Andrew Harrison of DEGW Ponders the Role of Intelligent Networks in Modern Building Design
January 3, 2007
Office space has never been so exciting. Thanks in no small part to the network technologies provided by Cisco Systems®, workers are now freer than ever to choose when and where they work, whether logging onto a corporate intranet from home or checking e-mails in a hotel lobby.
And with 'work' being redefined as an activity, rather than a place, the traditional role of the office, as a place to house workers, is also under review.
Forward-thinking enterprises around the world are debating whether they need to or indeed should spend large sums of money on big corporate buildings that are increasingly being abandoned by employees who find it easier to work on the move.
Helping lead the debate on what today's office spaces should look like and be used for is DEGW, a strategic design consultancy that was set up in 1973 and now operates from a network of 12 offices across Europe, Asia and America.
DEGW's research director Andrew Harrison took time out from a busy schedule to talk to News@Cisco about how workplaces are changing and how initiatives such as the Cisco Connected Real Estate concept are contributing to these changes.
How are changing work patterns affecting the way office space is used?
Andrew Harrison: We are seeing a paradigm shift where we do not even use the word 'office' if we can avoid it, and the starting point for this is the knowledge economy. It demands a new level of flexibility in buildings, in financial, functional and physical terms.
The issues for companies are now how to use space to attract people; how to deal with different cultures; how to adapt to a 'platform approach' to getting work done; and helping people remember who they are and where they are within an increasingly dispersed workforce.
What are the drawbacks of the traditional approach to building design?
Andrew Harrison: About 95 percent of organizations have only 35 percent of their building space occupied at any time. It is like buying a jumbo jet and leaving it on the runway for most of the week. Only universities have less efficient use of space, with around 15 percent occupancy.
Also, many buildings send out the wrong message to clients and workers. Most offices speak more about the past than the future, reflecting work styles that are no longer relevant, relying on symbols that convey the wrong values and constraining knowledge-based businesses.
What new work space concepts are emerging as a result of these changes?
Andrew Harrison: The whole notion of what constitutes a physical workplace is changing and there is a shift to hybrid work environments. There are now effectively three categories of work space, each with a virtual analogue:
- Public, open-access areas such as cafés and hotel lobbies, analogous to Internet sites and public chat rooms. We see more and more work taking place here.
- Privileged spaces where access is invite-only, such as airport business lounges or extranets online. We are also seeing more people work here, but they behave differently to when they are in public spaces.
- Private spaces with protected access, such as homes, offices or, online, VPNs and intranets.
What role does technology play in these new work spaces?
Andrew Harrison: In the new economy, it is the core and public spaces that add value; why pay for a meeting room if you can use a lobby? Even staircases need to be designed with as much care as offices, since it is all about finding reasons to meet people.
But as buildings become more open and permeable, there is more of an emphasis on using entry control systems such as closed-circuit TV to control access in a non-intrusive way.
How important are IP networks in emerging building design trends?
Andrew Harrison: I have been in the industry for 20 years now and designing intelligent buildings has always been the ultimate goal. The building controls were always lagging behind, but now, with IP, there is a possibility that it really can happen.
I am particularly interested in pervasive technology. If the building knows who you are, you can have personalized spaces that follow you around. It would be especially useful for people with special requirements if you could ask the building to adapt to your needs.
Are technology companies like Cisco likely to have a big impact in building design?
Andrew Harrison: They are already. Technologies such as wireless networking are allowing buildings which they said were obsolete in the 90s to be reused. The notion of someone who helps bring together space and services and technology is really important.
This paradigm shift is not a fad. Organizations have to decide on what is the role of the workplace today, and technology is the enabler in all this.