As we enter the 2020s, it’s time to reject our notions of perfection and make adaptability a functional requirement. Workplace Strategist, Frances Gain shares her insights on why the future of work is flexible.
I’ve just downloaded my new bank. It doesn’t have a branch, only an app and instant messenger - and hopefully, heavily encrypted security. Now… where do I deposit my cash?
The banking world changed forever in a few short years.
The reality of our increasingly complex and volatile world means disruption is constant and progress outpaces the systems we once thought enduring. It may sound intimidating, but volatility brings opportunity; for new ideas to emerge and for well-established ideas to be transformed into the next big innovation.
As global leaders in workplace design, M Moser’s workplace strategy team is often asked how static real-estate can better accommodate the evolving demands being placed on businesses and their workplaces. The driver might be a series of mergers, new generations entering the workforce, or bankers trying to hire coders whose needs they don’t yet fully understand. Either way, workplace flexibility is key.
As we plunge into the 2020s, it’s time to reject our notions of perfection. We must challenge the idea that workplaces are ever truly “complete” and that handing over a beautifully-packaged product is always the right approach.
Take the legacy of legal workplaces as an example, with cellular offices and cubicles – ready for 5-15 years of service. The lawyers came and went, but the practice of law stayed the same. As a result, demands on these spaces barely changed over 50 years. Businesses asked employees to adapt to their environment.
Today we are developing more sustainable workplace design solutions that support higher levels of uncertainty. You can’t always anticipate future needs – but you can anticipate change and proactively respond - by making adaptability a functional goal of office design.
The truth is that real-estate isn’t static. Your workplace doesn’t have to be locked down if your design responds to what people need each day. We call our approach “permanent-beta”.
“Permanent-beta” is a human-centric design approach – scaled to your business requirement. A service building, workplace, or even a dedicated area within the office that encourages user customisation. This should support high function, instant adaptation and easy maintenance - a place for individuals and teams to hack their office environment around rapidly fluctuating requirements. The result is both fixed and flexible.
Across industries, generations, teams and individuals, people need different workspaces and tools for optimal productivity. As roles continue to become more specialised and the pool of workstyles a business requires expands, handing over more trust and control to the user can be an effective workplace strategy.
The benefits are significant. The approach reduces risk of undefined requirements, improving resiliency to expansion and reducing the cost of change. It also reinforces collaborative behaviours and supports diverse user-driven workstyles.
Place is nothing without people and function. A community spirit and strong collaborative culture will help to unlock the full potential. Employees must feel safe to adapt their space as they see fit. That’s where workplace strategy adds value.
For “permanent-beta” to succeed, it must cater to three essential components of workplace architecture: physical space, company culture and digital technologies.
Providing manageable levels of flexibility is an important consideration for usability. A functional office interior with lightweight infrastructure provides a flexible framework. The workplace design should also consider modularity, operable partitions, moveable furniture, efficient storage and user mobility.
We find that smaller test spaces work best when coupled with stripped-back design, using resilient, raw materials that express their ever-changing nature and are able to survive frequent reconfiguration.
A largely wireless approach to the workplace with ample access to power is required. This may also include mobile battery packs to further enhance mobility, as used by our colleagues in New York. Employees will require mobile equipment, switching desk phones for mobile devices and swapping desktop computers for laptops. Bespoke digital workplace aspects may include apps, interactive community screens and online booking systems.
Specialised technology and sensors can be used to track office usage and occupancy, gathering quantitative and qualitative data to validate larger projects in future.
The entrepreneurial energy found in start-up culture is a desirable goal among larger businesses who know they have the requisite talent and expertise, but struggle to mobilise it with the same agility in their workplaces. The freedom to follow new ideas and innovate is unlocked when you take away the limiting structures and focus on the tools required to exhibit experimental behaviours.
We’ve developed workplace design solutions across all scales for clients using this approach. From large innovation centres to small spaces and hackable meeting pods. Most businesses don’t require full scale to achieve their goals – rather a designated area – and attitude. Whatever the size, the fixed space is permanently set in testing mode.
At smaller scales, leaders can create spaces that encourage collaboration and lead to more joined-up innovations. A more expansive “permanent-beta” solution will accommodate broad organisational changes like fluctuating headcount and shifting departmental needs brought by new specialisations or demographics.
Imagine using a beta-version of a new iPhone app; the product (your workplace) is ready for use. The developers want to know how you’re using it, and how it can be better tomorrow. Users can choose, test, adjust and enhance their workplace as needed. The change is staggered and the business can avoid dramatic or expensive adjustment. The organisation’s transformation is better, faster and cheaper.
The workplace of the future will never be finished. If we over-think, over-design, and create a static solution, we’ll end up watching that usefulness decline. To prevent tackling the same challenges in another expensive renovation, or disruptive replacement, workplaces must be flexible and support ongoing change.
Contact Frances to discuss workplace strategies for future-proofing your workplace.