Future Proofing the Workplace – Can it Be Done?

  
Earlier this year our Workplace committee held two round tables, here we post the second roundup of what was discussed. 

Attracting new talent, retaining the current talent – expertise, experience and enthusiasm

This has been a hot topic for a number of years for a wide range of employers and is seen as vital to the future success of many blue-chip organisations. The discussion started with a proposition that we should establish a starting point in order to properly consider the question


  • Understanding what people want from their environment and career is the precursor to creating optimised environments. HR departments need to focus on managing and understanding all age ranges, not predominantly the millennials which is where the focus has been of late. Retention of the older generation needs serious consideration.
  • But there are challenges for all staff in different ways – the pension age is increasing, it’s more difficult to get on the property ladder, how does this influence working environments? Organisations should do more to support people getting older in the workplace by adaptation of facilities. Younger members of staff may no longer be looking for a lifetime career. HR needs to recognise career aspirations among staff, who has one and who doesn’t and direct resources and investment accordingly.
  • Importance should be placed on work/life balance – salary is sometimes sacrificed by staff to get the lifestyle they want. Flexibility is reflected in working hours trends – people often getting in earlier and leaving earlier. Longer days are sometimes more accepted if facilities encourage/support this, such as having gym or sports amenities on site. Addressing health and wellbeing are important to all staff.
  • The issue of work life balance is more important than ever – it’s not just about the whizzy things – salary is important too. There are difficulties in drawing ‘young’ people out of London, as many would rather be central even if living costs are higher. This is important when creating space which is engaging and empowering - aiding employees to feel they are retaining social value at work. Employers are responding by investing in flexible locations – forming smaller ‘satellite’ offices in the surrounds of the cities, instead of large central offices. People are afraid of losing informal exchanges due to remote or homeworking – although this can be overcome by seminars and conference calls to some extent.
  • More frequently hires are moving to Project and Contractor basis – therefore we need changes to how we build the workplace to reflect this. Some organisations now have up to 40% contingent workers – limited talent pool (extension of education and research). This could be answered by outsourcing of project space elsewhere that is on demand, economic & flexible. This is more aligned with shorter term project needs - task based/project based employees may be used on a periodic basis dependant on tasks in hand – supporting the growth in contingent workers or the ‘gig’ economy. Pop-ups and collaborative working spaces offered by a number of serviced office providers are on the up.
  • The recurring themes that arose during this section were based around providing a sense of community in the workplace and aligning employee aspirations with business objectives. The workplace is adapting to the workers and the employer’s reputation is at stake if this is ignored.
Your corporate DNA – the culture

  • Corporate DNA starts with clarity of vision and inspirational leadership from the CEO and senior strategic leaders, which infiltrates through to the rest of the company. It is embedded in an organisation’s culture by HR and is “an evolving plan” that adapts to the changing nature of markets and people’s expectations. We must ensure that the “C” suite is not too far removed from the employees and vision of the workplace.
  • Brand DNA is linked to a sense of Pride and Community. Listening to ‘customers’ is fundamental to consumer marketing and should work the same way within an organisation. HR & Marketing are key influencers in this regard, it is vital to avoid a split between front of house/back of house or external/internal mentality when considering where to invest. Cost cutting without overall vision creates negative environments.
  • What are the common pressures associated with running a business? Cost, efficiency and productivity - small savings in real estate may have a significant impact on staff satisfaction and engagement. Cost efficiency vs productivity benefit is a delicate equation.
  • Some organisations have a culture of working long days but this does not necessarily increase productivity and efficiency. Any services and staff amenities which can save a small amount of time (staff friendly) potentially equate to a large amount of time over a number of years.
  • Permission for staff to work differently and the confirmation of trust in the workforce creates higher levels of engagement. There are several indicators that we are moving to new patterns of work to allow us to be much more flexible in task management.
  • In summary the group concluded that ‘Not everything that is measurable is important’ and that it is imperative to have a balanced view of cause and effect when organisations consider the implementation of workplace change.
Flexibility, adaptability and ‘different’ ways of workings

  • In order for offices and workplaces to be more durable it is important to consider modularity and flexibility as part of the way forward. Organisations that respond to the type of work they do and adapt to accommodate it will have a better chance of dealing with obsolescence in the office. Digital technology is causing disruption and by consequence workstyles are becoming more porous.

  • Leases are another factor to consider. 3-5 years is more relevant than a 15 year model when dealing with volatile spatial requirements as work patterns change. Flexibility in leases would equate with more flexibility in the workplace. Impact of moves and associated cost can limit regular changes being made. Cost remains a major issue in the provision of workplace and changes within it. Many organisations want to drive down the cost of delivery but have a clash between investment and lease limitations.
  • There are major changes coming. We don’t yet know the shape of the office that accommodates people and machines? Automation will have potential negative and positive impacts on workplace but human intelligence is needed to refine business as it is more efficient than an unemotional machine.
  • Presenteeism now plays a part in the issues of accommodation with staff on flexible hours, choice of working environment and a culture that gives rise to overcrowding on certain days or in particular work patterns. We need to learn about this and deliver solutions based on the outcomes of human behaviour.
  • We need to be more serious about the future and accepting that there will be changes we cannot ignore. Co-living and flexible spaces offer insights into a new future. ‘Dead’ office spaces are being used for other activities such as well-being and non-task activities. We all need spaces that flex!
Technology – is it the future or just an ever-developing tool

  • The group widely agreed that it was easier to future proof 20 years ago when the pace of change was much slower and that today an online presence is more prevalent and important than ever. As a result internal and external technology needs are now strongly influencing building design. An extreme view of this is that the new office is a “Computer with a roof"
  • There are many negative connotations and views around technology. Staff wonder why there are differences Home vs. office computers. Many people feel that workplace technology is outdated when it is installed. Concerns proliferate amongst staff over the use of personal data held by the employer – will this be used morally. People also feel that technology, an in particular automation, can cause redundancy. Fight the machine!
  • To use technology effectively we need to understand businesses and ask “What is the problem we are trying to solve?” and how will technology support that? Without understanding the deployment of technology, it’s possible we are making the wrong provisions. Speed is also of the essence, technology moves too fast to dither in decision making.
  • There’s a growth in using data to help monitor the ways we should make changes. We need to get the basics right – wireless, room bookings, digital signage, skype are already in use and we should learn from the data available. Smart buildings and data gathering are vital tools for providing insight.
  • But not everyone uses technology to the maximum, some still work with paper. Human contact is still vital, a mixture of technology and direct contact are perhaps the perfect formula (interaction between employees). Over-reliance on technology can lead to greater desire for more “human” elements – eg. Collaborative spaces, writable walls and post it space.

 

The ever-changing people demographic – the right employee experience for all the generations

 

  • This was perhaps the most emotive topic we discussed and the group felt there were numerous angles on the subject which are yet to be fully understood. Younger generations want urban destinations whereas older generations want suburban settings. Satellite principles could be the future to provide satisfaction for all.
  • Geography and location are very important considerations, hubs with a central “home” location give freedom and also a sense of belonging to staff.
  • Office developers are now looking at collaborative spaces – sharing of environments and crosspollination. On this basis should we invite co-working office providers into the workspace? This would bring flexibility and co-working principles into organisations but could dilute privacy. Co-location can offer much to smaller companies and sole traders but many corporates feel it can start to fragment its workforce.
  • We must remember that the current split in the generations at work will change again as the next influx of young workers (screenagers) come through and baby-boomers retire. This means our challenge will be one of adapting to generational expectation and social change for the foreseeable future.

Summary view
In conclusion the group was asked for a view on whether future-proofing is possible at the end of the discussion, the answers were;

“No!”

 

“Modularity and flexibility are the way forward”

 

“Drive down the cost of delivery”

 

“To do so we need much more flexibility in the built environment”

 

“Infrastructure YES – the rest is a NO!”

 

“3-5 years may be possible.”

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