The Workplace of Tomorrow

We all recognize the way people and organizations work is changing. Where and how they work has to change to reflect and facilitate this change.

But how do you plan for a future when there is so much change and uncertainty now?

I believe we are sitting at an important crossroads in the life and evolution of the workplace. This crossroads offers us a route of change and opportunity that we cannot afford to ignore. These changes are fundamental and they have the potential to change everything. We should also not underestimate the effects of liberation driven by flexible information technology and a new generation of workers.

So which way do we go? Do we stick with what we know or do we evolve and embrace a future where the workplace and worker are flexible, agile, and collaborative?

Agile Working: Empowering the employee to work where, how and when they choose, to maximize productivity and deliver greatest value to the business.

It is heartening to see that with many workplaces recognize that retaining and attracting the best talent out there is essential to their growth and success. Evolving the workplace to attract those employees is vital, and I’ve observed how this already is happening even in turbulent economic times:

  • Organizations are occupying less physical, corporate space every day.   Property is very inflexible in terms of expanding or contracting, and organizations are choosing to limit their commitments to property.
  • Office space is evolving to meet the requirement of this fluid set of customers.   Someday, work at the corporate building will be perceived largely as a social activity within a work frame of reference and workplace design will be led by that. And that would mean a significant portion of work will be conducted at home, in public, in transit, or at a client site.
  • Human contact and sense of belonging to the corporate team will still be very important and motivating, so context will increasingly be a leisure one: staff restaurant with free food, bar, gym, sports facilities, cafe, lounge and break-out areas. We’re seeing fewer formal, static desks and offices that are replaced by flexible project team areas. Project area tables are lightweight, self-powered, mobile, and easy to store when not in use.

With the advent of a flexible workforce, the building increases in importance as the concrete, tangible statement to the world of this organization’s definite existence. So, in short, the physical workplace is becoming the most important statement of a corporate brand.

Kites in Break Area

Flexibility (Kite Tables in Break Area)

Empowering Employees

A self-reliant, largely unsupervised workforce is working flexibly in multiple locations – only one of which will be the corporate building. Employers are learning to trust their employees to be self-motivated and to manage their own time. Employers are setting clear goals and responsibilities that allow the employee to deliver in their own way – trust is empowering, and work therefore becomes more rewarding.

And in the case that employees are not meeting goals and responsibilities, then termination is easy – given ongoing governmental changes, employers will be less restricted by legislation protecting the employee.

That means the employees need to protect themselves by delivering what they are contracted to deliver. And as part of this trend, multi-directional performance assessments are becoming more standard. After all, this is the age of transparency. Individual performance may even be assessed online either anonymously or openly by everyone they come into contact with at work:Â   managers, peers, suppliers, customers (both internal and external), and junior staff alike.

Other trends we’re seeing related to the workforce:

  • Employees are operating more like self-employed workers even if they opt to remain directly employed by one employer. The number of self-employed workers in the workforce likely will increase dramatically.
  • Employers are working harder to retain valued staff. A culture of reciprocity is beginning to exist between employee and employer – what the employer can offer the employee will be even more important than what the employee offers the employer. Workers can negotiate individual contracts with their employers or clients based on their own professional or personal priorities.
  • Multi-disciplinary teams are being formed and parachuted in to meet specific needs within a company for a defined time period. These teams comprise different generations working together to maximize the contribution of each other’s skills. Some teams will tend to remain more static due to their function, but most workers will become a flexible human resource expected to move and adapt as required.
Four Kite Tables with seats

Teamwork (4 Kite Tables with 8 Seats)

The Role of Technology

The new generation in the workplace brings an ease with technology, a relaxed approach to both location and work-style, and the modus operandi of focusing on a number of things simultaneously.

That means the skills and experience of the baby boomers in the workplace will be complementary to what the new generation offers and there will be a time of great synergy, collaboration, and respect for what each generation of workers brings to the corporate table. For the first time the gap between the two generations in the workplace will be so great that they will need each other in order to deliver effectively.

Kite 3 Sided Table

Kite 3-Sided Table

Organizations need to accept that social media is a key part of how the new generation in work operate so no more bans on use. Part of work culture has always been non- work activity – chatting at the water cooler, looking out of the window, taking and making personal calls.

Social media may be seen as a personal rather than a work activity, but it can also deliver work dividends by improved networking and connections. Non-work activity is also an important element of human creativity, fulfilling the desire for social contact, and enhancing satisfaction.

 

I think the future is looking exciting and we should embrace the changes on offer. Please see http://www.kite-usa.com/index.html for more information on ‘Agile Office’ furniture products and technology.

Headshot for Julia Kitchen

Julia Kitchen has a background in facilities management. She has worked with and for many blue chip international organizations. She has developed a formidable reputation within the industry as an extremely knowledgeable, practical project manager and consultant on workplace change.

2 Comments

  • October 24, 2011

    Patrick ODell

    Great article. I’d like to hear Julia’s opinion on how the workplace, outside of the traditional corporate office, will change. How will the home or other “third work place” evolve to meet the needs of the mobile worker?

  • October 25, 2011

    john curtis

    Agree with all the points here.. and the evolution of the worker and workplace.