Is the office a thing of the past or evolving into something different? One study shows how the workplace is adapting in a connect world.
As a new generation enters the workforce and society becomes more tied to its mobile devices, the way businesses operate their offices is changing. In a research paper commissioned by Dell, Intel, TNS and Cascade Insights, 20 experts worldwide were invited to explore the future of technology in the workplace.
The research paper found global technological changes are creating a new mobile and fluid workforce that is demanding new ways of doing their jobs and requires businesses to find new ways to organise their offices which goes against some of the recent trends.
Changing workforce needs
In recent years workplaces have gone through radical change as companies explored the possibilities of mobile technologies and how they could utilise a better connected workforce. The results of initiatives like ‘hot desking’ and encouraging working from home have been mixed and now companies are taking greater note of differences in how individuals are conducting their work.
“It’s no surprise,” says Genevieve Bell, the Director of User Experience at Intel Corporation and one of the experts consulted for the survey. “They’re coming out of that last 10-year cycle where everyone was considered a mobile worker and working from home.”
“The appearance of all those rented office spaces in places like New York and San Francisco where you could go hang out with other people who were freelancing, because you wanted to have other people around suggests the notion that everyone just wants to be somewhere else was probably a bit of an overcorrection,” Ms Bell observes.
Mobile workstations and ‘hotspots’ are becoming the norm. Working from home or in coworking spaces is being balanced out as businesses and employees find offices have their advantages and advances in workplace technologies is changing the ambience and comfort of those offices.
Redesigning the workplace
The shift to the new workplace is more complex than has been expected with the experts suggesting hybrid designs including specialist privacy rooms or cubicles paired with conference rooms and collaboration space as being the next iteration of office design.
Dorie Clark, one of the US experts who is a management consultant along with being a contributor to the Harvard Business Review and Forbes Magazine, cites Susan Cain’s ‘Quiet Revolution – the Power of Introverts’ as being one of the driving forces behind the new office design philosophies.
The Quiet Revolution suggests transforming office architecture to combat the erosion of focus and privacy in modern offices, “I was super fascinated that Susan Cain’s recent collaboration, I think with Steelcase, about introvert- friendly office furniture. I thought that was both brilliant and hysterical,” observes Ms Clark.
“You can’t expect that everyone is going to feel great about an office environment where they’re constantly exposed and there is no privacy and people are talking and moving around all the time,” Ms Clark points out.
Although there is a shift back to working from the office, staff are still demanding the option of being able to work remotely which for businesses requires providing the right tools.
“I think there’s an essential toolkit to working remotely and, as I said, three devices at least: your mobile, your tablet, and your computer. I think you need to be able to have video conference calls,” says panel member Robin Raskin, Founder & CEO of Living in Digital Times.
“You need to have a way of getting messages immediately, so whether you’re using voice or voice to phone or whatever it is, you need to be found,” continues Mr Raskin. “In a perfect world, people are multi-device literate and taking a phone, a tablet and a laptop as a sort of standard issue and using each one at best.”
The smartphone is the office
When on the road, workers are increasingly relying on their smartphones, however, for many business tasks a tablet or laptop computer is still needed to work effectively.
“Everybody has the smartest phone in the market, so they’re basically carrying a mini-office in their phone, pretty much everything in your hand. And then you have a tablet, where you’re doing a little more,” observes Indian panellist Pallavi Shrivastava, a Workplace Strategies Consultant & Behavioural Researcher. “You can probably do everything right there in one of your devices.”
Most of the panellists agree the adoption of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) polices into many offices has seen workers’ adoption of technology racing ahead of IT departments, this however, offers opportunities for many organisations.
The future of the workplace
As employees increasingly access data over the cloud and devices move between home and work the boundaries between the office and personal use have become unclear.
“The lines have totally blurred, between work and home, to a large degree, for better or worse,” observes Robin Raskin. “I think it’s for better because I think it makes you have a passion for your job.”
One of the oldest concepts in computing is the idea of thin clients, now with mobile devices and the cloud we are seeing a resurgence of that concept something that is an opportunity for organisations looking at refreshing their technology.
Looking even further ahead, the expert panel anticipated advanced mobile connectivity, computing and the Internet of Things (IoT) will be influences on the workplace in the coming years with the general consensus being it will lead to more opportunities to work effectively.
“There will be more pieces of glasses, more devices and there will be more ways to stay productive if in fact the employee and the employer have that agreement and the regulatory bodies in the industry afford that opportunity,” says panellist Steve Lalla, Vice President & General Manager at Dell.
As workers increasingly move towards a hybrid way of working with the office, home and mobile workplaces becoming equally important, the survey’s panel found a mix of technologies will be needed for organisations to adapt.