep evolving at the pace of modern technological advancements. Cisco already has a vision for their own future. They’re researching a “virtual building receptionist,” or an interactive screen in the lobby that could perform simple secretarial tasks, like answering basic questions, paging employees to meet visitors, and providing badges to visitors. In order to plan for the future, Cisco will be anonymously monitoring employees’ movement to discover how they’re using the new space, and how it can be improved in the future.

A tech-enabled workspace fosters connectivity between employees, and they’re oriented for the future, allowing companies to keep pace with technology’s rapid progression without requiring massive system overhauls with each advancement. Most of all, they create an environment specifically tailored to the needs of the modern worker.

It’s not just that tech-enabled workspaces are more economic and efficient — they simply make the most sense for the needs of today’s employees, and for the ones to come.

This article originally appeared on Incentive Magazine.

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