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The role of artificial intelligence in workplace design and productivity

As 2018 gears up for ever greater AI innovations, experts are predicting workplace disruption on an unprecedented scale. Some say this age will be defined as the 4th Industrial Revolution, but what does this mean for our everyday work? This article focuses on how these trends will affect retail, offices and logistics environments.

The Rise of AI and What it Means

Make no mistake, AI has already permeated into our everyday lives - from the media we are exposed to on Facebook and Twitter, to the adverts we see on Google and Sky. As this world of hyper-connectivity and deep data evolves, complex self-learning algorithms are taking charge. AI systems are beginning to complete work tasks at a speed and accuracy that outcompetes their human counterparts. Not only can they do a better job, they also do it at a lower cost. As managers fight to enhance productivity and stay competitive, integrating AI may seem like the only choice. This will have a huge impact on employment rates and job types. Inevitably, this changes both the way we work and the places we work, too. It is time to get prepared... Retail Environments that Focus on Customer Experiences

AI has already taken a toll on the high street. Just 20 years ago, ecommerce was a fledgling industry, now it accounts for £133bn annual trade. And yet, footfall hasn’t collapsed. People still want to shop, they are just doing it in a different way.

As online and offline converge, the customer experience is taking centre stage. Retailers need to target customers through mobile devices and face-recognition scanners the moment they walk through the door. Combined with algorithms, this will give them the personal data they need to create highly relevant, personalised shopping experiences. Shoppers may have unique pricing or be recommended certain products based on past data.

Because of this, designers should adopt holistic approaches to space planning, thinking first-and-foremost about how customers will interact with the products and experience the brand. There must be consistency across every platform, so the website, the social presence, the shop, products and packaging all convey the same brand culture. 

Flexible Offices that Make Space Work Harder

The Bank of England estimates that 30% of corporate jobs could disappear by 2026 to AI. However, it’s expected that many of these tasks will be the mundane, laborious office tasks that are often undesirable. Instead, demand for new roles will take their place, creating a generation of creative workers. 

With mobile devices, laptops, Skype and VR, this new workforce will be hyper-connected and unrestricted by the usual confines of the local office. Because of this, workspaces will need to be more flexible, catering to those who drop in and hot-desk from time to time, or others who work outside the usual 9-5 working hours.

While some of big tech companies are scaling up, many will scale down to reduce unnecessary overheads. Collaborative work spaces will allow businesses to work together under one roof, making better use of space, creating an environment of flexible workers rather than everyday tenants.

One business leading the way is WeWork. By creating co-working environments in covetable locations companies and self employed people can come together. WeWork says this creates the space, community and services to ‘make a life, not just a living.’ Already, WeWork has seven offices in London and is set to expand rapidly.

These environments will also be built for rapid transformation, allowing for non-disruptive conversion should their tenants change. By designing workspaces this way, businesses can minimise the cost of moving location, future-proofing business and allowing them to shift with market demands.

HOW AI AND ROBOTICS ARE CHANGING THE MODERN OFFICE

Take a look inside one of Amazon’s colossal  distribution centres and one thing becomes clear. When it comes to heavy duty workload, machines are in control. These days, robots will pack, palletise and load vehicles. Automated machines  then take these products to their loading points, using human assistance only to oversee and intervene in the rare occurrence that something goes wrong and the systems need updating.

It’s hard to argue with the facts. Machines are faster, cheaper, more efficient and (with the help of incredible computing power) far more accurate than their human counterparts. Better yet, they require no rest, working through the night without the demand of holiday pay and sick leave.

As occupants become mechanic, workspace designers need to focus on the productivity of robots, not humans. This means buildings are likely to be taller, have stronger foundations to take increased loads and have the potential to be easily altered internally. It also means that businesses can build facilities in less desirable, low-cost locations as machines don’t care where they work. 

Another technological advancement: 3D-printing, means that some warehouses may be able to reduce their capacity. Rather than stocking products by market estimates, they could simply print and ship on demand. Once again, this seems set to mean that large spaces could be shared. Similar businesses may collaborate, using the same robots, the same facilities and the same space to reduce unnecessary overheads.

Designers will have to factor for the different speeds and working behaviours of these collaborative businesses and how their skill-sets may change as the use of AI evolves. Flexible design is crucial and as always, the most innovative businesses will pave the way.

For design and build / fit out specialists like UK Workspace, AI brings many uncertainties. However, one thing is for sure, these future challenges will come with exciting opportunities. What comes after, we are yet to find out.


If you have any thoughts regarding these issues, we’d love to hear them! Otherwise, for more information about UK Workspace, go to www.ukworkspace.co.uk.

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