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Reinventing the Workplace: Wearable Technology

The conference room of the future. Image © Gensler

With rapid advances in technology, we all work much differently today than we did as recently as 2005. Mobile technology, in particular, has freed us to choose where – and when – we work. Going forward, the emergence of wearable technology will allow for even more choices, as we will no longer be tied to a desk or workstation simply because our primary technology resides there.

Instead, our technology will travel on our bodies.

Not convinced? It’s coming faster than you might expect. Google Glass – the lightweight frame equipped with a hidden camera and tiny display that responds to voice commands – has heightened expectations for the pace at which wearable technology will flood the marketplace. Then there’s Jawbone, whose popular “Up” fitness band is a wearable monitor that tracks body metrics and easily synchs with a user’s phone. Jawbone is aggressively focused on the future of wearable tech, as evidenced by its recent purchase of BodyMedia, owner of 87 patents around multi-sensor technology and data delivery systems.

But it doesn’t stop there. In November, Google-owned Motorola Mobility filed for a patent for a system that comprises “an electronic skin tattoo capable of being applied to a throat region of a body,” noted CNN.com. The tattoo – which was hinted at before we developed our project, but had not yet been announced by Google – would communicate with smart phones, tablets, and other wearable tech such as Google Glass, giving wearers the ability to communicate with their devices via voice commands.

All of this shows that the prospect of widespread wearable technology is real and imminent. With that as a given, we wanted to explore the question: What are the implications for the workplace in 2020?

We believe wearable technology’s ability to free us from the tyranny of the workstation is potentially the biggest workplace shift that will happen in the next six years. To peer into the future, our design team dove deep into this fast-changing world of user-machine interface. Then we examined the tasks that most knowledge workers perform in a typical day, concluding that the things we all accomplish at work will probably not change much. What will be different is how and where we do them.

A 21st century focus pod. Image © Gensler

The office in 2020 will need to provide for the tasks of today, but in different ways. Wearable technology might free us from assigned offices or workstations, but we will still need the ability to focus, collaborate, learn and be social while on the job.

It soon became clear that in order to express our ideas, we needed to tell a story. That also meant we needed to come up with a new vocabulary. Ten years ago, for example, no one talked about “texting.” Now it is common language. So we imagined what kinds of words might describe the new technologies and their uses within new space-types, and we wove them into a script.

We also took spatial implications into account, matching appropriate spaces to the activities they would house. Instead of the traditional workstations and offices of today, we provided drop-in coworking areas and reservable “focus-pods.” We also included social, learning/meeting and collaboration spaces, while working wellness-based concepts such as outdoor spaces and a walking path into the mix. Each type of space accommodates a combination of new technologies, with the two working to complement each other.

Smart screens for all scales. Image © Gensler

To tell our story, we decided on the “comic book” as an effective medium, since comic books over time have told stories of imagined – often futuristic – realities. Click here to take a look at our vision for “A Day in the Life of The Office” in 2020. It’s all changing so very fast. The workspace we’ll be designing four years from now for occupancy in 2020 could look radically different, simply because rapidly evolving wearable technology options will drive new and different ways of working.

Richard Macri is the Design Director and Workplace Practice Area Leader for the Gensler Atlanta office. With degrees in both business and architecture/design and over 27 years experience in the industry, he brings a unique understanding of business-driven design to his clients. Over the course of his career, he has designed a variety of project types including corporate, hospitality, retail, medical and mission critical for clients such as Aflac, GE, Philips, HP, SunTrust, The Container Store, IHG, MetLife, Delta Air Lines, The Home Depot, Oracle, SITA, 22squared, Engauge, CIBA Vision, Jamestown Properties, and The Coca-Cola Company. Contact him at richard_macri@gensler.com.

Reader Comments (3)

Not only was this exceedingly enjoyable and creative in format, the insights were spot on. I could live in this world. Well done.
01.10.2014 | Unregistered CommenterChris Stulpin
As a Google Glass Explorer, I have been living an "augmented" life for a little over 7 months and I think this is on the right track for sure! Looking forward to a future at work that looks something like this!
02.6.2014 | Unregistered CommenterWendy Heller
Very interesting. As an Innovation Incubator and Center of Excellence within the world of apparel wearables, we see this scenario happening much sooner. Intuitive wearable apparel will be the future.
08.12.2015 | Unregistered Commenterclaire

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