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Keep taking the tablets - the small computers that are having a big impactBy: Ann Clarke, joint managing director, Claremont Group Interiors

Ann Clarke, joint MD, Claremont Group InteriorsFor the past 40 years, the driving force behind changes in the way we work has been technology. And, of course, when we work in different ways, the workplace changes too and this can have dramatic effects on the market for commercial property.

Look at the way flat screen VDUs and laptops have transformed space standards and, by association, the property market in just a few years. You don’t need to be particularly old to remember a time when computers had enormous cathode ray tubes perched on vast L-shaped workstations that belonged to one person. The buildings we put up and the space standards they were based on used this fixed notion of working...Then along came laptops and flat screens.

In its 2009 Guide to Specification, the British Council for Offices (BCO) reported that the average occupational density of a British office had increased by around 40 per cent since 1997. As a result the BCO had increased its density standard from the previous advisory 12-17 sq m to 8-13 sq m per person. However, the actual new average benchmark for the office environment was set at 10 sq m. The major reason for this was the death of the CRT and the advent of flexible working and mobile computing.

The challenge now for those of us who work in commercial property is that the laptop now has a serious challenger for its supremacy in commercial use. It is of course the iPad. There are already nearly 3 million iPad owners in the UK, up around 115% over the past year. And there are more to come, especially in businesses.

In January this year, researchers at IDG Connect published the results of their ‘iPad for Business Survey 2012’ and found that many business users had laid down their laptops and replaced them with a tablet, usually an iPad. The research showed that 12% of those surveyed had completely replaced their mobile computer with an iPad. Another 54% said that the iPad had partly replaced their laptop, but they still used both. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said that they carried their laptop around less now that they owned an iPad.

As is the way with technology, these are the first rumblings of a revolution in the way we work. It is important we understand exactly how it will change the way we work and hence the buildings we occupy.

The most immediate challenges will happen at the interface between the human and the machine. The postures we assume when we work with a tablet are very different to those associated with computers. The changes will inevitably expand outwards, starting with the fit-out of the office. In other words, how we sit will ultimately determine where we sit.

One of the most obvious manifestations of this will be the changing need for worksurfaces. Even laptop users need a desk to work on properly but that may not be the case with iPad users. So we can expect the iPad to drive the existing trend for offices to feature fewer and smaller dedicated workstations and replace them with collaborative and public spaces. It’s also likely to increase the uptake of flexible working practices, but that is already well underway.

For those workplaces not yet convinced of the value of WiFi – increased uptake in tablet computers will undoubtedly bring about a change of mind. It’s been estimated that the average number of Wi-Fi enabled devices per person will reach three this year and with the desire to be permanently connected and mobile, comes the need for greater WiFi investment in infrastructure in offices to support the shift.

Ultimately the growth in iPad use will change the specification of buildings too. Obviously existing property may need to be refurbished to meet these new demands, but future buildings are likely to be specified on a completely different basis. In order to meet these challenges we must pay close attention to the ways this sleek and tactile object reshapes the world.

Features May 2012

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