The workplace is evolving – here’s why

By Karyn Jeffery, - Employee experienceInsightProductivity

It’s difficult to overstate how much the working world has changed in the 21st century. Technology like artificial intelligence, augmented reality or bots would seem almost alien to an early-noughties employee, but more and more these elements are embedded into our everyday working life.

These technologies are not simply for show, either – they’re born of an underlying need to adapt.

An aging workforce being replaced by a new generation, mounting pressure for workers to be ‘on call’ 24/7, the dispersion of teams across the globe and increasingly competitive markets in a time of austerity – these are all powerful motives for change.

This first instalment of our #DigitalWorkplace series will focus on how organisations are adopting new ways of working, and we’ll be exploring the biggest drivers behind these developments.

Employees expect flexible working

To attract and retain the best talent in their industry, businesses have increasingly had to adapt to employees’ changing expectations. This is particularly true when it comes to flexible working.

This flexibility not only refers to working hours but also location. There is a ‘work anywhere’ culture across the world now – a need to be mobile, driven by the demanding nature of modern work combined with the growing complexity of people’s personal lives.

Employees now expect a degree of flexibility to be offered. They have a huge amount of flexibility in their personal lives, and they want that to be reflected in their work environment.

Still not convinced? What if I told you half of all businesses will have a mobile working policy by 2017, according to a recent Citrix study? And that this figure will increase to 70% by 2020?

Clearly flexibility is no longer something businesses can view as optional. In the long run it is going to become the norm, even more so than now, and companies not catering for that are going to lose out.

And remember that flexible working isn’t all about pleasing workers – it can significantly benefit employers, too. Enabling remote working gives you access to the most diverse talent pool in history. You can hire the best people in the world rather than the best ones who happen to live locally.

Collaboration is at the heart of these changes

Organisations are increasingly focussing on emerging technologies that allow greater collaboration and sharing of information between employees in separate locations.

Virtual reality (VR) has and will continue to play a significant part in collaboration improvement, enabling users to interact with colleagues as if they were in the same room.

Not only does this vastly reduce the need for travel, it also links back to the idea of flexible working, enabling people to work together effectively even when they’re dispersed across multiple locations.

And this idea of improved collaboration goes beyond internal interactions. The same technology can enable companies to work more closely with their customers without the need to meet them face-to-face.

Take financial services, for example: Nationwide’s ‘Nationwide Now’ service enables its experts to deliver mortgage advice on demand using HD video link technology.

As augmented reality and holographic technologies evolve, businesses will have increasing opportunities to become a more integrated part of their customers’ lives.

Organisational structure and business models: it’s time for something new

Adopting new ways of working isn’t only about technology – it often requires changes in organisational structure and the development of brand new business models.

A number of large corporates are already illustrating this point, such as BNY Mellon, whose CIO Suresh Kumar moved most of his IT staff out of traditional offices and into ‘innovation centres’ where employees work at tables instead of cubicles. The aim was to make it feel less like a bank and “more like a start-up.”

Kumar isn’t the only high-profile executive touting this approach. Coca-Cola’s VP of Innovation David Butler believes acting like a startup is “the new way of working that eventually every large company will embrace.”

Companies are also adapting to a more ‘flat’ structure, as opposed to the old ways that were often dominated by hierarchy. Vestas CIO Torben Hoeg Bonde says he prefers to sit in an open office with the rest of the company’s employees.

“It shows that I’m part of the team and they can come talk to me,” he says.

Even training models have taken on a whole new shape as the working world has evolved, as demonstrated by Disney.

“Learning at Disney [used to happen] in the classroom,” says the brand’s SVP Steve Milovich. But the new training model includes TED-like talks given by Disney executives. This approach, Milovich says, “allows employees to seek knowledge when and how they need it.”

As you can see, some of the most successful brands on the planet have already begun to transform the way they work. This is not something that might happen in future – it is happening right now.

Which would you rather be: one of the companies pioneering new tools and techniques and reaping the benefits early, or one of the ones playing catch-up?

What new ways of working has your business adopted, and why? Are you ready to cater for the next generation of employees?

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