Future of the Workplace - The Data Driven Workplace

Future of the Workplace: The Data Driven Workplace

As we move into 2021 and look ahead to try and predict what the next trends will be within workplace strategy and what the future of the workplace will be, particularly in light of the Covid19 pandemic, it seems clear that technology has a huge role to play.  However, underlying any advances – technological or otherwise – remains the need for decisions to be based on evidence and the rise of the Data Driven Workplace.

Time to Read: 6 minutes

Last week I had the opportunity to discuss “The Data Driven Workplace” with Michael Grant, COO of Metrikus as part of a series of discussions around PropTech and the Future of the Workplace hosted by Unissu.

Reflecting on the conversation, I realised just how much we covered in only 30minutes.  I thought that I would share with you my opinion on some of the areas covered, and hope that they will provide food for thought for you and your organisation.

Topics covered; 

Recent Trends in Workplace Strategy

We were already seeing a steady move towards both agile working and flexible working for a number of years pre-Covid, but this was more of a trickle than a flood.  A number of the organisations we were working with – both in the public and private sectors – realised that this was the future.  However, the focus was very much on their offices rather than extensive adoption of home working, and changes were primarily driven by estate rationalisation – a desire to save on real estate costs.  A move to agile working was an enabler for that, rather than seen as a benefit.

More recently, there has been an increased focus on wellbeing and the benefits of agile working to people and their work life balance.  Covid has brought this all sharply into focus, and has elevated the workplace and staff wellbeing high up the corporate agenda.

Since the enforced home working of the Covid pandemic, people are accepting that flexible working is the future, but the exact nature of this remains uncertain and the need for good data has never been more pressing.  Our own PeopleLOOK staff survey, developed in conjunction with the IWBI (International Well Building Institute), has enabled us to get an insight on staff preferences (as well as activity and satisfaction levels) and to validate the desire for these changes in workplace strategy.  Having used PeopleLOOK throughout the pandemic for clients in many sectors, we are seeing some clear trends in staff attitudes that are relatively consistent across the UK;

  • There is a very strong desire to continue homeworking in some form
  • As the pandemic has gone on, there has been a general shift in attitude away from full time working from home to a more hybrid arrangement. This shows a recognition that the office has a place within an organisation, and remains the best place for collaboration and socialising
  • Generally, staff want to remain working from home for 2 to 3 days a week
  • There are a significant minority of staff for whom home working has been difficult

All of these point to a huge opportunity for leaders that understand their organisations to reinvent how they work, to take a huge leap forward, and to make a radical change in their relationship with the office.

How the role of the office has changed for business leaders

Work is something you do

The office has become an enabler for the people it supports, and somewhere to promote desired behaviours within an organisation.  However, it needs to work so much harder in a much more agile and flexible world; to attract people back into the office, and to prevent people from self-isolating in a world where home working is fast becoming the norm.

Business leaders need to ensure that there is the place within offices to collaborate, to socialise and to encourage staff to utilise the office in the most effective, and (in the short term) safe, way for their roles.The office has become an enabler for the people it supports, and somewhere to promote desired behaviours within an organisation.  However, it needs to work so much harder in a much more agile and flexible world; to attract people back into the office, and to prevent people from self-isolating in a world where home working is fast becoming the norm.

Business leaders need to ensure that there is the place within offices to collaborate, to socialise and to encourage staff to utilise the office in the most effective, and (in the short term) safe, way for their roles.

Future of the Workplace: What "Workplace of the Future" means to me

For me, the future is about a world where work is something that you do, at the place and time best suited to the activity you are doing.  We need to look at the activities that we all perform and decide what the right locations and environments are to perform them.  To do this, offices will need to be reimagined and re-engineered to provide a much better balance of the types of space provided.  This will mean a shift to much more interactive and collaborative styles of space, not just in the real world, but also in the virtual world too.

Frank Lloyd Wright was an early proponent of change back in the 1930s, and this was further advanced as a result of the Burolandschaft movement of the 1950s.  Through these times we started to see a move towards spaces that were designed much more with people in mind.  However, it wasn’t until the technological advances of the 1990s and the early 2000s that truly agile working and location independent working was practical for an organisation to fully embrace.

The office, in my opinion, isn’t dead despite what many people are saying – our PeopleLOOK surveys have shown us that.  As lockdown has gone on, people have realised the value in the office as an opportunity to meet, collaborate and socialise with colleagues.  But there are also those who either simply can’t or don’t want to work from home, whatever the reason may be.  Whether this is due to individual personality or down to personal circumstances, home working will never suit everyone and we must ensure that we make allowances for that.

In the future we must provide choice; a range of ways to work and corresponding space – both physical and virtual – in which to work as effectively as possible. 

the future of work
"I'm just typing it now"

Future of the Workplace: How Covid 19 has changed / accelerated a move towards the future

Although I’ve been an advocate for agile and activity based working over the last 20 years, there has been a very slow uptake from organisations in general.  Whilst there are those who have been early adopters and seen the opportunity that this can create –think of the workplaces Google have created – these were few and far between.  This has been as a result of a lack of focus on the workspace, a belief it wouldn’t / couldn’t work for them, and a general reluctance at Middle Management level to support or enable it.

Covid has stripped away all of the objections and blockers that people had previously created.  We now have the evidence that people can, for the most part, be productive when working from home; something proved during the enforced home working of the first lockdown.  Managers have adapted and are learning to manage remotely – focussing on output, and not on presenteeism. Staff have seen the benefits of some level of home working and are reluctant to return to the Mon-Fri 9-5 pre-Covid status quo, and finally IT departments have proved just how quickly technology can be rolled out when required to facilitate these advances and changes.

Key technologies in the future workplace, and potential blockers to their adoption

Technology is a vital enabler of the future workspace, and of future working generally.  Aside from technology that enables us to work in the virtual space, I think that the technology we will be using from a PropTech / physical world perspective will fall into 2 main areas.

Technology that will help us to use space more efficiently and effectively.

The use of capacity and occupancy sensors will provide benefits in real time.  It will enable staff to find the space they need, whilst allowing organisations to monitor capacity (both for Covid and statutory compliance).  It will also make provision for building services to become more efficient and cost effective – ensuring that they are delivered when and where they are needed most. 

However, these sensors will also provide crucial trend data.  They will facilitate a much more detailed understanding of how an organisation uses it’s space over time and provide the information needed to make real and effective change.  They will drive new property strategies that can make space more efficient and proeprty work much harder for the organisation. 

Desk and space booking technologies will give staff confidence to come into the office knowing that they are safe, that guidelines are being adhered to, but that they are also able to spend the time near to the right people in order to get the most out of their time. 

Additionally, there will be those technologies that help us to find and interact with our colleagues more effectively, to make space multi-purpose or multi-functional, and smart FM technology that can improve efficiencies across a building.

Technology to promote wellbeing and keep us safe and heathy

Moving forward, our people will become the heart of our organisations, more so than ever before. Environmental monitoring sensors will regulate the general air quality of our offices, as well as measuring any number of different factors that can impact not just on our health, but also our productivity.

Online or app based Wellbeing assessments, health checks and surveys to understand how our staff are feeling.  All of these will be key elements of the technological advances we expect to see over the coming months / years.

And finally, those staff communication tools and building user applications that promote a sense of team, but that also go beyond work and promote healthy activities and socialisation within the organisation.

Blockers to the adoption of new technologies

Whilst there are potential blockers to any adoption of technology – not least cost, risk and those early adopters previously bitten by vapourware and products that just didn’t do what they said on the tin – things are changing.  As technology has advanced, adoption has become easier and costs have lowered, organisations are starting to realise the potential benefits, and the previous lack of case studies and ability to demonstrate ROI has been removed with the real life examples driven by Covid-19 over the last 10 months.

Additionally, advances in the technology itself will make adoption easier for organisations.  New battery driven overhead sensors not only have reduced installation costs, they can cover much larger areas and are seen as much less invasive of privacy, and can have a battery life of up to 3 years.  More reliable data is being produced, and the quality of dashboards with which to display the data is also improving, allowing a much easier interpretation of the results of all this technology and giving real estate executives the “so what.”

It might also be that Covid will further remove blockers to the adoption of technology.  Whilst technology was deemed by some as a ‘nice to have’ in the past, it is fast becoming an imperative requirement in the office of the future. I believe data is a necessity in order to validate decision making in what is, and is likely to remain, a very uncertain world.

The ease of collecting necessary data and then enacting changes from it

The reality is that collecting data and creating the strategies that will drive change towards the future of the workplace is not a complicated process.  The key is understanding what data to collect, and having the ability to interpret it correctly.

Data may indicate that spaces are under utilised, perhaps due to a lack of understanding by staff of their purpose.  Very simple changes, such as space allocations or amendments to furniture settings can be undertaken at minimal cost and provide a workplace that is much more useful and relevant to what people need.

Whilst more wholesale real estate changes are harder to make in the short term, and can depend on external factors such as lease types and break clauses, there is always an opportunity to react, and if nothing else to mothball space and make initial savings until something more is achievable.

 

You can view Colin and Michael’s conversation in full by clicking on this link

Should you wish to discuss how to use this information to move your organisation into the future, then don’t hesitate to get in touch.  Please contact either Colin Stuart or Nina Rose on 020 3743 8400 or office@bakerstuart.com.

About the Author: Colin Stuart is the founding Director of Baker Stuart, and has more than 25 years experience in workplace analytics and consultancy.  With a passion for creating spaces that work for people but based on evidence not conjecture, Colin is hoping we can see some positives come out of the pandemic and a shift in attitudes towards the need for more flexible workplaces.

Baker Stuart

About Baker Stuart: We are an independent specialist consultancy providing a comprehensive range of innovative workplace strategy, workplace management and change, move management, project management and programme management services. Thinking about optimising your organisation? Get in touch with us here.

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