The future of work: Physical office, remote … or something else?

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The following is the third and final post of our series on the office space of tomorrow. 

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 2.12.38 PM.pngAfter our past blog posts about expansive new office buildings built by innovative companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple, office furniture designs of tomorrow, and the future of cubicles, it might be time for us to step back and ask a question that might be on the minds of many commercial developers, architects and business leaders as they look toward the future — will the workers of tomorrow even need office space in the first place?

The jury is still out, but the most recent data gives us hints about where the future of office space might be heading. According to a January 2015 Gallup report called “State of the American Workplace,” almost 40 percent of full-time workers in the U.S. work remotely, and of these, approximately 15 percent are permanently out of the office, and those numbers continue to rise. And many of these workers are not necessarily working from home but are working in coffee shops, shared spaces and other outside-the-office locations, which shows that many people simply want a change of scenery outside the office. Another noteworthy Gallup study concluded that the most engaged employees in the workforce actually spend up to 20 percent of their time working remotely.

And The Muse reported that research conducted by Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford professor who studies workforce trends, confirmed that working remotely actually increases productivity, overall work hours, and employee satisfaction. Over a nine-month period, Bloom observed 250 employees at a Chinese company where half the employees worked from home and half worked in the office. The data from studies like these speak volumes. Bloom found that removing the time it takes to physically commute to work and the distractions of the in-office environment made a huge difference. People who worked from home completed 13.5 percent more calls than the office workers, performed 10 percent more work overall, left the company at half the rate of their colleagues who worked in the office, reported feeling more fulfilled at work, and actually saved the company $1,900 per employee.

With that many people working remotely, and working more productively, the need for more office square footage must be unrealistic, right? Karim Rashid is just one of many industrial designers who is raising that important question  — “We’re losing institutions, losing banks, colleges. Do we even need physical space anymore? What about the office context? Does it need to physically exist anymore or not?” Continue Reading ›

MIT celebrates 100 years of innovation in Cambridge

Recently, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology celebrated the 100th anniversary of its move from the original MIT campus in Copley Square in Boston across the Charles River to Cambridge. The elaborate day-long ceremony was complete with fireworks, music, artistic performances, mobile art sculptures, robots and a quirky procession (over land and water) that pitted 30 teams against each other to see who could come up with the best parade contraption based on creativity, speed and MIT spirit.

But the eccentric party was about paying tribute to MIT’s spirit of innovation and invention as much as it was about recognizing its campus move across the Charles River back in 1916. But most importantly, the celebration was also an opportunity for school officials, alumni, students, inventors and citizens of the surrounding communities to recognize the incredible impact this prestigious institution has had on the region. And the world.

To acknowledge this historic milestone for MIT, in this post we celebrate one of the most groundbreaking inventions in construction, which was first conceived and tested on MIT’s Cambridge campus — reinforced concrete.

A stronger idea

Arguably, MIT’s most enduring construction invention was its development of reinforced concrete, which is concrete embedded with wire mesh andiStock_000017471545_Medium
steel bars to dramatically increase its strength. In fact, reinforced concrete was first tested and implemented on the MIT Cambridge campus during the construction of some of its earliest buildings, which means the campus itself was an active and operational incubator for ingenuity and ideation.

Before MIT inventors conceived this brilliant idea, buildings relied on masonry-bearing arches with steel infill that couldn’t hold much weight, relegating buildings to only five stories in height.

“Reinforced concrete changed all that,” said Gary Tondorf-Dick, program manager for Facilities’ Campus Planning, Engineering and Construction Group. “MIT architects and engineers were basically leading the design of this new type of concrete. It was perfected in the implementation of these buildings. It evolved in the 1920s and 1930s and was architecturally reinforced in the 1950s and 1960s. It was all designed here.”

This one invention helped open the door to the high rises and skyscrapers we see in cities throughout the world today. And the reality is that reinforced concrete hasn’t evolved or been improved much since the original concept was unveiled, which is yet another tribute to the thoughtful and innovative solutions that have been shared by the MIT community.

“MIT is about innovation and it’s a campus built for innovations,” said Tondorf-Dick. “There’s a whole series of MIT innovations that involve construction and the evolution, design and engineering of future construction materials that will change the industry.”

Look for more construction innovations coming out of MIT, including green incandescent light bulbs that conserve energy through “light recycling” and vacuum insulated glass that provides the thermal performance of modern double-glazed windows with the same thickness as a single pane of traditional glass. Stay tuned, and congratulations MIT!

This post was written by Suffolk Construction’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications Dan Antonellis, who can be reached at dantonellis@suffolk.com. Connect with him on LinkedIn here and follow him on Twitter at @DanAntonellis.

Ending the slump: Office furniture redefining employee-workstation relationship

The following is the second post in our series on the office space of tomorrow. 

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 1.21.40 PMSince the 19th century, factory machinery and office desks have been static, immovable objects that forced human workers to adapt to them. That means for centuries, workers have stood at machines, sat and slouched at work stations, and toiled in offices that were hardly conducive to normal human behavior and posture. The office space of the future promises to turn this traditional ideal of office furniture on its head, which will surely impact the ways that office space will be designed and used for generations to come.

While office floor plans and creative perks are still considered critical factors for adapting to the workforce of the future, some organizations are focusing on incorporating futuristic office furniture and flexible office partitions to create a work environment that promotes privacy and a more inviting and transparent approach that improves productivity.

One company on the forefront of this movement is Steelcase, the largest office-furniture manufacturer, and arguably the most innovative, in the world. Steelcase is creating new ways for employees to work individually and as teams. From stand-up desks and soundproof enclaves to drop-in-and-out video conferencing suites to strangely shaped office chairs, Steelcase’s primary goal is to develop the smartest, most informed take on trends in the contemporary workspace and then build products around those insights.

At Steelcase, teams conduct interviews with employees but also use sensors to track employee movements (i.e. in-chair squirming and general mobility), and then Steelcase designers create furniture prototypes onsite based on those experiments. Steelcase is committed to designing work furniture that encourages people to work, and feel, like humans again.

Steelcase launched its Brody WorkLounge system just last year based on a wealth of data focused on human work habits. By studying data from examining how students spend time in libraries, Steelcase developed the ultimate work-friendly lounge chair for the office. When sitting in the ergonomic cocoon, the worker’s body is positioned in an “alert recline” with the upper and lower back supported. And angled work surface holds your laptop at eye level while an arm support relieves pressure on the shoulders. Continue Reading ›

Three ways virtual reality could improve safety trainings

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In honor of OSHA’s 2016 Safety Week, part two of our series on virtual reality in the construction industry focuses on, what else, safety. Click here to check out the first post in our series.

Professional Man Wearing Virtual Reality Headset

With all of the new virtual reality headsets hitting the marketplace these days, it’s easy to write off VR as child’s play. But the truth is that the magic of gaming has the potential to transform a number of industries, including construction. And safety is one of the most applicable use cases for anyone considering investing in this burgeoning technology. Imagine if a construction worker could be transported from the training room to the jobsite simply by putting on a headset. They could actually see a hoist tipping or feel themselves losing balance while walking across raised beams.

Being immersed in these dangerous scenes would no doubt plant a seed of caution in the worker’s mind before they even step on site. VR could encourage them to make thoughtful decisions virtually before they make a mistake in reality.

Due to weather conditions and other variables, a VR simulation could never depict a construction site 100 percent accurately. But virtual simulators have proven to be an effective training ground for police, Marines and pilots. A study conducted by the Navy found that student pilots using Microsoft’s Flight Simulator were 54 percent more likely to score above-average in real life flight tests.

Similarly, the latest virtual reality technologies could take construction industry safety trainings to the next level. While the critical but basic tenants of trainings would not change, such as tutorials, safety orientations, qualifications, etc., VR could raise the bar on the kinds of training companies could provide their workers to keep them and others safe. Here are some practical examples of how VR could augment traditional safety trainings:

  1. Workers inside the VR jobsite could be presented with a scenario in which they have to point out all the possible hidden dangers in front of them, such as live wires, misplaced ladders or a worker cutting a small piece of steel with his protective goggles on top of his hardhat and not over his eyes.
  2. If a real accident occurs on the job, it could be recreated virtually to teach workers how to avoid the same mistake twice. Only an animated avatar would suffer the consequences of unsafe acts on the jobsite. One example could be a worker setting up a swing stage. One side of the swing stage slips down and strikes his left shoulder causing a minor abrasion. Experiencing this in VR would teach workers how to avoid making this same mistake on a real project site.
  3. VR could also become a much more effective platform for teaching workers how to safely perform their daily duties in a virtual environment. This could include navigating confined spaces, safely setting up ladders, welding or preventing fires from breaking out on the job.
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Can you spot the safety infractions in this virtual construction scene? (Image courtesy of Inge Knudsen)

But the training room is not the only place VR can be valuable. VR could also be used to conduct safety inspections that are closely tied to scheduling. For example, the safety precautions for a specific task, such as erecting concrete precast planks, could be simulated weeks in advance before it is performed on the job so that everything is in place once construction begins.

While this is a tantalizing use case that could become a mainstay in the future, training is still the most practical and immediate use for VR when it comes to construction safety. Most people learn by doing, so oftentimes the most effective trainings drive home safety through real onsite scenarios and case studies. Using virtual reality to create a dynamic and lasting visual cue for construction workers would make all the difference in classroom safety trainings. Being immersed in dangerous situations virtually would surely cause workers to pause before engaging in an unsafe activity on a project site. And sometimes that short pause can be the difference between getting hurt — or worse — and staying safe.

This post was written by Suffolk Northeast’s Project Administrator Lindsay Davis. If you have questions, she can be reached at ldavis@suffolk.com. Suffolk National Safety Director Gary Cunningham and Suffolk Content Writer Justin Rice contributed to this post.

On the verge: Virtual reality reaches a tipping point in AEC

The following is the first post in a series on how immersive reality technologies such as virtual reality and CAVE rooms are reaching a tipping point in the AEC industry. Check back during National Safety Week (May 2-6) for our next installment about using virtual reality to improve safety trainings.

Gunnar Skeie recently sent a building information model to the organizers of a workshop on immersive visualization technology for construction at Scalable Display Technologies.  Only a week later, he was standing between a red sofa and a giant interactive panoramic computer screen mounted on an orange accent wall in Scalable’s lofted office space in Cambridge, Mass. Putting on the new HTC Vive virtual reality headset, Skeie’s mouth fell agape as he was instantaneously transported to a sun-splashed atrium with a four-story floating staircase. He craned his neck to observe the skylight overhead and instinctively reached out his hand to navigate around furniture. Skeie intently inspected every nook and cranny of the virtual version of a BIM model he spent a year crafting and could now see in an entirely new way.

“Mind blowing,” the virtual design in construction manager for Norwegian construction company Kruse Smith told us after pulling the VR goggles off his head as if he was coming up for air. “I was actually able to go into the atrium and see what the glass elevator shafts are going to look like.

“I’m sure our client would have loved it and the tenants would have loved it. To have that as a tool to communicate the design throughout the phases would be fantastic.”

While it only took the workshop’s organizers a few days to create this VR world, it would have taken months to convert a CAD, BIM or Revit model into a high-quality virtual reality experience for owners just a few years ago. And spending so much time on VR canabilized the time needed to design the physical structure itself. But this once laborious process has been streamlined by the advent of computer engines used for video game systems. New software programs that are quickly becoming more compatible with VR headsets are also making this process more feasible than ever.

Owners no longer have to try to imagine what it will be like to walk through their building based on drawings presented to them on a 2D computer screen that only their architects can fully decode. They can simply step inside the building by slipping on VR goggles. Owners could walk around a space, turn around and even look in another direction to gaze at what the views will be like from every vantage point. While a blueprint can give them the exact dimensions of a room, VR will given them a true sense of how big a room will feel.

Continue Reading ›

Office space of tomorrow: Millennials and “accidental encounters” drive future of office design

This is the first post in our series on the office space of tomorrow. 

“We don’t have a lot of time on this Earth! We weren’t meant to spend it this way. Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day …”Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 9.03.11 AM.png

— Peter Gibbons, played by actor Ron Livingston, in the 1999 cult movie classic Office Space

If humans weren’t meant to spend their careers sitting in square boxes punching away at their keyboards and staring at their computers, then where should we be working?

That question is being deliberated by forward-thinking developers and interior designers, architects, construction companies and experts on human behavior, as well as some of the most inventive companies in the world like Google and Facebook. Many of these thinkers are attempting to transform the way commercial buildings, office space and even workplace furniture are designed and built.

So, where will we be working in the future? The journey to that final answer might just change the way human beings work, collaborate and innovate today and for generations to come.

Millennial workforce impacts office design

There are major cultural shifts occurring today that are having an unprecedented impact on the commercial office market, including the influence of the millennial generation which consists of the 18- to 34-year olds who make up more than half of today’s workforce.

Commercial office developers and designers understand they must strongly consider the needs of this powerful slice of the population and make their office spaces more desirable for clients who must attract this young talent — studies have found most millennials prefer “activity-based” working environments that place a premium on working collaboratively, sustainability, wellness and the integration of smart technologies to improve performance and optimize productivity.

That’s a lot to take in if you’re a commercial developer or office space designer with new office plans in the works, especially if you’re used to selling clients on corner offices, cube farms and mahogany desks.

Open layouts: Future or fad?

The national publication Real Estate Weekly recently reported that “the real estate industry is in the throes of transformative change … thanks to a fast evolving workforce that continues to redefine corporate space requirements. For companies with ambitious recruiting and expansion plans … this is a pivotal time.”

This means that developers and designers shouldn’t rush to decisions on what makes an optimal work environment without taking a long-term view. Johan Ronnestam, an internationally known brand expert and innovative thinker about workplaces of the future, said, “If you are in the process of change, you need to think 10 years out. How will my employees want to work then? How will technologies affect our everyday lives? How will your office fit into that world? We need to be open to having our beliefs changed.”

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From cars to construction: Automobile technologies could make your job site safer

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By now you have surely driven in cars that illuminate your side view mirror when someone is in your blind spot, vibrate your steering wheel when you stray out of your lane and beep when you’re about to back up over your trash can. Your car might even have cruise control functions that automatically regulate your speed and braking based on how close you are to other vehicles. Cars use a combination of cameras and sensors to determine how far an object is from your bumper. The sensor is constantly analyzing the camera’s video feed in real time and alerts you with a vibration, beep or flashing light when you are too close to something.

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Cameras and sensors that work in concert could help make construction sites more safe.

If having this technology in your car has become novel, maybe it’s time to incorporate it on your construction site. While cameras and sensors are mostly used on job sites for security, these car technologies could monitor a whole range of things to maintain quality, efficiency and safety. But let’s focus on safety for now since one in five worker fatalities occur in construction. Cameras and sensors strategically placed on buildings, vehicles and vests, gloves and hard hats could help minimize the Fatal Four:

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Cameras and sensors could keep construction workers out of harm’s way by alerting the worker and the excavator operator that danger looms.

  1. Falls: Sensors could warn a worker if they are about to walk into a hole or sense when a guardrail is broken or missing. It could let someone know when a ladder is being used too far from the work that needs to be done so somebody doesn’t overreach and fall. Workers could also be reminded when they should be tied off and that they shouldn’t jump across scaffolding.
  2. Electrocutions: Sensors could tell electricians when an unsafe electric current is running through scaffolding near them or if there’s a live wire on site. They could notify someone if an electrical panel was ajar or if wire nuts or electrical tape aren’t appropriately adhered. Sensors and backup cams could also alert a crane operator when they are working too close to power lines.
  3. Struck by object: Wearable technology that uses sensors and cameras could vibrate when the worker is in the path of a moving object or vehicle. They could even cut the ignition switch if that vehicle was about to hit something or someone. This technology could also alert a crane or excavator operator when someone or something was in their blindspot. Sensors can also make sure cranes and other machinery are safely grounded.
  4. Caught in/between objects: This technology could automatically turn off a scissor lift that was about to trap someone against a ceiling. They could also alert someone if they are between two objects that could potentially pin them.

At the same time, 360-degree cameras with sensors could be mounted to a safety manager’s hardhat to literally give them eyes in the back of their head. The sensors would not only alert them if something outside their periphery was amiss or dangerous, but they would have the ability to record and survey the site to review later.

Still not convinced that this is ready for primetime? Well, the biggest proof point that these car technologies can be incorporated into wearable technologies for construction is Toyota’s Project BLAID. Worn over the shoulders, this device for blind people uses cameras and sensors to detect objects in the user’s surroundings the same way cars do. BLAID has speakers and vibration motors that help users locate bathrooms, escalators, stairs and doors. Given the fact that Toyota successfully migrated these cameras and sensors from cars to wearables, it’s easy to imagine how this technology could be used on a construction worker to help make the job site safer.

Continue Reading ›