14 Ways the Workplace is Evolving

April 21, 2014

GlobeSt.com

Mobility versus routine. Distraction versus focus. Command-and-control management versus employee choice. As corporate cultural battles play out, workplaces have become the battleground, with outcomes increasingly dependent on worker engagement, health, well-being and a sense of belonging or purpose. The following are 14 workplace trends reshaping corporate cultures in 2014 and beyond:

1). Visualization and the future of work – Visualizations powered by 3D-simulated reality engines are becoming a way to enhance high-speed decision-making and help set the context in which sound decisions are made. This technology is coming to an increasing number of sites, and penetrating more deeply into corporate organizations.

2). Consumerization of space – Beyond virtual and physical work settings, a third workplace dimension is emerging that will take strong root this year: the consumerization of space, or the idea that workers want to work when and where they are most productive. When workplace options are available, commute time can be reduced, client face time maximized and collaborating groups can form and reform as needed. 

3). Return to privacy – Research conducted last year by workplace trend-spotter Richard Kadzis on the dwindling amount of office space per person shows 49 percent of nearly 200 companies surveyed either admit they have overbuilt open, collaborative spaces or they aren’t sure about their workplace balance. One possible reason for this doubt:  more than four in 10 employees use makeshift solutions to block out non-work related distractions, according to a 2013 workplace study by the architectural firm Gensler. 

4). Compression of space per person – The uptick of open, collaborative workplace designs, coupled with worker mobility, is also impacting the amount of space companies allocate for each employee. The increase in density helps companies save costs with their ‘smaller and smarter’ portfolios, but it also underscores the conflict between cost-cutting efficiency and a need to provide different work environments for different situations.

5). Choice-driven performance and innovation – Companies that provide knowledge workers with a balanced, well-designed choice of focused versus collaborative settings in an activity-based environment will be more productive, competitive and profitable.

6). The end of command-and-control – The Industrial Age command-and-control model is anachronistic in today’s global knowledge economy, and workplace design increasingly reflects this change with less differentiation between executive and rank-and-file workspaces. Empowering the voice of the employee through community leadership models, and instilling a sense of meaning, purpose and connectedness to the company’s mission, could spell the difference between survival and extinction for some companies. Critical thinking, contextualization, rapid decision making, the scaling up of innovation and other information-age productivity drivers all contribute to the new paradigm.

7). Innovation over isolation – Despite the cost savings associated with mobile, remote or distributed work models, people need human interaction to connect with the culture of the enterprise.  Many companies are finding that high-level engagement, as opposed to functional and routine work, requires face-to-face contact. For innovative, creative or adaptive work, collaboration can significantly raise the value of the outcomes. Companies must strive to strike a balance in their workplace strategies, offering collaborative spaces for brainstorming – but also more private spaces for the focused work required to advance ideas. 

8). Our jobs are killing us – In a recent TED Talk, Futurist Simon Sinek warned how today’s 24×7 business world means that “our jobs are killing us.” Knowledge workers sit an average of 9.6 hours a day, and sitting for more than six hours a day makes an employee 40 percent more likely to die in the next 15 years than someone who sits less than three hours a day, according to the TED talk. Companies are beginning to support more movement in the workplace, including environmental encouragements such as offering convenient staircases and treadmill desks.

9). Shift from physical to intellectual space – Physical space without the ‘thinking’ space in which employees can decide, act and excel won’t result in optimized engagement, and leadership is what makes the difference in achieving both, according to Dr. Barbara Jackson, Director of the University of Denver’s Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate & Construction Management. Leadership does not happen by reshaping physical space—it happens when cultural change allows ideas to flourish, enabling managers to act and all employees to excel.

10). Measuring workplace ROI in real terms – In most cases, the return on investment (ROI) of open, collaborative workplaces is measured in two-dimensional terms such as cost per square foot or revenue per person. Moving forward, we’ll see a new set of forward-facing, empirical metrics on workplace engagement, wellness, satisfaction, productivity and even workers’ passion for what they do. Technologies will begin to calculate ROI considering a cross-section of many business factors.

11). From big data to dark data – Dark data from inside a company’s firewall can have a huge influence on the direction of a company and its workplace strategy, thanks to its specific reflection of the company’s employees and operations. Additionally, dark data can be used to shape a company’s external strategies for the locations it chooses, the talent it recruits and the capital it needs to operate.

12). Über-sustainability – The linkage between the quality of working environments, the quality of work experiences, clean energy conservation and corporate social responsibility is growing stronger. Sustainability is now an embedded business and accounting practice, as seen through the triple bottom line method of reporting. And, the companies that design for more efficient and intelligent building infrastructures aren’t just reducing their energy spend, they are creating a higher degree of workplace comfort and wellness for employees.

13). Return to the city – Urban centers will continue to attract companies interested in younger workers with progressive work settings and the appeal of an urban lifestyle characterized by things like the reuse of existing buildings, transit-oriented development, walkability, biking, night life, airports, universities, museums, healthcare and more. As young talent and Baby Boomers alike migrate into the city, companies are adjusting their location strategies, often with retrofitted, smaller-scale work centers.

14). Intrapreneurial Learning – How once-small companies scale innovation across their now-globally networked enterprises is fast becoming a key ingredient for competitive advantage. Knowledge transfer, employee mentoring, talent rotation and on-the-job learning are crucial to the next generation of professionals. Social technology is an important piece of continuous learning – dubbed intrapreneurial learning. The workplace is perhaps the most basic form of social technology.

The workplace is shifting from an ownership model to a membership model, with employers today creating inclusive cultures that drive cross-functional collaboration. These 14 trends are not only affecting workplace culture, they are also impacting the ability to attract and retain top talent, drive innovation, enable worker productivity and reduce corporate real estate costs.