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Workplace Trends Conference: The changing nature of work

When it comes to predicting the workplace of the future, the autumn Workplace Trends conference has built up a high level of credibility since it was launched 15 years ago. During that period, the conference, which is curated by Environmental Psychologist and renowned Workplace Strategist Dr Nigel Oseland, has covered a variety of trends which are now becoming mainstream. These include wellness, productivity, happiness, psychology in the workplace, biophilic design, agile working and cellular versus open plan.

This year’s event, which took place at the British Library, took the broad theme of the changing nature of work, to explore not just where we work but how we work – whether that is within the gig economy, remotely, within a co-working space, in an office or a mix of all those elements.

To help set the scene, the attitude of the C-suite towards meeting the demands of the digital workplace came under scrutiny from Paul Miller, CEO and founder of the Digital Workplace Group (DWG) and co-author of The Digital Renaissance of Work: Delivering digital workplaces fit for the future. He suggested that farsighted organisations have begun to realise that they need to create physical and digital workspaces to promote collaboration – whether face-to-face or between communities of shared interest.

The idea of virtual work was echoed in the discussion of the rise of the gig economy with Brhmie Balaram, Senior Researcher in the RSA’s Economy, Enterprise and Manufacturing team, who leads the RSA’s research on the sharing economy, including gig work. She provided an overview of the UK’s gig economy based on the largest survey of gig workers to date, and suggested that the gig economy, whether we like it or not, is driving a cultural shift in the way that we work and is set to be an enduring part of our economy.

Property and workplace professional Neil Usher, who until recently was Workplace Director at Sky, talked delegates through the research from his forthcoming book on the elemental workplace. Something that will resonate with FMs was his view that the toilets are one of the few places in the workplace that your visitors will almost certainly see, and therefore say more about you than your work spaces.

He also raised the question of whether facilities managers’ rebranding of the people in their buildings as customers rather than colleagues was really a good idea. As he suggested, “once your colleagues become your customers, are you then working with a target on your back?”

CULTURAL DIFFERENCES
We hear a lot about designing office space with a variety of ways in which people can collaborate, concentrate and socialise, but in a global office market how do we know we’re designing the right kind of spaces?

According to Sally Augustin, PhD, a practising Environmental/Design Psychologist and a Principal at Design with Science, cognitive science research shows that people from different cultures work and live best in different sorts of spaces. She advised that it’s important to involve people in a design process when you are creating a space which will be used by a number of cultures – so always consider where people are from.

Some interesting revelations in terms of cultural differences during her presentation were that westerners tend to focus on one element in the space, say a piece of furniture, while those raised in the east would take in the whole effect, from the wall coverings to the fittings. People from collectivistic cultures (typically the Far East) are more willing to share things, while people from individualist cultures like to have the flexibility to move things around. She also revealed that people in the UK are more comfortable with ambiguity (not having rules for everything) and accept more novelty.

In her session, Christine Kohlert of the RBSGROUP EU talked delegates through the book she has recently co-authored, Space for Creative Thinking, which examines the needs of the knowledge worker, discussing the underlying design concepts that factor into making a space that stimulates original thinking.

On the predictions by some that the office is disappearing, she countered that we will always need workplaces because we want a place to share our ideas. This suggests that the offices of the future will be designed around thinking and working together. Buildings being designed today will last for decades, so as the way we work evolves, we must design in for change and appreciate that the organisation of the future will be a location of encounter.

She also stressed the importance of people working in an open and trustful environment – which has to be delivered at three levels. Physical wellbeing is the first level, but the next step is harder – functional wellbeing, and ensuring people are being supported in their work. The third step, psychosocial wellbeing, is harder still to achieve.

No workplace conference is complete without case studies, and the story of the agile working pilot at Investec Bank was illuminating. Hosted by Tony Grimes of Investec and Farrol Goldblatt, who heads up the workplace strategy team at architects TP Bennett, the session described how a data-driven process was used to determine the changes needed.

Through interviews, utilisation surveys and workshops, a culture emerged of openness and friendliness. Investec employees didn’t want to work at a typical bank; they wanted less time at their desk and the opportunity to be mobile within the workplace. An occupancy survey revealed that the organisation already had some mobility built into its work styles. The data also showed that 74 per cent of staff felt having a work setting that suited their task would aid productivity, and they wanted more creative spaces.

The pilot for agile working helped the team to get the message of activity working across to executives, and the appropriate changes were made. The case study reflected the theme of the day – that change is good when it is done properly, backed by assiduous research and consultation. As Neil Usher advised, people should be allowed to go on their personal journey, “as the scheme won’t fall over if not everyone gets it on day one.”

For more information visit www.workplacetrends.co

About Sarah OBeirne

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