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The Future of Smart Office Buildings is Tied to Community

The Future of Smart Office Buildings Is Tied to Community

This blog gets its inspiration from an article that originally appeared on Gensler.com, titled The Office Building of The Future Should Be An Essential Part of Its Community, based on a review of the breakthrough technologies and design found in Two Legacy West Concept in Plano, Texas.

The business landscape has dramatically transformed since March when the COVID-19 shutdown began. Though businesses are reporting that productivity levels are high, they find that workers from home are less likely to feel engaged and in touch with real-time company processes.

Solitude has left a void. Where once colleagues engaged in human interaction, such as learning, mentoring, or the opportunity to provide expertise in collaborative environments within the workplace–workers now appear to have lost touch with the shared purpose of the organization. They now rely on digital technology to hear from colleagues.

Today we recognize that office buildings are no longer just containers for people but rather an experience supercharger. Office performance should be less about maximizing workplace density and more about the quality of the space and the experience it delivers.

Darrel Fullbright, Duncan Lyons, Gensler Dialogue

Building Layout Looks And Feels Different

The vision for smart office buildings is that they flow within a vibrant community much more readily than structures in a traditional office park. The authors believe that offices should integrate within the nearby residential neighborhood. The building itself offers something different and more natural than typical designs.

Moving between a variety of work settings or between floors gives more opportunities for interaction and engagement. The focus is more on the journey and less on the destination. And easily moving our work into all-season outdoor spaces can provide a breath of fresh air.


Rather than open-plan floors, the future office will be “open section” — providing multi-level settings where views, movements, and ideas are not constrained by windows and walls. That’s better for health and well-being and better for the environment.

Rather than the typical ground floor, where security and building administrative offices are housed and go dark after 5 pm, Fulbright and Lyons suggest approaching this space with the intention of developing an 18-hour city space. After hours and destination shopping venues could take up space, not unlike shops off a hotel lobby.

Destination retail is also undergoing a paradigm shift. Community-oriented programs like health centers, tool libraries, classrooms, and co-working spaces can serve both populations — office tenants and neighbors — at different times. 

Smart Buildings Offer Relevant Metrics

The next-generation office building will be smarter and ready to respond to our needs: it will tell us about the indoor and outdoor air quality that day, which workspaces are open, who else is there, and even where to get drinks and snacks. It can call us a private elevator or map a path to other amenities and create interactive displays for us along the journey. Carbon emissions or energy and water-use will be measured in real-time and reported to tenants.

Using tools like Graph by Gensler, these building metrics and spatial analytics can be collected, reported, and compared across portfolios, companies, or the real estate industry. With standardized data sets, designers can use this information to make occupancy and space utilization more dynamic and flexible.


Traditionally in office buildings, shared common areas like lobbies, amenities, and outdoor spaces are counted as rentable but not usable areas, contributing to lower efficiency and the building’s “loss factor.” But these are precisely the kind of spaces that can enrich the experience for occupants and attract a community of tenants to the office. They will be part of the “gain factor” that adds value for tenants in the future.

Seamless Interconnection Between Physical-Digital Systems

The prerequisite for creating a seamless physical-digital system is twofold: Jordan Goldstein and David Kramer (also of Gensler of Design Innovation and Design Experience respectively):

  1. A comprehensive human-centered design strategy addresses the physical, digital, brand, and service design components of a user journey.
  2. A foundational technology platform offers plug-and-play functionality for whatever digital solution each unique journey might need.

A baseline set of modern conveniences can provide an example for an entry experience built on a foundational software platform.

Imagine entering an office building lobby. An automated arrival procedure verifies your identity through touchless registration, such as facial recognition or personal devices. If you’re a visitor, a virtual concierge greets you either through kiosks or personal devices. Dynamic and personalized digital wayfinding guides users to the most efficient pathways safe from others, including touchless elevator systems. This new paradigm is all managed through a single, centralized, fully integrated software system with an open framework to allow owners and operators to pick and choose which features are essential for their organization.

Post-pandemic, the reality is that facilities teams and organizations need to approach the workplace with a different strategy. The workplace is no longer a single physical place. It must now be approached as an adaptive collection of connected physical and digital spaces that serve as a trusted network for business continuity, social engagement, and continued professional growth.

The Intersection Between Building and IoT Support Systems

Ironically, with an overall design framework like the ones described by these two sets of Gensler writers for the future smart office buildings —the more advanced the technology becomes, the more the workplace feels more personalized and secure.

Advancements are simplifying the experience. The right obstacles are put in place to protect while other areas are removed, like biometric identification and wayfinding apps that talk to smartphones.

Insights taken from home workers productivity during the COVID shutdown can inform designs that allow solitude when required, while still providing a variety of inviting collaboration spaces.

Ground floor designs can integrate retail and other outlets rather than security and building administrative offices alone. Integrating the community during non-work hours will allow commercial building owners to capture more revenue while providing more natural and welcoming spaces for all occupants.

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