Seminar attendees

November 2016 seminar

Thursday 1 December, 2016

Connected people and workplace

With an estimated global population of circa 7.3 billion and over 8.6 billion devices, it’s been assessed that over 80% of the world’s people are connected with an average of 1.5 devices per person.  These are currently growing at over 5% year on year, enabling us to communicate across geographical and time boundaries as never before.  This has opened the opportunity for people to work, share and network in a way that even the pioneers of mobile technologies could not have dreamt of. 

We can now decide where we want to work and when we want to collaborate with our colleagues and contact our friends.  Is this why some organisations feel threatened by the liberation of their people from the restraints of a fixed workplace environment and struggle to manage and motivate a dispersed workforce?

With 85% of communication being non-verbal, can this divorce from being in the same physical place at the same time with work colleagues and friends ultimately be good for us and the organisations we work for?  In 2013 Marisa Mayer CEO of Yahoo famously sent out a memo via her Head of HR Jackie Reses, in which she revoked the extensive use of home and remote working that had become the norm across the business.

In this memo she stated the following “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway meetings and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, impromptu team meetings.  Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.  We need to be one Yahoo and that starts by being physically together”.

Heather McGregor writing in the Guardian in 2013 stated “Trust is essential to any business, and it's a lot easier to earn it face to face, in the office.  Nevertheless, lots of people want to work from home, and flexibility is important.  I still believe the future of work will be more about working from home – or on the move – and less about offices with expensive commercial rents and sky-high business rates.  But she went on to admit that in the recession of 2008/9 she got all her people working from home to return to the office so she could have more face to face time.

Currently 26% of the total global workforce works away from the office at least two days a week and studies are suggesting that this will continue to grow by 40-50% over the next five years...If this is going to be the new working reality where are people going to work?

Has the pushing of people to work away from workplace environments to save on corporate operating costs reached a point where it could be part of the reason that over a quarter of the workforce feel disengaged from their workplace and the organisations they work for, as evidenced in a recent study from Dale Carnegie Training? 

Gensler’s 2016 US & UK workplace reveals a direct link between workplace and Innovation.  A high performing workplace – one that prioritises both individual and group work – creating an ecosystem of innovation across organisations. 

So perhaps the office is not defunct as was suggested by industry professionals and is evolving into a virtual and / or physical environment, which enables people to perform work related activities, anywhere and anytime…delivering the promise set out in IBM The new workplace: are you ready? White Paper 2011.

“People used to go to work, now work goes to people—whatever work needs to be accomplished, anytime it needs to get done, on a multitude of devices”

Our Point of View

But in this fast evolving, dynamic and globally connected workplace what is really going on with people and their relationships with colleagues and friends and how do we measure what is being achieved in terms of improved business and personal outcomes.  Increasing smartphone use is part of the blending of the boundaries between working and private lives as some companies expect employees to be at the end of a text or email 24/7, throwing the traditional nine to five working day out the window.  At the same time individuals find it perfectly acceptable to check social media messages in the office.  So should mobile usage in the workplace be discouraged?  Does it boost or sap productivity, email and social networking the time vampire?

With an increasingly mobile and connected workforce the new workplace needs to have a lexicon of spatial, services and support options in order to forge strong relationships and build networks of talent… a menu for the workforce, enabling them to dip in and out and use what is on offer as and when required, delivering business and personal needs.  Providing on-demand models of office space, providing physical, virtual and social work settings.

A clue to this type of new work and lifestyle choice is currently being demonstrated by the unprecedented growth in the take up of co-working spaces across the globe, as the millennial generation, who will represent over 50% of the workforce by 2020, reject more traditional corporate organisations and concentrate on working in a much less formal environment.  Andrew Neumann, WeWork’s CEO (One of the fastest growing global providers of co-working spaces) likens the firm to a smartphone’s operating system.  “It brings buildings to life in the same way that Android or Apple makes a smart phone much more than the sum of its parts”

Managing the people

Critical in all this is an organisation’s ability to manage its people in different settings.  When Patrick Lencioni classified the 5 Dysfunctions of a team, one of the key characteristics of a poorly functioning team was an absence of trust.  Yet routinely, organisations undermine their own ability to deliver by giving scant attention to their middle managers’ ability to manage people they cannot necessarily see.  No amount of beautifully designed space or wonderful third space furniture is a substitute for this void. We need to help people re-visit their commitment to management by result and outcome: traditionally something way outside the remit of property teams.  That is where the core liaison with HR / L&D comes into play (and we will return to that theme in future papers).

In conclusion technology and devices are enabling people to work anywhere and at any time.  Its impact on work and life outside of work has become blurred and for many managers and business leaders the opportunity and benefits this type of new working brings for its people, clients and shape of its buildings has not been realised. 

The physical workplace is so much more than a cost to organisations, but a crucial part of the deal it does with its people, providing them with a great environment to enhance the digital one, as a legitimate tool for attracting and retaining talented people.

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