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The workplace is more diverse than at any time in history, so inclusivity must be designed in at every level. It must address the needs of a multigenerational and ageing workforce as well as a wide range of physical and psychological needs. The physical office should be agile and accessible to a wide range of people, and so too should working culture. This is not solely about diversity, although that too will be important, but about embracing difference and creating an organisation that is welcoming to all.

Natural elements can be an important part of biophilic design, as demonstrated at Deloitte’s London HQ

Just as work has escaped the confines of the traditional office to colonise our homes and public spaces, so too are those spaces transforming the design of offices. This is not only evident in aesthetics, but also in terms of functionality. While soft seating and a more domestic feel replaces many traditional working areas, agile working could be seen as the creation of a cityscape within an office, with its parks, cafés, quiet spaces and random encounters.

AI has been around for some time now, but 2019 may be the year it starts to impact extensively on people’s working lives. Like many genuinely disruptive technologies, it will change things gradually, then suddenly. A report from tech firm Spiceworks (5) suggests that before the end of this year, 40 per cent of large businesses in the US and Europe expect to implement one or more intelligent assistants or AI chatbots on company-owned devices, compared to 25 per cent of mid-size companies and 27 per cent of small businesses.

The good news is that most commentators think the advent of AI may not be as catastrophic to employment as some forecasts suggest. According to an analysis by PwC (6), in the UK around seven million existing jobs could be displaced, but around 7.2 million could be created.

Although psychology and physiology have always played an important role in understanding how best to design offices for people, growing workplace complexity is leading designers and their clients to call on some other disciplines to understand what makes people tick. Among these are neuroscience and anthropology. These are important as we increasingly try to address issues such as how to deal with distractions and acoustics, personality types and the creation of effective teams, along with the spaces needed to address these issues.

Old but gold, there is still a pervasive inertia with regard to the adoption of flexible working in some organisations as well as widespread misunderstanding of what it means – most typically that it involves working from home rather than the office. The truth is that it takes a wide variety of forms, and while these are now commonplace, they are not universal.

This is a shame because flexible work models offer the chance to address a wide range of work-related issues, including improvements in work-life balance and productivity but also helping mothers back into the workplace and encouraging more fathers to take a greater role in childcare – both of which are important in reducing the earnings gap between men and women.

About Sarah OBeirne


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