The workplace of the future

Guest blog by Matt Grimshaw, The Pioneers. 

Bee and I were delighted to be asked to contribute to a Knowledge Exchange event last week run by one of our clients TSK. The Knowledge Exchange is a fantastic forum for sharing insight, stimulating debate and exploring the many factors influencing today’s workplaces.

I sat on a panel discussion at the end of the session about the trends shaping the workplace of the future. As ever with these things, I was much more impressed with the answers I thought up crawling my way home through the never ending 50mph zone on the M6, than the ones I actually shared in the room!

One of the questions from the floor was “What do think will be the role of the office in the future? And do you think we’ll even need offices?”

I’m not entirely sure what I garbled in response, but given my time again, I think I’d say…If you’re not going to make people come into the office, then you need to attract them into the office.

It wasn’t that long ago that most managers saw working from home as ‘having a day off’. The culture around this has definitely shifted and most sensible companies now treat their employees like adults who can decide where they ought to be on a given day.

People will often tell you they “actually get more done at home” but I think there’s a couple of things behind this statement that are worth pulling out. First, the most unproductive part of most people’s working day is the commute. This is often the bit people are most keen to avoid. Second, when people say they get more done at home, what they tend to mean is that they get more of their own work done i.e. work that has been assigned to them as an individual. In this sense remote working suits most people – they get their commute time back and they can avoid distractions, focus and get some work done.     

But what almost all organisations struggle with is remote collaboration or sustaining effective virtual teams. Truth is, not with standing all the great collaboration software out there, it’s still much easier to work with someone if you're in the same room with some sharpies, a packet of post-it notes and a whiteboard. 

My argument would be that at present, most office spaces are still heavily weighted to providing space for individual working (albeit in hot desk or open plan arrangements that actually make it hard for people to concentrate!) and they have woefully inadequate spaces for people to collaborate.

In my view, the workplaces of the future are going to be much more social places. They’ll be environments that make people want to come in and ‘hang out’, connect and collaborate with colleagues. They’ll feel like cafe’s, restaurants and ‘adult play areas’ with a variety of meeting spaces that facilitate different types of conversation. There may be places where people can retreat to focus on individual working, but in most cost-conscious organisations, I reckon individual working will be ‘kicked out’ of the office to make way for the collaborative spaces. People who want offices or their own desk are going to have to have them at home instead.  

This trend as only going to be exacerbated by the growth of ‘boundary-less' organisations where much more work gets delivered through a network of gig workers, contractors, suppliers, customers, users and influencers. Companies who want to establish themselves as ‘hubs’ in these networks are going to have to create workplaces that feel much more free-flowing and accommodating to ‘outsiders'. TSK tell me we’re already feeling the effect of WeWork’s disruptive influence in this regard; but I think companies have an opportunity to take the shared workspace concept to the next level.

If companies want to establish themselves as a hub, they need to use their space as a brand asset – a way of expressing their proposition and values through the built environment, but they also need to develop a complementary set of events, tools, materials, behaviors and services that contribute to the overall health of the network. You can only achieve all this by applying an employee experience lens to these issues… use design thinking to scope the problem holistically and use agile to develop solutions in an iterative, evidence based way.

To find out how to do this, take a look at ‘how to improve employee your experience’.

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