The office has evolved to offer many things to many people: first and foremost it’s an environment in which work is performed, but to an extent it's also a living and social space, with all the requisite support facilities, such as gyms, cafés and crèches, this entails. But if the demands on the office over the past couple of decades have been great, the coming 25 years are set to see them multiply.
Macroeconomic, social and environmental changes are likely to see us demanding ever more of our offices. We are already seeing a shift from the office being required to accommodate people during a regular working day – 9am to 6pm, say – to being in use almost constantly. Demographic change and congestion in cities is set to accelerate this, with office employees adopting increasingly flexible working patterns to suit their own personal preferences or to avoid the rush hour crush – coming in at 6am, for instance, and leaving at 2pm, or beginning their working day at 3pm and finishing at 11pm.
This poses a major challenge to how to maintain an office building: if it is in use for, say, 16 hours out of every 24, with the only downtime likely to be in the dead of night, when are you going to have an opportunity to service it to ensure it remains at peak performance?
The secret is increasing building intelligence through data collection. By collecting live data on the ‘load management’ in buildings throughout the day and night it will enable you to know when best to deploy resources to manage and maintain spaces effectively. In addition, it will help to identify unused areas that can be put to better use and redirect resources such as light and heat away from them to improve the building’s overall sustainability performance. In the long term we may well start to see self-cleaning and self-repairing buildings: the building’s intelligence will identify an issue, commission and carry out a repair with little or no human intervention.
Ultimately, integrating technology within the fabric and design of the building will be key to maximising the performance of the office and ensuring it is as future-proof as possible.