Digital Placemaking as a blueprint for the future of work

Marie-Céline Merret Wirström
By Marie-Céline Merret Wirström | 23 September 2020
Marie-Céline Merret Wirström

Marie-Céline Merret Wirström, executive producer at MediaMonks

Throughout the year, there’s a lot of talk around the future of the workplace. Social distancing has led to the hyper adoption of digital productivity and working from home, while ensuring a safe return to offices have led to pushback of open-office floor plans and disrupted the business model of coworking spaces.

These developments have left leadership several questions to answer: who is expected to go to the office, and how often? What even is the role of the office after so many teams have worked just as well virtually? I envision one possibility for the office is that it will function as a hub that connects team members wherever they may be, enabling collaboration and enriching the employee experience.

Digital placemaking is at the heart of this office built for a new era. Placemaking is the process of creating quality places that people want to live, work, play and learn in. Digital placemaking is a hybrid digital-physical approach, creating a symbiotic relationship between physical and digital spaces that result in dynamic, data-driven experiences. While temporary installations can achieve a similar effect, digital placemaking is strongest when treated as a permanent experience that can grow and evolve alongside the people in a community, like your workforce.

The idea is picking up steam with communities. Just a few months ago, the NSW Government announced the formation of an advisory committee focused on placemaking in public, residential and commercial spaces. By investing in placemaking, the government aims to drive growth and investment opportunities as well as delight the people who inhabit these spaces every day. Digital placemaking offers a great opportunity for property developers to increase visibility of a commercial hub or business, much like the Luminous light installation at Darling Quarter in Sydney. In the workplace, it can also boost business viability when clients visit or inspire teams when they come in to work.

Enrich the Employee Experience

Any process to digital placemaking in the workplace should start with employee experience (EX). The pandemic didn’t just expose gaps in the customer experience—it did the same for EX, too. “Zoom fatigue” has been a reigning topic of think pieces in the months since teams were put in lockdown, and relentless videoconferencing has collapsed any difference between the experience of participating in a business meeting, socialising with friends or watching an event. More often than not, teams’ rapid pivot toward whatever platforms are available to maintain productivity can lead to both burnout and isolation.

But an infographic from Forrester envisions how smart-connected office spaces can contribute to an enhanced EX, especially as teams return from lockdown. The infographic reports that “58% of global enterprise purchase influencers say improving EX will be a high or critical priority in 2020.” Tooling and enabling digital collaboration appear to be primary priorities for EX innovation: among Forrester’s findings is that only “19% of these workers are completely satisfied with the tools their firms provide for collaboration. Few report using new, emerging workplace technologies at work; for example, just 15% use interactive whiteboards.” Recognising this lack of investment in innovation to facilitate collaboration, digital placemaking in the office can help employees connect with one another or their clients in increasingly meaningful ways.

Enable Connection, Collaboration and Comfort

One of the biggest draws of digital placemaking is that it builds on the value of a property. By cementing a connection between the physical and digital environment, property developers can infuse the space with a sense of meaning for its tenants. And as businesses reconfigure the role that offices play in their teams' day-to-day responsibilities, making these connections increase the value of the space.

Let me use an example. At Johnson & Johnson’s JLABS innovation lab in Shanghai–one of 12 around the world–MediaMonks built an immersive installation of floor-to-ceiling screens that connect data from each office and more than 500 startups. The mesmerising, kinetic visuals builds a deeper impact for office visitors, and provides context to the collaborative efforts of the distributed JLABS team.

One of the key innovations of this installation is that it uses camera sensors to detect public presence, calling up information or moving with the flow of traffic once it detects passers-by. As employees may be wary of touching communal surfaces within the office for some time, one can imagine how similar displays could be used to surface up contactless information when people are nearby—or offer advice for crowd control and safe social distancing when detecting several people in one space.

Tell Brand Stories Through Immersive Environments

Digital placemaking in the office can do more than just offer a more comfortable and connected experience for your employees—it can also activate and encapsulate your brand’s story to visitors. This drove the design behind the generative art installation at Verizon's Basking Ridge headquarters that MediaMonks made with architecture firm Gensler. The touchscreen-enabled panels display the core values driving Verizon and its innovations, set against a gorgeous backdrop of artwork rendered in real time. Together, these elements evoke the brand narrative in an ambient and engaging way.

This is especially important if you intend to use placemaking as a strategy to connect with existing and potential clients. This requires creating a flexible system that can conform to different contexts based on who you’re entertaining. While I’ve discussed placemaking in terms of building permanent spaces above, temporary and portable installations may also be useful for some brands—for example, if your business is located in a temporary coworking space. If we’ve learned anything in 2020, it’s that versatility is key.

Now is a crucial time for businesses to rethink the role of the workspace and how their teams function within them going forward. Hybrid spaces have the power to enhance developments and communities and increase ROI–and any analogue space is an opportunity to do so.

With so many of us relying on digital channels to socialise, collaborate and connect, digital placemaking offers an opportunity to truly turn digital into a destination: creating digital spacers where people want to sit and spend time in. By building a sense of connection between teams and delivering on brand promise through artful innovation, these living, breathing hybrid ecosystems offer exciting opportunities to revitalise the workplace, increase brand value and inspire employees and clients who are comfortable with making the return from lockdown.


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