Workplace transformation: it’s time to look beyond technology

By Karyn Jeffery, - Future WorkplaceFuture Workplace 2025Future Workplace 2025 - ArticlesMobilityProductivity

We all know the workplace is changing. And more so than any of us could have imagined just a few short years ago.

Unified communications, mobile desktops and cloud file shares have reduced the need for a physical office space. And with AI and VR now on the horizon, it seems our days around the office water-cooler are numbered.

But as our recent Workplace 2025 White Paper explores, there is more to this transformation than technology.

New attitudes towards work will accompany new ways of working. There will be more emphasis on individual satisfaction and work-life balance, which in turn will boost productivity and encourage people to stay with the organization.

The social side of the workplace transformation is less obvious than the technological, but it is just as important to anticipate. If you fail to adapt now you will risk being out of touch before you know it.

I’m going to take you through three major aspects of the workplace transformation and show you how each has an underlying social dimension you need to consider.

Flexible working

By 2025 more than a third of organizations will have 50% of their staff working remotely.

This will be possible thanks to virtual collaboration tools. There will be spaces where people can come together, whether they use a head-mounted display, an avatar or even holographic representation. With this kind of technology, employees who are separated by thousands of miles will feel like they are really next to their colleagues.

You will have to provide these kinds of tools to your employees or risk isolating them.

But you need more than just communications platforms.

The platforms also need to be social spaces that allow employees to get to know one another and grow a company culture remotely.

There would have to be a remote equivalent of the break room, where staff can interact and chat.

Most organizations don’t currently have this function. Communication systems today tend to be largely top-down: it is all about the leadership conveying strategy and aims to their employees.

By 2025, however, we are going to see much more of a flat structure, and for many organizations this social change is going largely overlooked.

Another facet of flexible working will involve time.

Employees will no longer experience the nine-to-five. The stirrings of this are already evident in the attitude of most millennials, who prize work-life balance above career progression, according to this survey conducted by Deloitte.

People will also start to see themselves less as employees of a specific company, and more in terms of someone who provides a particular skill.

In fact, more than 50% of the workforce will be freelance by 2025.

This will, of course, place huge demands on IT. A freelancer has no time to learn a new system each time they work for a new company, so you will need to provide seamless access to corporate data and systems to casual and remote workers.

So the future of IT looks to be driven by the needs of employees, and how and where they want to access data. This employee-centric approach is at the heart of the all workplace changes you can expect to see by 2025.

Wellness and health

I’ve already mentioned how important work-life balance will be to workers of the future.

But even the concept of work-life balance will change. It’s becoming less about simply working when they choose and more about maintaining a sense of self.

A big part of maintaining a sense of self is about not being constantly plugged in.

This is why the workplace of the future might have desks that monitor how long you have been working for, and prompt you to take a break when you need it.

Wearable technology will keep track of employees’ heart rate and recommend they stop and meditate to relax, or alert their manager that they’re overworked.

The end goal won’t just be the output; instead, there will be a far greater emphasis on the health and wellbeing of the employee – partly because promoting welfare retains people within the workforce.

In a world of where freelancing is the norm, if worker does not enjoy the experience of working for your organization, they will simply leave. So it will be in your interest to ensure your talent is well looked after – which will be especially relevant as we live longer and continue to work later into our lives.

The added benefit to all of this is that making employees happier will increase productivity anyway.

Research from Harvard’s Department of Environmental Health has found that workers in green-certified spaces get a 26% increase in cognition and absences are down by 30%. So biophilic workspaces – i.e. offices with trees and bird song – will probably be commonplace by 2025.

Technology will also help people work in the way that empowers them to be most effective. If they prefer to work in short, intense bursts, they can use their wearable tech to monitor when they are concentrating, and filter out all non-essential messages when are ‘in the zone’.

Again, it’s clear the workplace of the future will be set-up with the individual and their preferences for work environments, work styles and wellbeing in mind. This is much more than just a technological transformation.

The employee experience

Ultimately, all of these changes will tie into an overarching focus on the employee experience.

Your IT systems will be built around your employees so that they have a seamless, integrated experience that presents things in a way they understand.

Right now, for example, if you wanted to book a flight through your employer, you would have to remember how to get into your company flight booking systems and remember how the system works in the first place.

You would then have to make sure it has your details correctly because it likely won’t be integrated with all other systems.

In short, you would have to accommodate the system. The system would not be built around you.

This will change in the future, for social as much as technological reasons.

Change within companies will be driven by the need to design organizational policies around working with new technology. For example, you will need to ensure that managers do not forget about remote employees, and that they reward them when they are performing well.

Changing the organization in this way will require a much more holistic view of technology. IT needs to become more integrated into HR policies. This is something that most organizations have yet to recognize- sure, most HR departments already use technology for simple tasks like performance appraisals, but the two are linked much more deeply.

Equally IT as a function will develop a new role. IT decision-makers will take up an important position in terms of redesigning your organization for the digital age. IT should be an organizational facilitator, to help you envisage the new shape of your business and enable you to get there.

Look to the people as much as the tech

So the good news is that robots won’t replace us, and we won’t be turned into them either.

In fact, the technological workplace of the future will make it easier to enjoy work by placing the individual and their needs first, whether that’s the need for a break, a nap, or a day working from home.

New technology will be accompanied by new attitudes, which means organizations will be evaluated on how they treat their employees.

Company reputations will stand or fall based on how IT can be used to create a positive employee experience, and the companies that don’t start focusing on this now will be left behind.

Download our Workplace 2025 White Paper for much more insight into how the workplace is transforming

Sign up to our regular newsletter and get all the latest articles straight to your inbox

Our newsletter contains some of the latest content and includes a recap of the top posts you might have missed as well as a peek at what's coming up before it's published.