As many countries throughout the world are dealing with a dramatically increasing ageing population it has come time to think and rethink the way in which workplaces assimilate people who work for longer into an older age.
There are a number of factors at play here:
- The global financial practice driving large scale and prolonged losses in pension funds,
- Management throwing an increased capital behind workers who have a greater amount of wealth of knowledge built up over a number of years, and
- Age and disability care, acceptance and funding changing to be more inclusive, widespread and legislated.
These three factors lead me towards research in the area of the paradigm shift in the workplace. A suite of emerging technologies is behind this shift which has led to ‘intelligent building systems’, that supports ‘working styles that are more mobile and networked, and work environments that can be customised to individual needs and abilities’ (Inns, 2010).
An example of an innovative precedent in this paradigm shift is the Welcoming Workplace Project undertaken by the Helen Hamlyn Centre at the Royal College of Art in London. This project is a research based endeavour that looks to ‘pilot ways to remodel the office environment in order to provide greater levels of comfort and flexibility for the older knowledge worker’ (Myerson and Bichard, 2010).
The ‘knowledge worker’ has been set out as the application of theoretical knowledge and learning in a system of collaborations and a culture of sharing and self-initiation.
Specifically speaking, the Welcoming Workplace Project has designed and implemented products to reflect a changing demographic such as lighting, furniture and spatial design.
One of the big take-aways I personally have taken from university this year is that design needs to be holistic in its approach. A narrow perspective that may suit a particular designer furniture business should be avoid for the recognition of the inter-connected human-centered factors. Implementing this design mind set is exactly what the Helen Hamlyn Centre did when they addressed the questions:
- “What are the specific ergonomic and emotional needs of older workers in the 21st century workplace?”
- “What spatial and material concepts can support an ageing workforce in sharing their knowledge, and make the environment more inclusive?”
- “How can the philosophical relationship between work aesthetic and work ethic be reconsidered in the light of the changing demographic make-up of the workforce?”
(Myerson and Bichard, 2010)
To answer these questions the Helen Hamlyn Centre used their in-house method “Define-Develop-Deliver” (Royal College of Art, 2016).
The results of this initiative were well rounded and extensive. For older people continuing in the workplace the Welcoming Workplace Project developed:
- An Acoustic intervention: A system that listens to background noise and and reduces its distracting qualities,
- A Lighting intervention: User-controllable light,
- Technology intervention: Wireless ergonomic keyboards,
- Adjustable furniture: Electronically height adjustable desks and seating.
Jack Fahy 99131981