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Thursday
Nov052015

The Future Trading Floor: Technology Will Support Human Connections 

Desktop computers currently tether financial services professionals to their desks. The next wave of tech developments will set them free. Societe Generale, New York. Image © Eric Laignel

“Computing power will evolve with Moore’s law, becoming so small that it will easily be stitched into the fabric of our lives (and our clothes) in a pervasive and engrained way.” - The Future of Knowledge Work, Intel Labs, 2012.

As advanced computing technology becomes ubiquitous, workplaces will focus on encouraging collaboration and the sharing of information, and the hope is technology will take an invisible supporting role in this process. The technology-in-a-supporting role paradigm is very much in contrast to how workplaces use technology today. Consider, for example, financial services trading floors, spaces that are filled with technological devices including computers, monitors, keyboards, phone turrets, intercoms, calculators, phones and chargers, and printers—not to mention the infrastructure to support all this tech (power, data, supplemental HVAC).

Today, the design of trading floors starts with putting the traders close together, then fitting in the technology and infrastructure around them. Even with all of this technology the traders have limited screen space on their monitors and a limited number of people they can speak with eye to eye from their desk. In the future, as technological devices become smaller and more integrated into our lives what will the trading floor look like?

Information, Technology and Human Interaction

Large scale trading requires the ability to view and process large amounts of current information. Personal computers currently allow quick access to information, news, and real-time pricing and a fast way of processing trades.

In ancient times, bartering took place in outdoor markets between individuals. This continued into the 1800’s with both of the New York Stock Exchange and the New York Curb Exchange taking place outdoors on the street (hence the name Wall Street). Then trading moved indoors, but like the street outside, exchanges took place in open spaces that allowed traders to easily move around the floor and converse with each other.

Now, monitors and keyboards anchor traders to their desk. The trading desks are small enough to put individual traders in close proximity to one another; this facilitates communication.

In the future, traders will be able to get information without the physical presence of computer hardware. They will rely upon mobile devices and advanced wearable tech. Freed of fixed, bulky equipment, traders will once again be able move around the floor and interact directly and spontaneously with each other, while simultaneously keeping track of market behavior.

Technology will also change the work traders do on a daily basis. As computers increasingly take over the everyday trading work, traders will become knowledge/creative workers who focus on providing creative long-term solutions that address clients’ global financial needs.

On a trading floor without fixed computer hardware, it will be easier to form the right teams quickly and to use these teams to attack business opportunities as they arise. A team could consist of an emerging markets specialists working in conjunction with researchers, foreign exchange traders and economists. These varied teams will meet in a supportive open space areas on the trading floor where they can comfortably exchange ideas quickly and effectively. They could then move to a communication space/room to discuss their ideas virtually with clients from around the globe.

Back to the Future: What Will a Trading Floor Look Like?

The future design of trading forms will be informed by some of the past, by part of what we know today about ergonomics and working in an interconnected world, and by new technologies that have yet to be developed. Combine that with an emphasis on essential human connections, and we have a glimpse of the future.

I can imagine a trading floor with technology so advanced that the technology barely registers. Once technology ceases to dictate where people work (i.e. tethered to desks), traders could go back to earlier, pre-technology ways of working where direct human interaction took precedence. In the future, it will still be common for people to conduct business around a table while seated in comfortable chairs. Tables give separation, personal space, and allow for easy communication. People at a table can swap ideas and information over a meal. Two models to consider for future trading floors are: a hall with long rows of tables that traders can gather around and a 19th century library reading room with tables of various sizes that can accommodate teams of different sizes. The United Nations Security Council Camber has a large circular horseshoe shaped table that seats about 24 people with supporting team members behind and in the center. This could be used as an example of how a large team can work in a much more structured trading environment, while maintaining a focus on the togetherness and connectedness of the group without being separated by monitors.

As technology develops, physical trading floors will be transform. Traders may be able to see data, charts, alerts and other visuals with wearable technology, such as augmented reality glasses, instead of monitors. This would allow traders to have an unlimited number of windows of information. Traders will be able to share information and collaborate without relying on desktop computers. They’ll use their hands, without keyboards, to virtually input data. Bloomberg is currently developing a virtual reality trading desk. They built a prototype of a data terminal using the Oculus Rift headset. With this headset on, users will probably need to be sitting or stationary while they are interacting with the virtual world because it will be difficult to watch where one is going in both the physical and virtual world at the same time. Moving between the two worlds will be important in the development of this technology.

If physical display and input devices are still needed, the ability to move from one display to another display to a handheld device will become seamless, allowing free movement around the trading floor and enabling the connection of the individuals into teams.

As designers of workplaces, a lot of our design today is for the technology. But we know that the goal is to create a workplace that brings out the best in people and allows employees to collaborate, do focused work, socialize and learn. Technology is great at collecting and transmitting information but our hope is that future technology will support and not hinder our connections with each other.

Jeffrey Mitcheltree loves learning about design in the universe. As a result he has a BS in Physics and an MS in Interior Design. His inquisitive nature allows him to deliver for his clients by looking for new paths forward that lead to creative solutions and futures. Contact him at Jeffrey_mitcheltree@gensler.com.

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