I was recently lucky enough to be in Australia to speak at Telstra Vantage – if you are not familiar with it, this annual event takes place in Melbourne and is a fantastic gathering of like-minded people, all looking for the right tools and insights to transform their businesses.
As a Workplace of the Future evangelist, I could not have had a more sympathetic audience when delivering our message that companies both large and small need to rethink workplace collaboration today, if they want to remain competitive tomorrow.
Why Should the Workplace of the Future Matter Today?
So, what is the “workplace of the future”, and why does it matter? Well firstly consider this. We are living in the most interconnected time in human history with 40 percent of the world’s population – almost three billion people – online. In fact, it’s expected that connected devices will outnumber humans six to one by 2020. Closer to home, the Federal Government has pledged to invest almost $1.1 billion over the next four years to fund Australia’s ‘ideas boom’ and promote innovation.
With this influx of technology, connectivity and change – it’s undeniable that workplaces are transforming from the traditional idea of what most of us know as ‘the office’. With this rapid rate of change, the focus for many companies is how to take that all important next step in their digital transformation journey. This means looking for innovative business-focused solutions that will help them create a true Workplace of the Future by improving workflow, experience, workspace and ultimately, customer satisfaction.
Mobility and its Impact on Workplace Transformation
Many of the speakers and exhibitors at Telstra Vantage were also interested in discussing the impact of mobility – no surprises that it’s also one of the key forces driving workplace transformation. There seems to be a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, Australia is continuing to see an increasing use of mobile devices; particularly as high speed broadband connectivity becomes more pervasive. Secondly, many businesses are struggling to meet the challenge of having up to five different generations of workers coexisting in the same workplace.
The impact of this is that businesses need to be able to empower employees who have vastly different experiences and relationships with technology, from the millennials who have grown up with it to older generations who may be less comfortable. That means that businesses need to deliver consistent and easy experiences for collaboration that deliver the simplicity that consumer devices have led us all to expect with the power necessary for real enterprise-class quality.
The Impact of the Shrinking Office
Companies also needing to think about how they address what we call the “incredible shrinking office.” At any given time, 30-50% of the space in an average office is not occupied during work hours – increasingly, people are working from home, on the road, or in another remote location (like one of Australia’s fantastic coffee shops!). In fact, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), almost a third (3.5 million) of all employed Australians regularly worked from home and 42 per cent of those who regularly work from home cited catching up on work as the main reason. A further 20 per cent regularly worked from home because they wanted an office or didn't want to pay rent or overheads.
Given that real estate and facility costs are usually the second largest expense for a business, it only makes sense that businesses reduce their space to be more cost efficient. At the same time, when employees ARE present, they need to be productive – because employees are THE largest expense. It’s not enough to shrink the office, it needs to be rethought with a new focus on collaboration. This is a huge opportunity for businesses to embrace a modern approach to open office spaces where collaboration technology is pervasive.
Flexible Workspaces and the Shift in Cultural Dynamics
The workplace of the future is generally more flexible than the traditional workspace – flexible both in terms of how a business’s physical space may be used, as well as flexible in the expectations for where employees may be located on any given day. All of this reflects an increasing dependence on global teams in business – 69% in Australia and 71% in New Zealand – according to our own Workplace of the Future research. It used to be important to be “in the office” to have “face time” with your colleagues and senior leaders. Today, if I work in Sydney but my colleagues are in Singapore, Bangalore, and New York, with whom would I have face time if I were in “the office?”
That said, shifting away from a traditional office workspace can be challenging for existing employees – change is always hard. The workplace of the future also tends to flatten hierarchy, which can make people uncomfortable at first. In the physical office, senior executives may have the same workstation setup as newcomers, for example, and use team meeting spaces, huddle rooms, or traditional conference rooms for sensitive conversations.
It can also be challenging for introverts who are innately less productive in open workplace settings. For employees who may work remotely, there is less “incidental” conversation and collaboration from hallway or water cooler conversations. But thoughtful approaches to change management and thinking through how to provide for both privacy and open collaboration can make a huge difference in the physical meeting space. Providing for “virtual water cooler” time or information connections over video can also encourage more of the connections between people and teams that strengthen the dynamic.
Looking to the Future
For me, the workplace of the future requires a blending of technologies and workspace that shift the emphasis from “how do we wire this building?” to “how do we wire our employees?” Ultimately, it is desirable for businesses because it makes them more competitive with both their bottom line and their search for talent. The opportunities are huge for Australian businesses – it was clear from Telstra Vantage that the workplace of the future is available today.
This article was first published in PCWorld