Workplace of the future: How to keep the workplace relevant

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Growth in technology is impacting where we work, when we work and how we work, like never before. But what impact does this have on the workplace itself; if we can work from anywhere, is the traditional office environment dead?

Traditionally, the office has been viewed as the place where work must be done. If you're not seen, you're not working. But the office is at risk of becoming obsolete if this mindset continues. Instead, let’s view the workplace as a strategic tool for growth and productivity; as a way to connect.

As of this writing, there are over 25 million Americans working from home at least one day per week. So why are so many people working from places other than the office? Some studies suggest that it’s the workplace environment they’re escaping. If you work in a typical office environment, chances are you're interrupted every 11 minutes on average and have noise levels that incapacitate concentration. There’s also the fact that people sit at their desks on average only 40 percent of the time. It’s enough to make you wonder why we even have offices at all.

Traditional office environments just aren’t living up to our current needs. That said, here are five big influences on the workplace of the future, and tips to stay relevant.

1. The role of the workplace is changing

The workplace itself is now competing with a myriad of other places people can work from including the home, cafes, or co-working spaces. Rather than being the default location for employees, the workplace should be a place where people want to spend eight hours of their day.

The office should foster collaboration by providing a variety of spaces that encourage people to inspire, create, brainstorm, discuss and learn. Of course, this doesn’t negate the need for focus areas to concentrate and provide privacy, but instead ensures an appropriate balance.

Here are a few things that the workplace could benefit from:

  • Natural light: Efficient natural light helps with happiness, energy, and morale.
  • Interactive walls (glass, chalkboard, whiteboard) that can be written on: Ideas become contagious when everyone has access to them.
  • Informal collaboration zones: This enables people to cross paths, share information and collaborate casually, sparking idea generation and innovation.

2. Happiness boosts productivity

According to this report 63 percent of employees are unhappy at work. It's safe to say that it's in everyone's best interests to keep employees happy! And here's the clincher: Happy employees are 31 percent more productive and 3 times more creative than unhappy employees. So, to boost productivity through employee happiness, the workplace should have:

  • Managers who are actually good at managing people: Sounds obvious, but bad bosses are one of the key reasons for workplace unhappiness. Consider having two streams of management – one stream for folks who are good at managing people, and the other for subject matter experts/technical managers.
  • Determine employee motivation: Look at the way people work, along with their intrinsic motivators. The workplace can foster this is by providing opportunities for employees to use their particular skills and abilities.
  • Recognition that happiness is the new measure of success: Millennials are now the largest generation in the workplace in the US and place a greater emphasis on happiness than previous generations. As such, we’ll start to see the ascension of happiness over money.
Check out how to boost productivity through employee happiness in this course. 

3. Choice enables trust

Choice is a powerful element, providing employees with a sense of control in an environment where control has traditionally been lacking or even absent. Studies suggest that workers whose companies allow them to help decide when, where, and how they work were more likely to be satisfied with their jobs, performed better and viewed their company as more innovative than competitors that didn’t offer such choices.

Organizations should carefully consider how they can give employees the spaces and tools that enhance and support their workday tasks, as well as corporate goals. Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet, The Power of Introverts,” has caused a not-so-quiet revolution from professionals everywhere. Cain said in an interview, "A ‘best office’ is one that would give people a choice of how much stimulation is coming at them at any one time. I would create an office that has lots of nooks and crannies, lots of zones of privacy, but also lots of zones where people can come together and schmooze and hang out".

And with choice comes trust. Many workplaces tend to focus on the few people who do the wrong thing, making it all too easy to neglect the positive benefits of creating a trusting workplace.

When enabling control and encouraging trust, the workplace should:

  • Give employees input into how their workplaces are configured and allow them to personalize them.
  • Provide a variety of settings in the right proportion to support different work functions:
    • Focus work: Quiet zones or spaces for concentrated work.
    • Collaboration: Emphasize small group collaboration and provide diverse settings (both formal and informal).
    • Learning: Support learning and mentoring by providing e-learning and in-person, one-on-one learning.
    • Socializing: Provide a variety of informal spaces that accommodate work and casual communication while fostering informal collaboration (the bump factor) and innovation.
  • Trust that most employees will make the right choices (assuming you've hired the right people with the right attitude).

4. Company culture is vital

Culture is the personality of the company. Every company has a unique culture, made up of shared values, beliefs and assumptions, and it’s this invisible but powerful force that influences employee behavior. Culture is put at risk every time a person is hired or promoted; it’s put at even greater risk when this person is a leader of people. So ensure the person is the right fit, and consider whether this fit is for the current culture or the desired culture.

To optimize this, the workplace should have:

  • A strong sense of the culture: Be able to articulate it and see it reflected in all aspects of the working environment (including hiring processes).
  • A sense of purpose: The next generation of leaders place a greater emphasis on purpose than any other generation. Personal purpose and company purpose complement each other.
  • Strong and positive leadership: The idea of servant leadership will likely continue to gain momentum, which is about leaders identifying and meeting the needs of their employees, customers and communities.

5. Wholeness is the new wellness

Standing desks, walking meetings and wellness programs are touted as the “future of work,” but this is only the beginning. These things focus on the employee in the workplace, when instead we should look at the whole human being. The workplace should be an extension of the rest of our lives. The boundary between working and living is disappearing and, thanks to 24/7 technology, we're now seeing a blending of the two. So, to encourage the well-being of employees, the workplace should:

  • Rollout programs: This could include developing your strengths, finding your life purpose, and how to be more mindful, to name just a few ideas.
  • Adopt new standards: The extent of wholeness initiatives provided onsite could become a new measure of the workplace; it could become complementary to the current sustainability and green building initiatives.
  • Be evaluated on the state of the whole workplace: The effectiveness of the physical environment, as well as how well the space supports the culture of the company and the well-being of employees, could help attract and retain top talent.

Takeaway

The traditional office isn’t obsolete, but in order to survive it should consider some serious changes. Today’s workers need spaces that allow them choice. The role of the future workplace is an exciting one. It's one that enables employees to play to their strengths, have autonomy over the way they work, and utilize the amazing opportunities that come with accepting that work and life are no longer separated, but are blended. Learn more about how to increase workplace happiness, watch this webinar.

 

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Contributor

Kylie Hunt

has a passion for enabling workplaces to become happy, productive and engaging environments where talented people come together to do what they do best. This passion arose after seeing the good, the bad and the ugly sides of corporate office environments, and of her own eclectic experiences arising from 15+ years in the corporate property industry. A town planner by trade, Kylie has worked in various director-level and department head roles including strategy and client relations.