The workspace of the future: Your mind

A new vision of workspaces—as deliberate destinations for deep work—is empowering workers through data and next-generation technology to become “a better version of themselves.”

November 01, 2022

The world abounds with spaces people deliberately visit to enhance aspects of their lives. To boost physical performance, for example, one might visit the gym. If personal enrichment is the goal, the space might be an art gallery.

The office is seldom seen in this way, considered a place of necessity more than of personal fulfillment. Yet, innovators and researchers are upending traditional notions of the workspace to reinvent it as a deliberate destination that optimizes cognitive and personal performance. In this vision, the best workspaces can be incubators of human endeavor, innovation, deep work and wellness—enabling individuals to thrive and teams to surpass themselves. 

“If I need to work on my physical fitness, I go to the gym. In knowledge work, for similar reasons, workplaces should be places that help me improve my cognitive performance and well-being,” says Ben Hamley, Future of Work lead, APAC, at Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL). “Workplaces that are designed with human experience in mind get the best of the minds doing the work. In this way, they can be destinations that people deliberately choose for the benefits they offer rather than the default.”

JLL is a pioneer in strategies to deploy next-generation technology, underpinned by data analytics, to design spaces and work experiences that—as Mr. Hamley puts it—enable working people “to be a better version of themselves.” Never has the mission held more poignant urgency—nor boundless opportunity—than in this age in which Covid-19 has upended lifestyle patterns, inspired unprecedented labor mobility and opened ongoing possibilities to reinvent the very nature of work.

With innovations like workspace ambassadors who curate the workday and subtle lighting adjustments that maximize focus, JLL is conceiving a workplace of the future that becomes an extension of the human mind to personalize needs and goals. 

In one of its newest projects, the international real estate company is partnering with the neuroinformatics firm EMOTIV to study the neuroscience of workplace design. By investigating the brain patterns of people at work, JLL aims to apply these insights to create optimized workspaces and curated experiences to melt the boundaries between humans and their surroundings, whether physical or virtual. 

“In the future, we’re not going to be separated from our environment,” says EMOTIV CEO Tan Le. “We’ll become an almost fully integrated organism within an intelligent space.”

Choreography of thought: Optimizing wellness at work

In this fluid model, a ritualistic use of space combines with data-driven technology to create the conditions for free-flowing creativity, collaboration and productivity. JLL’s most recent Workforce Preference Barometer report reveals “quality of life, and health and well-being” to be the top priorities of workers, for the first time surpassing “a comfortable salary.” It is an attitudinal shift that corporations might heed in an intensifying war for talent. Human-focused workplace solutions are increasingly seen as key to achieving the winning edge.

Since it started publishing research on The Future of Work in 2015, JLL has anticipated these trends by developing work solutions at the intersection of wellness and productivity. At a time when predictions were rife about artificial intelligence replacing humans, Mr. Hamley says, JLL went in the opposite direction: “We put human experience right at the center of the whole Future of Work framework.”

Nathan Sri, solutions director for workplace and human experience in Asia Pacific, JLL, says massive pandemic workflow disruptions have ultimately had a liberating effect on property development by enabling a fundamental rethink of the nature and purpose of the sector.

“As we gradually come out of the pandemic, we’re increasingly seeing our clients’ real estate focus and needs shifting to experience rather than physical space specifications,” says Mr. Sri. “This drives home the point that if you want to bring people back into the office, it has to be all about how individual and team needs are being met, through an integration of data technology with human-focused services that drive great experiences.”

Concretely, he explains, such experiences developed by JLL include offices fitted with Internet of Things (IoT) sensors that enable ambient adjustments based on usage patterns or packaged wellness services that integrate meditation, exercise or reading breaks into a working calendar. A solution called Experience Anywhere enables people to instantly access productivity and wellness solutions wherever and whenever they choose—be it office, home or mountain retreat—a flexspace approach that may soon include the metaverse. Workspace ambassadors, meanwhile, walk the floors of JLL-designed offices, engaging with staffers, gathering data insights and making recommendations about everything from nature walks to room-booking optimization. It’s a role Mr. Hamley says makes them “a cross between data scientists and anthropologists.” More than ever, the job of managing a workplace needs to be in complete sync with the needs of modern knowledge workers. Mr. Hamley likens the vision to a “choreography of thought” in which intelligent workspaces become a stage for directing a subtle cognitive dance that enables people not only to excel, but adapt nimbly to fast-changing conditions in unpredictable times.

“If you want to bring people back into the office, it has to be all about how individual and team needs are being met, through an integration of data technology with human-focused services that drive great experiences."

—Nathan Sri, solutions director for workplace, and human experience in Asia Pacific, JLL

“The way you think, and the environments in which you do your thinking, have profound influences on the quality of the ideas that you have,” he says. “This makes the task of managing workplaces and human experiences a delicate dance, constantly adapting and acting on emergent needs. It requires our team to be more responsive, anticipating needs even before the worker does. You can’t predict or plan the future, but you can respond to it and shape it. That’s what we’re seeking to enable with our approaches to the workspace—a fusion between analytics and warm, human data.”

Neuroscience-inspired directions for the future of work

To be even more agile and precise in choreographing work experiences for dynamic environments, JLL is taking its human-centric mission to a higher level through its partnership with EMOTIV.

The brain research firm is the inventor of headsets and algorithms that enable precision real-time insights into cognitive and emotional states through electroencephalography (EEG). JLL is collaborating with EMOTIV on a series of studies to measure where and how employees can enhance performance and better manage health and well-being in the workplace.

In particular, the research aims to create insights into factors such as the best environment for creative tasks, how working alone or together affects attention and stress, what kinds of situations unleash collaborative energy—or when to simply take a break. 

“Using this technology, you’ll access real-time feedback on your changing brain dynamics,” says Kim Old, chief commercial officer at EMOTIV, “from receiving a notification when you’re no longer paying attention to identifying patterns of stress that affect decision making. Applying machine learning, AI and behavioral-science-backed nudges, we can help people act on these insights and maintain wellness habits to create smarter, more efficient and personalized experiences for a safer and healthier workplace.”

To drive the mission, JLL and EMOTIV are carrying out a controlled study, gauging performance and wellness in a variety of tasks and situations. By enabling workers to “intimately understand themselves better,” the study aims to explore the way our brains respond to different working environments, helping each individual find an optimal balance in hybrid work. 

Looking further ahead, JLL aims to leverage the partnership to create a consortium of companies to deepen understanding of how advances in workspace design and technology can move workers toward optimal workplace health and wellness. 

“Through our partnership with EMOTIV,” says Mr. Hamley, “we believe we’ll be able to create new categories of workplace design and workforce strategy to maximize human potential.”

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