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Making Our Workplaces 'Future Fit'

05/10/2016 12:14 PM IST | Updated 05/10/2016 12:17 PM IST
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People spend most of their time in the buildings where they work, and it follows that workplaces play a major role in their health and wellbeing. Moreover, buildings account for one-third of final energy use globally and with rapid urbanization in developing countries, there is a need to evaluate technologies and strategies to minimize the impact of buildings on the environment. There are a few key parameters to be considered to ensure a sustainable workplace.

Some designers take a cue from Western trends and replicate the glass buildings that are popular in the US and Europe, but these are not ideal for India.

People prefer good natural light, ventilation and views while selecting a home so that they feel comfortable. These are among the most important parameters in workplaces as well. The objective should be to provide a comfortable and pleasant environment so that people can focus better on their work.

While designing a workplace, there should be a proper balance between the comfort of the occupants, functionality and aesthetics. While some designers take a cue from Western trends and replicate the glass buildings that are popular in the US and Europe, these are not ideal for the tropical climate of India. Countries with a cold climate need glass facades to get maximum sun into the buildings so that heating requirements are minimized. But in India where we require cooling for most of the year, a glass façade brings in a lot of unwanted and undesirable heat and light. A glass building can consume as much as four times the energy as a building with an efficient façade. So, it is essential to design an efficient façade with the right window-wall ratio, high performance glass and adequate shading.

Good natural light in workplaces can make it very pleasant for the occupants to work and also keep them active. The human body follows the circadian rhythm (biological clock) which adapts according to external factors, the most important of which is daylight. So, it is essential to ensure good daylight in workplaces.

Occupants should have a view of the outside through windows so that they feel connected to their surroundings and do not experience a claustrophobic feeling. An aisle space next to the façade ensures workstations are placed in a way that ensures nobody "owns" the window. This way, the discomfort of sitting next to glass on sunny days is eliminated and also provides an opportunity for all occupants to access the window. Discomfort is minimized as workstation panels avoid direct sun from hitting the desks. Workstation partitions need to be of lower height (<1200mm) so that there is openness in the office space and occupants sitting deeper in the space can also have a view of the windows.

Workplaces of the future will have a lot of collaboration spaces as we move towards collaborative thinking, innovation and continuous exchange of ideas and information.

The interiors of offices play a major role in making a workplace comfortable for the occupants. Lighting systems should be for the space rather than for the desk alone. Volumetric lighting ensures contrast is minimized and is less stressful to the eyes. While lighter colours for interiors ensure higher daylight, bright colour combinations enhance the mood of occupants. Good acoustic designs help occupants focus on their work without being disturbed by others. Workplaces of the future will have a lot of collaboration spaces as we move towards collaborative thinking, innovation and continuous exchange of ideas and information. So, providing spaces for occupants where they can gather and exchange ideas without having to get into a closed room is a welcome change. Future office designs need to have a provision for flexible spaces and workstations and writing surfaces in different areas for enhancing collaboration. There needs to be a workflow study done to ensure convenience and comfort to the occupants and design spaces accordingly.

Indoor plants in offices enhance the ambience, are soothing for the eyes and also improve indoor air quality. Air pollutants like printers and photocopiers need to be placed in an area with a dedicated exhaust so that the emissions from them do not impact the office air quality. Ergonomic design of furniture is important to ensure comfort for the employees, especially keeping in mind that prolonged sitting can cause back problems.

Employees should have the freedom to sit anywhere in the building that they feel comfortable and productive.

Technology will play a major part as workplaces will be more and more connected and with cloud storage, there will not be a need to have an assigned workstation for any occupant. Employees should have the freedom to sit anywhere in the building that they feel comfortable and productive. So, buildings need to have a mix of different types of spaces for the occupants to experience and adapt to.

As we can see, there are several smart and innovative strategies and designs that can ensure healthy, comfortable and productive workplaces for employees while at the same time being environmentally friendly. What is required today is the perspective of the end user/occupant (function over form) while designing the building and the interior to achieve a sustainable space.

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