A couple of years ago, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, speaking at Future Decoded in London, claimed: “Work is no longer a place you go to. Work is about making things happen where you are.”
Today, his words couldn’t be more true, and there’s little doubt we are on the cusp of a huge workplace transformation. Thanks to the phenomenal uptake of cloud computing and the move towards a mobile-first work environment, we are no longer tied to our PCs in the way that we used to be. This year we will see a tipping point in the number of companies enabling mobile working practices, and this is expected to rise to 70% by 2020. Having the ability to work and be productive anytime, anywhere, and from any device has become the new raison d’être for many forward-thinking businesses.
But the truth is that business leaders have a completely new set of workplace expectations to meet, if they want to attract the most exciting talent. 2017 will be remembered as the first full year when Generation Z entered the workforce. This is the generation that wants to lean into their high-tech and hyper-connected lives to find answers to today’s business problems. They’re ‘always on’, and they see sharing as the norm and not an invasion of privacy. They expect things to ‘work’ the first time, and if they don’t, they’ve already moved on to the next thing. It’s easy to see why innovators such as Airbnb, Tesla, and Netflix — built without the legacy of old systems and processes — appear very attractive to the brightest graduates because there’s a perception that they offer something totally different.
Arguably, the key to satisfying the expectations of this rising generation of workers will be flexibility and adaptability, and particularly within their working environment. They are unlikely to want to be tied into a 9 to 5 job, five days a week. In fact, according to the Work Foundation, 69% of Millennials (who are now moving into management positions) believe office attendance is unnecessary on a regular basis and 89% prefer to choose when and where they work over a traditional 9 to 5 position. In addition, a third would choose social media freedom and device flexibility over a higher salary. So, along with Millennials, Generation Z will pressure companies to transform their offices and embrace a more flexible way of working.
Currently over eight million employees in the UK work within an open plan office, which were set up to generate a sense of discussion, collaboration and teamwork. But over the past couple of years, there has been a growing bank of research to suggest the concept isn’t living up to its original expectations. In particular, the lack of private space in office interiors is said to be constraining the creativity and productivity of its workers.
BT futurologist, Dr. Nicole Millard, in a recent talk at New Scientist Live in London, said “the trouble with open plan offices is they are a one-size-fits-all model, which actually fits nobody.” She went on to say “that employees in the future will become ‘shoulder-bag workers’ carrying their offices in backpacks and collaborating in small teams in coffee shops, or ‘coffices’,” as she phrased it. “Our technology has shrunk, so we can literally get our office in a small bag. We are untethered; we don’t have to have a desk anymore.” However, she added that “we need to give people options of how they can work, such as home working”.
According to research carried out by the TUC, one in 16 people worked from home in the UK in 2016, an increase of 8% from 2015. Additionally we are seeing the rise of full-time permanent employees working side-by-side with freelancers, and the share of individuals within top professional fields who are undertaking top-up freelance work has more than doubled in the past five years. So companies increasingly need to be thinking about the spaces they provide, if any, for this ‘on-demand’ workforce, as well as their office-based and nomadic employees.
Gensler’s 2016 UK Workplace Survey found that employees were more likely to be innovative if they had access to a range of spaces supporting different working styles, including private, semi-private and open-plan environments. When we designed the new Citrix office in Paddington, we started with a blank sheet of paper, and it has been designed for today’s workers, including permanent staff, alliance partners, and visiting clients, and assumes a constantly shifting mix of people, needs, and working styles. Primarily we wanted to produce a ‘work hard anywhere’ environment, designing areas, such as work from home, work outdoors, work in the café, work on the train, etc; that individuals would find familiar and comfortable, offering a blend of private and shared spaces.
Swiss banking giant UBS also wanted to transform the way its employees viewed their workspace, and was keen to liberate them from their desks. To achieve this, it deployed ‘thin desks’ throughout its newly designed London office. Phone handsets were replaced with personal headsets so that an individual’s phone number could follow them to any desk in the building; and laptops were removed and replaced with virtual desktops which employees could log onto at any computer terminal in the building or at home. As a result of the initiative, UBS has been able to use its office space more efficiently, so that only one desk is needed for every 1.2 employees, and individual offices have been reduced by about 40%. By the end of 2017, the company expects to have about 72,000 thin desks globally.
There’s little doubt that the place we call work is heading closer towards a scenario that is mobile and possible from ‘anywhere’ and as leaders, it’s critical we embrace these culture changes and continue to build businesses that will attract the best people and grant them the freedom and opportunity they crave. Technology today has the ability to connect together the brightest minds in the world, and when the workplace is set up correctly, the opportunities for collaboration and innovation are limitless.