Not everyone wants a space hopper

Tomorrow’s most productive workplaces will be nimble. They’ll need to cater to whatever changes an increasingly volatile world throws their way. To achieve this, businesses will have to employ a broad, engineered mix of skills and approaches.

Getting it right will take a diverse workforce, working in a mix of environments, and with a blend of processes and systems to make the most of their many needs. Some might get their ideas bouncing on space hoppers, but others work best in a concentration booth.  Just as our society is increasingly consumer-driven: so our future workplace will be employee-driven.

Blended workforce

As part of the uberisation of the workforce, companies will need to expand their use of agile talent with a mix of part-time staff and specialised consultancy. A US study shows nearly two thirds of workers expect to choose agile work opportunities by 2019. That includes working from home, using part time options and flexible scheduling to mix up various jobs and responsibilities. We will see this fluid workforce side by side with permanent staff and all sorts of contracts in between.

Diversity of the workforce will also be key. People rightly talk about diversity as positive, but few are aware of its direct link to financial success. McKinsey’s 2017 study shows “companies with the most ethnically/culturally diverse boards worldwide are 43% more likely to experience higher profits.” Why? Harvard Business Review suggests breaking up workplace homogeneity allows employees to become more aware of their potential biases. And working with people who think differently, we’re challenged to come up with better answers. French multinational Sodexo offers a prime example: 50% women on their board, and leading their sector on profitability.

Meanwhile, love them or hate them, chatbots too will be joining the workforce. Thanks to platforms like Alexa, we’re more comfortable with text and voice based assistants. They’re feeling less ‘techy’ and are great at complex scheduling tasks. And they’re starting to take their place in the HR team. Intel’s virtual HR assistant answers questions on pay and benefits. US retailer Overstock‘s HR chatbot Mila handles logistics when call centre employees are sick, offering sympathy to the employee, then contacting managers to reassign commitments.

Mixed up workspaces

Not long ago, companies were viewing home and office as an either/or choice. But tomorrow’s smart companies will understand the need to create a mix of environments to suit, and stimulate, everyone’s needs. So they’ll support home working, explore shared working spaces, and re-invent the centralised office.

Flexible working will be key to retaining talent in tomorrow’s intrapreneurial age. The shift to home working will continue. Shared workspaces too will be important. Since the explosion in options like WeWork, we’ve seen major companies sending some of their employees into co-working and incubator spaces. This is the next step from emulating these spaces within their own corporations. It offers employees proximity to innovators and new talent, it gives small teams some breathing space in which to develop, and it saves money.

There will still be a place for the centralised office too. IBM rescinded their remote working programme last year. They were concerned they were losing opportunities for collaboration, despite having made savings of £2m. People are learning the importance of ‘presence’. A recent US study split call centre agents into two groups, one taking coffee breaks alone, the other with coworkers. The latter showed a 20% performance increase. Tomorrow’s organisations will enable flexibility and focus while making it easy to ‘bump into’ people. Network Rail and Sky take this approach: ‘market street’ style atriums surrounded by concentration pods and meeting cubby holes.

Integrated Processes

Wave goodbye to HR calendars and learning rotas: processes are becoming enmeshed with day to day work life. This is being driven by the demands of diverse working styles, and the enablement offered by cloud-based apps.

With a rapid turnover of technologies and methodologies, it’s hard to teach people every new skill. In fact, one recent study suggests the half-life of a learned skill is now just five years. Immersive learning – learning while doing – offers a smart approach. Using VR and AR, employees get hands on with new situations from the inside. The US Department of Defense, faced with rapid turnover of new weapons technology, found it the perfect solution: using an immersive mobile fix from Samsung to prepare its soldiers.

Annual performance reviews will also likely be absorbed into the day to day. They’re proving increasingly time-consuming, and anachronistic in an era of instantaneous alerts. Adobe’s swapped traditional appraisals for a new ‘little and often’ approach: a popular move with millenials, who appreciate constant feedback.  Technology now encourages the trend. Cloud-based apps can support real time feedback. Clydesdale Bank used these to become the first UK company to drop annual appraisals for continuous performance ‘conversations’.

Holistic Systems

Companies will also need to offer a range of systems to support their staff, or enable them to better support themselves, according to their preferences.

The new tech-empowered ‘smart employee’ will crave greater control of their workday, from tasks to training, They’ll increasingly view employers as enablers not providers, who provide support only as and when they need it. For instance, a recent poll showed 12% of UK employees are given a training budget: yet just 3% today actually want one. Netflix was one of the first to embed ‘encouraging independent decision making’ into company policy, letting staff decide holiday quota, time and task management.

To attract smart employees, companies will need to offer options like BYOD. Many organisations have been hesitant to support it previously due to data security risks, but new encryption technology makes that less problematic. Companies will increasingly be able to launch internal mobile apps, letting employees use their own phones for Social-style interactions. Lloyds Banking Group launched app Move in March 2018, enabling non-desk based staff across branches to stay updated. They already have 10,000 active users. People will be happy to use their phones for work if it’s not costing them data: the key to success will be good wifi and a more relaxed approach to devices.

Allowing employees freedom of choice, however, is different to leaving them to fend for themselves. Not everyone’s an intrapreneur: and those who enjoy being part of a team will crave support across all areas of their work life. This will increasingly include wellness support. Companies today are much more aware of the commercial importance of a healthy workforce. Efforts here are rightly growing. But physical fitness spaces are only a part: tomorrow’s companies will focus on mental and emotional wellbeing too. Cisco now offers its staff financial counselling and mindfulness workshops alongside its sports courts.

Another area where a holistic approach will be vital is analytics. There’s been huge growth in the use of “interaction analytics” (studying employee behaviour) to better understand opportunities for business improvement. In the HR space, organisations are seeing the real value brought by cross functional teams and have room to experiment with new combinations. These metrics come from an increasing number of sources, from employees’ movements around offices to their online interactions outside of work, and they’re being used to understand the entire enterprise. Integrating them into the strategic process will enable greater efficiency: but will require HR to take a greater role in the organisation.

Chevron Oil is a company who benefited from bringing people analytics into the heart of the business. It achieved significant time savings when it reinvented its HR analytics team as a company-wide ‘community of practice’. Because analytics involves a range of skills—from problem solving and data analysis to visualisation and statistics—they instigated a standardised way of working which gives team members a common understanding and capability. The results were significant, dramatically increasing reliability for all people-related decisions.

The way we’ll work

Workplace strategy in future will be all about making your team feels that their ‘whole selves’ are welcomed. Let the more autonomous ‘intrapreneurs’ enjoy the freedom of limitless holiday and training options, while offering greater support to those who prefer a more circumscribed environment.

By providing them with the right mix of autonomy and support, individuality and community, technology and tradition, your ‘whole workforce’ will be best positioned to respond to tomorrow’s challenges.