What will the working environment of the future look like?


Will we even have to go into work in the future? These three trends might spell the end to the office as we know it.

Is the traditional workspace set to disappear in the not-too-distant future? With the changing nature of work and the growth of new office space designs, the “conventional” workplace may soon be no more. The following trends are already on the rise.

Remote working and millennial values

In the US, new research by the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s MBA program found that 45 per cent of US employees currently work from home. And in Australia, remote working and flexible working arrangement have grown steadily over the last 15 years.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 30 per cent of Australian employees worked from home in 2016, a 10 per cent increase since 2001. A significant growth in men opting for flexible working programs has also been observed. The ABS says the amount to dads choosing to take up flexible working hours increased to 30 per cent in 2017, which is almost double what it was in 1996.

The growth of the millennial workforce could see flexible working became even more popular. Millennials are said to care more about work-life balance than previous generations, with 34 per cent saying it the top priority in a job over career advancement (32 per cent) in recent research by Comparably. Trust, wellbeing, ethics and loyalty are also more important than financial success, says 2016 Deloitte research.

Coupled with an “always on” mentality which is perfectly geared towards flexible working, this is a further indication that the traditional office environment is going down.

Bots and virtual assistants

New technology might further contribute to the growth of remote working. Telepresence robots, like the newly released BeamPro2 have been described as “Skype on wheels”. Telepresence robots allow you to see and hear things through a bot without physically needing to be there. They use cameras, screens, speakers and microphones so that people in different locations using the bot can see and hear things in it’s range.

They are currently used in work environments such as hospitals when workers might have difficulty reaching another, or for children suffering a disability or inclifiction that prevents them attending school. But given the market worth is predicted to be $8 billion by 2023, we could be seeing more of them in a few years.  

Our favourite virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa might also be making their way into the workplace soon. Amazon recently launched Alexa for business, which automates administrative tasks such as booking meeting rooms, coordinating video conferences and ordering office supplies. But there is a downside. With most of the processing being done in the cloud, the commands are taking place outside of the organisation. This makes them a bit of security risk, meaning some organisations might be reluctant to use them.

New office designs

Could the dreaded cubicle and the open plan office soon be things of the past? Here’s hoping. While the idea of open office spaces was meant to facilitate collaboration (and save cash), open plan offices can actually reduce productivity and lead to colleagues being less social, according to a 2016 report by the Auckland University of Technology.

“Shared work environments, and in particular hot-desking, are associated with increases in distraction, negative relationships, uncooperative behaviours and distrust,” says the report.

“As work environments became more shared, not only were there increases in demands, but coworker friendships were not improved.”

So what’s the alternative? Perhaps it will be the “palette of places” design.

Think about it as a workplace that offers “all of the above” – including standing table open spaces for quick meetings, couch rooms for more relaxed catch ups and isolated offices for deeper work. The idea is to cater to the different tasks office workers need to do throughout the day which a mere stationary desk arrangement simply can’t do.

It sounds nice, but also expensive, and perhaps prohibitively so for many businesses. The most famous examples of the concept are all offered by very large companies, for example Microsoft uses it at their Washington campus. Together with isolation rooms, Microsoft has created other perks such as team areas for 10-12 engineers per space, and lounges to congregate and mull over ideas.

Putting cost aside for the moment, giving employees a choice could be very good for business. Research by British organisational psychologist Craig Knight indicates that when employees are granted the power to choose their working conditions, productivity can increase by 25 per cent.

“Office geography matters, and it can be a key managerial lever to increase communication and the cross-fertilisation of ideas,” says Christopher Liu, from Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

Photo credit: Tom Woodard

Have an HR question? Access AHRI:ASSIST resources for HR guidelines, checklists and policy templates on different HR topics including workplace health and safety. Exclusive to AHRI members.

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What will the working environment of the future look like?


Will we even have to go into work in the future? These three trends might spell the end to the office as we know it.

Is the traditional workspace set to disappear in the not-too-distant future? With the changing nature of work and the growth of new office space designs, the “conventional” workplace may soon be no more. The following trends are already on the rise.

Remote working and millennial values

In the US, new research by the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s MBA program found that 45 per cent of US employees currently work from home. And in Australia, remote working and flexible working arrangement have grown steadily over the last 15 years.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 30 per cent of Australian employees worked from home in 2016, a 10 per cent increase since 2001. A significant growth in men opting for flexible working programs has also been observed. The ABS says the amount to dads choosing to take up flexible working hours increased to 30 per cent in 2017, which is almost double what it was in 1996.

The growth of the millennial workforce could see flexible working became even more popular. Millennials are said to care more about work-life balance than previous generations, with 34 per cent saying it the top priority in a job over career advancement (32 per cent) in recent research by Comparably. Trust, wellbeing, ethics and loyalty are also more important than financial success, says 2016 Deloitte research.

Coupled with an “always on” mentality which is perfectly geared towards flexible working, this is a further indication that the traditional office environment is going down.

Bots and virtual assistants

New technology might further contribute to the growth of remote working. Telepresence robots, like the newly released BeamPro2 have been described as “Skype on wheels”. Telepresence robots allow you to see and hear things through a bot without physically needing to be there. They use cameras, screens, speakers and microphones so that people in different locations using the bot can see and hear things in it’s range.

They are currently used in work environments such as hospitals when workers might have difficulty reaching another, or for children suffering a disability or inclifiction that prevents them attending school. But given the market worth is predicted to be $8 billion by 2023, we could be seeing more of them in a few years.  

Our favourite virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa might also be making their way into the workplace soon. Amazon recently launched Alexa for business, which automates administrative tasks such as booking meeting rooms, coordinating video conferences and ordering office supplies. But there is a downside. With most of the processing being done in the cloud, the commands are taking place outside of the organisation. This makes them a bit of security risk, meaning some organisations might be reluctant to use them.

New office designs

Could the dreaded cubicle and the open plan office soon be things of the past? Here’s hoping. While the idea of open office spaces was meant to facilitate collaboration (and save cash), open plan offices can actually reduce productivity and lead to colleagues being less social, according to a 2016 report by the Auckland University of Technology.

“Shared work environments, and in particular hot-desking, are associated with increases in distraction, negative relationships, uncooperative behaviours and distrust,” says the report.

“As work environments became more shared, not only were there increases in demands, but coworker friendships were not improved.”

So what’s the alternative? Perhaps it will be the “palette of places” design.

Think about it as a workplace that offers “all of the above” – including standing table open spaces for quick meetings, couch rooms for more relaxed catch ups and isolated offices for deeper work. The idea is to cater to the different tasks office workers need to do throughout the day which a mere stationary desk arrangement simply can’t do.

It sounds nice, but also expensive, and perhaps prohibitively so for many businesses. The most famous examples of the concept are all offered by very large companies, for example Microsoft uses it at their Washington campus. Together with isolation rooms, Microsoft has created other perks such as team areas for 10-12 engineers per space, and lounges to congregate and mull over ideas.

Putting cost aside for the moment, giving employees a choice could be very good for business. Research by British organisational psychologist Craig Knight indicates that when employees are granted the power to choose their working conditions, productivity can increase by 25 per cent.

“Office geography matters, and it can be a key managerial lever to increase communication and the cross-fertilisation of ideas,” says Christopher Liu, from Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

Photo credit: Tom Woodard

Have an HR question? Access AHRI:ASSIST resources for HR guidelines, checklists and policy templates on different HR topics including workplace health and safety. Exclusive to AHRI members.

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