Brave new working: the workplace in 2040

by Tiffany Paczek
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What would a typical workday look like in 2040? TICA HESSING gazes into the not-too-distant future.

Poetry, vinyl and novels are hot and machines can almost do anything that humans can. It is the year 2040, where artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) are part of our everyday existence. Enhanced connectivity has made workers more mobile and economies have become more flexible and dynamic.

The typical workday, work night and work hour have changed beyond recognition. Happy Fridays and Blue Mondays belong to the past, as work can be done at anytime, anywhere, according to your preferred lifestyle.

But how do we want to work in future? What services are required to meet the future needs of employees? To be prepared for the future, we must first imagine it.

SMART HOMES

‘Wake up Lisa, it’s 7am.’ Thirty minutes later: ‘Lisa you have to get up now, you have exactly one hour to get ready. Due to the rainy weather forecast I have ordered a car for you 30 minutes early; it will arrive at 8.30am.’ Lisa turns around and looks outside. Big raindrops are splashing against the window. She activates the glass and looks at her schedule for the day. She has her first meeting at 10am.

‘You need to get dressed in 10 minutes to pick up the fruit and the breakfast box I have ordered for you today.’ It’s SAL again. Lisa can’t live without her. No, SAL is not her partner, it’s Lisa’s smart home.

Devices in smart homes, cars, buildings and cities now interact with each other to make life easier and quicker, making people’s time even more flexible.

THE COMMUTE

During Lisa’s ride to the city, she eats her breakfast and catches up on some work. Through her glasses, equipped with AR, the driverless car is turned into Lisa’s office. The data she needs for the project she’s working on is projected in the space around her.

Autonomous vehicles have had a transformational impact on business and society – humans are banned from driving in cities and there is no need for parking spaces at offices and in city centres. The car drops Lisa off in front of her office and continues to the next commute-request.

Lisa enjoys the view of the vertical gardens on the office buildings. There are still some ugly outdated tall buildings, made of glass and twisted steel from a bygone era. Nowadays, such materials are not allowed and buildings are made from ecofriendly and sustainable materials.

THE SMART WORKPLACE

When Lisa enters the building, a friendly robot concierge informs her that her meeting will take place at level five, tower two, and that her manager has already arrived. Meanwhile, sensors in the ceiling above Lisa are undertaking an overall security and health test to make sure she doesn’t carry any dangerous goods, illegal drugs or viruses with her.

Lisa passes the health and security check and steps into the elevator. It takes her up to level five and then slides to the right to continue the journey horizontally to tower two.

There are no cables in the office: wireless charging and working via the cloud are standard practice. Walls are flexible, and the work environment can be reshaped every night based on the workplace needs of the coming day. Open plan offices with individual desks are obsolete, as people come to work to collaborate with their project teams. Individual tasks take place in special focused booths – at home, in driverless cars or in communal spaces when preferred. Sensors in the workplace continuously assess how people work and what they need from the space, physically and emotionally, to perform well. Buildings are flexible to adapt to change and to meet the lifestyle needs of permanent and transient occupants.

Three-dimensional printing has revolutionised office fitouts, which are highly customisable and easily recycled. Leases encompass the use of both fixed and temporary spaces, with co-working a staple concept. Within this fluid demand for space, occupiers want the smallest amount of space with commitments not exceeding the hour.

HUMAN CONNECTION AND POTENTIAL

‘Good morning Lisa! How have you been?’ Lisa enters the meeting room and greets her manager. They have a meeting with two graduates, beamed in from Asia. They put on their AR headsets and shake hands with their virtual candidates. While they are talking, automatic translation takes place. Recruitment is global, and workforces are diverse. In 2040, employees can work 24/7 on projects; it’s just a matter of getting the right people from the right time zone.

In 2040, you can not only interact with simulations of your overseas colleagues projected in the room you’re in, but you will also be able to actually give them a hand and experience a sense of touch.

By using (ultrasound) soundwaves, US research company Emerson has succeeded in making air feel like a solid object. A scientist in Japan created the first touchable hologram in 2016. The combination of haptics – the science of touch – and technology has the potential to rewrite the ways we interact between the digital and physical worlds.

HEALTH AND WELL-BEING

Wellness is not a trend, but a necessity. Back in 2018, one in seven Australians was admitting to experiencing “severe to extremely severe” depressive symptoms, with “job-related issues” cited as their primary source. PwC reported at the time that every dollar invested in cultivating a healthy workplace generated around US$2.30 in benefits to employees and enterprise alike.

Consequently, well-being programs in 2040 are focused on mental health in addition to physical wellness. Instead of sick days there are additional ‘mental health days’, to refuel ourselves. Building facilities address the lifestyle needs of a global, diverse workforce.

Cafés and gym facilities, prayer rooms and wellness spaces are available 24/7 to accommodate the demand to work, chill and eat at any hour of the day or night. Employees are able to relax in virtual worlds too: exploring rainforests or water valleys.

THE TAILORED WORKPLACE EXPERIENCE

While attempts to foretell the future will almost always fall short, the changes within the 2040 environment envisioned here have already been set in motion. The combination of Internet of Things (IoT) technology and AI will help run facility management operations, making the office and its tenants more comprehensible than ever before. Tools to adapt the workplace to the monitored needs of its users will be paramount, creating an ultimate personalised workplace experience.

Tica Hessing is a human geographer and urban planner, Strategic Consulting Australia at Cushman and Wakefield. Additional material was provided by Sigrid Zialcita and Wyai Kay Lai from the Asia Pacific research team.

This article also appears in the February/March issue of Facility Management magazine.

Image: 123RF’s Sebastien Decoret © 123RF.com

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