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The Successful Workplace: A Mix Of New Tech And Common Sense

The successful workplace comes complete with both an integration of new technology and plain old common sense. 

Cushman & Wakefield QuadReal Toronto Office of The Future
The office desk is no longer as prominent in the modern office space, but is not about to disappear.

“Fundamentally, everyone needs to use tech — but if it’s complicated to use, it will not be successful,” Deloitte Canada Director of IT Infrastructure and Operations Fraser Galer said as part of a recent CoreNet panel on “How Technology Is Changing The Workplace” at Cushman & Wakefield’s Toronto office. 

“Simplicity is the key in our tech choices.”

The recent breakfast discussion, which also included Ivanhoé Cambridge Senior Director of Office Leasing Charlie Musgrave, BMO Strategic Real Estate Consultant Sherry Munawar and Gensler Senior Associate/Design Director Annie Bergeron, attempted to bring sense to the rapidly changing workplace in the new tech world.  

“This is the culture of the agile — agile and more cooperative,” Munawar said. “But it can be difficult implementing changes before everything changes again. You get halfway through and need to change again.”

For Galer, the modern Deloitte workspace — the company employs over 8,100 in Canada — is based on collaboration, innovation, cooperation and fostering growth. In practice, 65% of Deloitte's 1.7M SF of nationwide office space is dedicated to collaboration, with 500-plus content-sharing devices, 2,200 dual-monitor docking station desks, 70-plus video conferencing rooms, 18 different workspace options and no desk phones. 

Individual assigned desks are a no-no.

Galer said, in practice, workers did not take to signing up for a desk in advance. 

“People didn’t like to book a desk," he said. "So now it is more than just take the desk you want. It's how do you need to work, and choose a space that fits you.”

Galer also cautioned that the need to get the newest or coolest thing in tech is not always appropriate and that decisions must be made on actual job requirements. He said that a WiFi-only office sounds good, but it may not be the best decision for work.

“It’s important you don’t invest in something you don’t ultimately really need,” he said. 

CoreNet Office of The Future Deloitte Fraser Galer, BMO Sherry Munawar, Gelner Annie Bergeron and Ivanhoe and Cambridge Charlie Musgrave.
Speakers at the CoreNet panel on Tech In The Workplace: Deloitte's Fraser Galer, BMO's Sherry Munawar, Gensler's Annie Bergeron and Ivanhoé Cambridge's Charlie Musgrave

From a design perspective, Bergeron said the desk has declined in importance due to technology. Tech businesses — which she said are at the leading edge of workplace innovation — have seen a reduction in desk-based workspace from nearly 90% of a building in 2005 to sometimes less than 25%. 

This is no doubt in large part due to the rise of the laptop and cellphone. Millennials do not need to sit in one spot anymore to work and actually prefer moving between lounges, focus rooms and cafés. 

“It’s a much more varied work setting these days,” Bergeron said. “People who grew up with a laptop and a cellphone in their pocket don’t use or need a desk at work or at home. It’s basically any place that supports a laptop.”

Bergeron also dispelled a millennial myth. She said all her company’s research has shown that a discomfort with new technology is not about age, but about experience with technology. 

“The difference in technology is whether or not you were born with it and are native to it. That’s the comfort or discomfort to technology," she said. "Gen X or millennials can behave the same way. If you’re not native to technology, you behave the same as older people."

The key to a successful, tech-friendly workspace may have very little to do with connectivity, collaborative space or the latest gadget. For Musgrave and Bergeron, it is as simple as access to amenities. A gym or green space have been proven to increase productivity and innovation. 

“Office buildings are the new social centres,” Musgrave said. “You really need world-class, health-inspired amenities.”

CoreNet Office of The Future Cushman & Wakefield Deloitte Fraser Galer, BMO Sherry Munawar, Gelner Annie Bergeron and Ivanhoe and Cambridge Charlie Musgrave.
Deloitte's Fraser Galer, BMO's Sherry Munawar, Gensler's Annie Bergeron and Ivanhoé Cambridge's Charlie Musgrave

The much-talked-about death of the workspace is not about to happen. Even as the ability to work almost anywhere increases with technology, the need to interact with other humans remains. 

“Innovation is a tricky thing,” Bergeron said. 

“For collaboration, you need the face to face. We develop relations with people we see face to face. You share brilliant ideas when you’re face to face because you don’t fear anyone stealing from you. Being in contact with people also makes you more comfortable collaborating with them remotely.”