Opinion: Don't Fear The Office Of The Future

Jan 29, 2016

The office of the future is a concept about which most business leaders are aware, but many are unsure what this will actually look like. Now, business leaders can be assured that the office of the future is not an entirely alien landscape. Workplace technologies are designed to bring office spaces into alignment with the ways in which employees are using them – rather than forcing teams to change their working habits to suit the office.

Dynamic working spaces, designed to suit the activities of employees, are a key way in which UK firms, facing up to lagging productivity, can try to increase engagement. With the UK still falling behind all other G7 nations in terms of productivity, business leaders are searching for ways in which to unlock their employees’ creativity and boost collaboration. The productivity puzzle is clearly a complex one, but workplace experts suggest that in companies with dreary cultures, employee energy and innovation can suffer. Many companies have experienced the value of workplaces that encourage the ‘serendipity effect’, enabling employees to meet new people and share ideas freely.

Business leaders may consider this an impossible utopia, but our work in Auto Trader’s offices shows that even small workplace alterations can have a positive effect on workplace culture. Auto Trader’s workplaces are now more agile, with increased numbers of breakout spaces and technology that responds real time to no-shows in a meeting room to release the booking for that room. More personalised offices, with each meeting room named after an unusual car to tie in with the company’s fun, unique theme , creates a cool environment. This contributes to Auto Trader’s newly collaborative working culture and increasingly professional and tech-savvy working environment.

Unused space - clearly a waste

Technology is often seen as a threat to established modes of working, but more often than not it is able to transform an office to match employees’ ways of using it. When Ricoh turned their ‘dumb’ office into a ‘smart’ one by connecting it up with our occupancy sensor, Sense, they were able to understand in real-time how their meeting rooms and desks were being used. This measurement showed that meeting rooms were used only 39 per cent of the time. The largest meeting room that seated ten people was usually only occupied by three people or less, and quite often only one person was using the room for the entire day, illustrating to Ricoh that their workspace required more small private areas.

Meanwhile, desk data captured by Condeco Sense also indicated low average desk utilisation of below 30 per cent, with busiest periods peaking at only 51 per cent, while 58 per cent of desks used for under 20 per cent of the time. Using Internet of Things devices to provide real-time hard evidence about their office enabled Ricoh to transform their office into an employee-orientated space.

The rise of flexible and dynamic working is only set increase in 2016, as 82 per cent of managers believe that flexible working benefits their business. Yet this makes the need for a responsive office space all the more pressing, as workers coming in and out of the office means use is continually shifting. It is vital to have a system in place which clearly indicates where there is available desk space, rather than having to waste time searching around the office.

These systems are also important for those who work as part of an international firm. The global banking giant Barclays, which operates in over 50 countries and employs over 127,000 people to serve 27 million customers worldwide, introduced shared desks in order to ensure their global teams were able to work flexibly around the world. Yet introducing flexible working was not enough to enable them to meet their objective. They recognised that an integrated desk and room booking system, which was dynamic enough to show real-time changes in room usage, would allow them to make their offices truly capable of supporting an international team. Not only has this solution allowed Barclays to make 20 per cent efficiency savings, but it has made their offices able to withstand the growing pressures of globalisation and subsequently internationalised teams.

The future is already here - just not 'evenly distributed'

When faced with the prospect of the ‘office of the future’, business leaders do not need to be anxious. Important workplace changes are already well within reach. The future-proof office is one which aligns more closely with the ways in which employees want to use it, boosting collaboration, engagement and productivity.

This agile office is not an unrealistic dream, but a reality firms are already exploring. So business leaders need to ensure they take action to ensure that they are not left behind as this ‘future office’ materialises - in the present.

The author is founder and CEO of workplace solutions firm Condeco Software

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