By Elizabeth Hyde - 24th October, 2020
Since PLASTARC began offering our webinar series guiding organizations through their response to COVID-19, it has become apparent that the pandemic has accelerated major shifts in workplace. Some of these—increased preference for telework, a move toward flexible spaces, and adoption of smart building systems—were already in progress prior to March 2020. These have now been kicked into high gear; there has been an urgent need for organizations to transform. For many, this came as a shock to the system.
Adapting to the evolving role of technology in our professional lives was the topic of PLASTARC’s recent panel discussion about navigating the future workplace. Experts addressed resources for effectively planning a safe return to the office while recognizing this moment as an opportunity to make buildings “smarter” through enduring adjustments.
Roberta Kowalishin, Technology Associate at DIALOG, directed attention toward the need for innovation around implementing and managing sophisticated technologies within physical spaces. She then touched upon demand for analytics-driven security measures in response to workforces becoming more specialized and distributed. Kowalishin suggested that the built environment itself should contain features that allow for exchange of credentials and verification of identities on entry and exit. Kowalishin also advised “starting early and thinking big,” when it comes to clarifying both stakeholder objectives and desired performance outcomes of commercial real estate so that it’s apparent which metrics will be indicative of successful design. Examples include improved operational efficiency and automation, better data management and records, and enhanced tenant and user experience.
Ricardo Rodriquez, Building Information Modeling (BIM) Integration & Technology Specialist at MBCC, echoed similar sentiments about the need for updated processes. He explained that many practices and norms related to labor, manufacturing, and construction were fashioned in the mid-twentieth century and have received few modifications in response to advancements. Rodriquez elaborated, “They rely on a governance and legal framework tied to limiting risk and liability but seldom reference the tools or even language we use currently, such as discussions of data.” This disconnect—and the call to revise workplace models to incorporate integrated technologies—was encapsulated by a brief screensharing session. Over Zoom, Rodriquez walked the audience through an augmented reality (AR) simulation using software his firm created so that field workers could perform remote inspections of hazardous sites like wastewater treatment plants. It served as a hopeful glimpse into teleworking possibilities for those outside of the knowledge economy.
Elizabeth Redmond, CEO & Cofounder of CoWorkr, spoke about the capabilities of Internet of things (IoT) platforms. For example, the one she developed can gather real-time occupancy numbers and utilization feedback from sensors embedded within the workplace and associated devices. She ventured, “If we can learn how to operate buildings more intelligently through the data that is streaming to and from facilities, then we can create healthier environments and deploy assets accordingly.” This information can be leveraged for dynamic decision-making, such as determining how many more people can enter the office while adhering to social distancing guidelines or which rooms have been heavily used and require cleaning.
Though the conversation generally focused on practical mechanisms and strategies for growing tech-enabled ecosystems, the contributors introduced some ethical considerations as well. Attendees were left to contemplate how the adoption of new forms of workplace intelligence will intersect with rights around their own privacy, confidentiality, and ownership of personally identifying information in the months and years to come.