“Emotional tech” that measures your heart rate and temperature, glass offices and glass walls everywhere that look lovely but might make you feel insecure, and a rise in measurement of indoor air quality. These are just some of the trends that will be under the microscope at Total Facilities in Sydney this month, 20-21 March.
On the panel, Dimensions of a Well Workplace, will be Tica Hessing, human geographer and tenant advisor with Cushman and Wakefield; Nicki Parker, sustainability manager with NDY, Kate Harris chief executive officer of Good Environmental Choice, and Tina Perinotto managing editor of The Fifth Estate, with moderator, Madeleine Swain, managing editor of FM Media.
Cushman and Wakefield’s Tica Hessing has an unusual combination of skills – a background in providing strategic advice to corporate clients and the ability to find the spaces to meet objectives.
“What typically happens is we create a rapport – we have a great relationship – with the client and then we inform the tenant reps but the tenant reps haven’t been through that processes that usually takes months and they only know the high level stuff.
But to get office space to work well for the client and the people who work in the space is not easy.
The workplace is a very personal environment, she says. “I can look at it from a business perspective, but it’s personal, it affects our lives.”
And getting the mix right is crucial. Splitting the functions of understanding corporate objectives, integrating human interaction and then finding the physical space that works on both levels is not ideal.
So much can get “lost in translation”.
“So now I do both.”
The basis of her work is her studies in human geography and urban planning in the Netherlands. They were very broad, she says, but the real estate sector is where all this came together.
The physical or “hard” factors are part of the story – things like the need for soundproof meeting rooms or five meeting rooms of 20 square metres each. The “soft” factors related to culture and management are a lot more tricky to get right.
For instance, offices full of glass walls and meeting rooms can look great, but some people – women in particular – might feel insecure, that “they’re being looked at all the time”.
Open offices themselves are a growing point of contention, and Hessing says there is “absolutely” a backlash against them.
Reports range from staff stacking books on their desks to create a more private nest and using headphones to block noise.
Colleagues often need to work more closely together, Hessing says, but there could be health implications to sitting so closely together – anxiety for instance.
Huddle space, café style meeting spaces, are part of a more balanced response. Hessing says in her two floor office the fabulous coffee machine located on one of the floor works a treat to draw staff from around the two floors to congregate and have a conversation.
Will we move away from open plan offices?
Hessing thinks probably not. And yes, cost is a big driver. The complication is that real estate is relatively cheap in overall business costs, but easy to measure, so the savings look attractive. Unfortunately, she says, the cost of people leaving a company can be far more expensive and a lot harder to measure.
Mood trackers on the way
Among the more interesting and possibly challenging trends coming our way, technology is prime among them.
She points to “mood trackers” on the way – wearable items similar to Fitbits with sensors to measure emotional cues such as heart rates and body temperatures. The signals will go back to a flow chart to map progress during the day
“I like to call that emotional tech.”
What’s coming, she says, “will blow your mind.”
But what happens to the data? Who has access to it? What can bosses do with it if they have access?
Companies might be tempted to turn this data into useful profit making ideas but they need to be careful. You only have to look at the negative news around Facebook and Google for their privacy breaches to understand the potential for reputational damage, Hessing says.
But while data and technology are roaring along there is an equal advance in appreciation of nature and the biophilic experience. At heart, Hessing says, we are most definitely human.
Hold that thought.
Sustainability on the uptake
Also speaking on the panel will be GECA’s Kate Harris.
In the 12 months since she appeared on the last wellness session for Total Facilities, she says, there’s been a big uptake in sustainability from both businesses in terms of the workplace and for consumers.
“What we’re seeing is a real drive in consideration of and uptake of wellbeing and the understanding of materials in the commercial space.”
The trend is also evident in consumers, who are generating a rising number of inquiries for GECA products, such as paints. “It shows people are becoming more aware and starting to think about things before they buy,” Harris says.
Among the emerging challenges in sustainability is finding the right balance between healthy products, human rights and modern slavery.
It’s important to think about not just the impact of products on our health, she says, but the impacts on the people making the products.
“The human rights issues is a lot bigger,” she says.
“Since WELL [standard] launched its new version, we’re seeing manufacturers raise the bar and more commercial buildings wanting to provide health and wellbeing.
“All are good news stories but that information needs to be sent to consumers as well so they can make informed choices.”
What we don’t want, she said, was “healthy for the wealthy”.
That’s not at all to detract from the gains made in healthy offices, she stresses.
“It’s really fantastic. We shouldn’t be taking anything away from the great job that WELL and green buildings have done, but it shouldn’t just be for employees working in high end multinational companies, who then go home to really cheaply built, toxic multi high rise apartments.”
Harris particularly likes the testing of air quality that occurs under the WELL Standard.
So many products and designs can look good on paper, she says. But it’s getting the results in actuality that drives change.
Measurement is on the rise
NDY’s Nicki Parker as a consultant in the corporate space says there is a rising appetite for testing of indoor air quality.
A project she worked on recently for instance was to find if the adhesive used on tiles five years previously were causing off gassing of volatile organic compounds. They weren’t but they might have, she says. The point is people are worried about such possibilities.
But getting the quality of air right is no easy feat to achieve or measure. The objective is finding the right balance that creates comfortable and pleasant internal environments, good temperature, light and air freshness, she says.
The desire for great indoor spaces is definitely most strong at the top of the industry, Parker says, but it’s now moving down the pyramid as the cost premium falls away.
An example of how prices can fall is LED lights. Seven years ago it was an expensive extra, she says. Today virtually the “you’re hard pressed to get anything else that isn’t LED and it’s so commonplace you wouldn’t think of designing anything that isn’t LED.”
Parker points to drivers such as NABERS energy ratings, WELL and Green Star as key to the transformation.
The B and C and D grade buildings are now trying to keep up, she says. But in Brisbane where she moved to from the UK, the take up is slower.
“Society in general is getting used to phrases such as wellness and mindfulness, and good nutrition and exercise.”
People want to work for employers that offer these things.
This content is supported by Total Facilities, 20-21 March, ICC Sydney. Register now.