How Future Workspaces Will Improve Productivity and Creativity

The physical world and the digital world are combining — and blurring the boundaries between areas that are private, public, and shared. Understanding how workforces connect within this new, flexible working environment is crucial for designing next-generation offices.

As director of the MIT Senseable City Lab, MIT professor Carlo Ratti looks at the intersection of architecture, design, and possibility. His work helps imagine how spaces can be more efficient, more user-friendly, and more conducive to creativity. Using digital mapping from data users create during the course of their day — from sources such as Bluetooth signal tracking and aggregated looks at how and where WiFi is used — he and his team measure the ways that humans actually use space, with an eye on helping design respond accordingly.

In one project, for instance, Senseable City Lab tracked how visitors move through the Louvre museum in Paris — what galleries they visit, what paths they take, how long they spend in front of each piece of art. In another project, the team looked at traffic lights and traffic patterns, developing an idea for “slot-based intersections” where vehicles with special sensors could move through intersections by communicating with each other and remaining a safe distance apart, rather than stopping and waiting for the light to turn.

An architect and engineer, Ratti is also focused on how workspaces can best be designed to take advantage of the opportunities presented by mobile computing, the increased ubiquity of WiFi, and a growing desire for co-working.

On June 17, 2016, MIT Sloan Management Review hosted a webinar, made possible with sponsorship support from Xively, with Ratti. He talked about how digital technologies are transforming how we move, communicate, and work; how co-working requires a new kind of office design; and how real-time data analytics paired with the Internet of Things is enabling the creation of workplaces that respond dynamically. The webinar was moderated by Steven Paul, a contributing editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, and highlighted on Twitter at the hashtag #MITSMRevent. Among Ratti’s key points:

In the 1990s, people thought that as our digital world matured, our physical world would become less important.

“At the time, some people thought that cities themselves would not be needed anymore,” said Ratti. He quoted writer George Gilder, who ominously called cities “leftover baggage from the industrial era.” As it has turned out, Ratti said, “no prediction could be more wrong than this one.” Ratti said that in this century, China alone may “build more cities than all of humanity ever built.