interior office space atrium

What Role Can Technology Play in Designing an Effective and Equitable Workplace?

A Think Tank panel investigates how designers are using technology to enhance creativity and collaboration in laboratory workplaces.

Remote work, now a firmly established paradigm for employers big and small, is dependent on underlying technology. Zoom sessions, virtual whiteboards, and other high-tech tools allow at-home employees to connect and collaborate with each other and counterparts in the office as never before.

On April 7, a Think Tank panel hosted by HDR and moderated by Metropolis executive editor Sam Lubell tackled this subject, focusing mostly on biopharmaceutical companies. Industry giants Roche and Bristol Myers Squibb were represented on the panel.

A.J. Paron, executive vice president and design futurist at Sandow Design Group, set the stage for the discussion: “Now that the office is really going to be a mecca for collaboration, and not an obligatory mandate, how do we address issues with technology? More to the point, how do we make sure it’s an equitable experience? How can we design them so that each experience has equal technology provisions?”

Roche and Bristol Myers Squibb both have extensive experience using technology to communicate and collaborate in a laboratory setting and put equal access to technology on par with having the latest tools. “Virtual reality tools are used in the lab space, by employees at all levels” said Danielle Masucci, the lone architect on the panel and an associate and interior design principal at HDR. “Automation and the use of robots in the lab allow repetitive tasks to occur overnight and therefore bring extreme efficiencies to a research team,” she explained.

Christiane Glanzmann, global expert laboratory workplace strategy, Roche, said “We are investigating a lot of different technologies in the laboratory to make scientists’ work more practical. For example, we are envisioning one common platform, from which the scientist can access the experiment and make any type of procurement like samples.” She continued: “This of course needs a lot of interaction among different technologies, the suppliers developing protocols together with us.”

Laboratories need not be the cold, impersonal spaces they are stereotyped to be, Lubell said. “I’m fascinated by this concept of balancing out the coldness with some warmth.”

Paul Tackowiak is associate director, workplace strategy and planning at Bristol Myers Squibb. He brought up a Business Workplace Program in which the company shifted from cold high-walled cubicles and private offices to a completely egalitarian and open plan. “It aligns with our leadership’s desire to transform the company culturally,” he said. “We did that by carefully integrating several different workstreams at once. There’s the IT workstream for technology; the HR workstream for culture, communications and change; and our facilities and engineering groups.”

interior office space with seating on benches
The interior of the Bristol Myers Squibb office was designed to promote collaboration. COURTESY HDR

Masucci cautioned against overkill in technology that might hinder the great return to work. “You don’t want technology to be a deterrent and make people feel like, ‘Oh, this is all too complicated to return to work.’” That said, she was especially excited about new whiteboard technology she’s recommending to clients with remote workers. “There are programs that allow us to invite multiple teammates to this virtual whiteboard where they can post images. You’re able to draw over things and notate things, and it’s all saved in one place. It’s really no different than being in the same room together.”

The architect concluded that “Moving forward with clients like Roche and Bristol Myers Squibb and others, there is a great shift in the design of lab spaces. There are all of these fantastic tools out there that allow some science to happen outside of the physical lab environment.”

The Think Tank discussions were held on April 7, 14, and 21. The conversations were presented in partnership with Arden Studio, CertainTeed, Grohe, and Mecho.

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