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The Agile Insight Handbook: Technology, Trends And Choice For 2018

Vice President of Haworth International, Glen Foster, shares his insights into the changing face of the contemporary professional landscape.

  • Illustration by Stephen Cheetham for Haworth white paper: 'Active Ergonomics For The Emerging Workplace'



BY Glen Foster

September 19th, 2017


I attended a fantastic CoreNet chapter conference in Melbourne last week. It was particularly refreshing as most of the presenters were non-traditional corporate real-estate types. These juggernaut entrepreneurs illustrated remarkable changes in the world through technology and science and by connection, the impact to workplace and the way people will work in the future.

We’ve all been digesting a number of key workplace trends for many years, namely the impact of generational change, impact of technology, the distributed workforce, an increased competition for talent and the organisational objective of increased collaboration as a competitive advantage.

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Millennials now make up the largest generational block within the workforce[1], a point reinforced almost weekly when I see CVs from people born after I left high-school. These generational gremlins have been scaring corporate real-estate professionals and CEOs with their different way of working, communicating, use of technology and increased mobility between organisations. Their impact to how we work has been profound and positive.

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Technological impacts to the workplace are not limited by the ubiquity of laptops and smart devices, it includes the use of cloud computing and applications to create true global collaboration opportunities. “Fluid collaboration is the essence of collaboration being reimagined by technology and connectivity, which are capable of transcending the boundaries of time, space and place“.[2] This allows organisations to get the best minds working together effectively without the limitation of adjacency or time-zones.

It is the use of technology that eliminates risky or unskilled work to free members of the working population to take up jobs that were only recently created (or remain yet to be created). We are seeing the disruption of industries such as transport, travel, entertainment continuing with the addition of drones and other devices. The fourth industrial revolution will eliminate high-risk jobs and provide an opportunity for an increased creative economy. Its flow-on innovation impacts delivery services, advertising, emergency services and entertainment and will be the next wave of change to town planning and corporate real-estate.[3]

Corporate real-estate professionals are creating ‘smart offices’ to enhance employee experience to increase productivity, attract and retain talent, support wellbeing and promote corporate brand values. Smart buildings are also being used for space effectiveness and flexibility, reducing costs and lessening environmental impact.[4]Organisations need to measure the success of their space incorporating the return on investment in smart offices for competitive advantage and long-term shareholder value. The journey to activating workspaces will empower employees to increase engagement which in turn means greater effectiveness, loyalty, creativity and satisfaction.

At the same time, town planners are creating ‘smart precincts’, ‘digitally enabled, mixed use districts that combine the latest technologies with new property strategies to support and catalyse the tech-led economy seeking to unite different social interests and groups’.[5] These precincts keep people within its boundaries to make them more valuable and productive. Governments are working on the idea ‘if you build it, they will come’. And stay.

By contrast, the ‘gig economy’ promotes the idea that people can opt-out of traditional working environments to make choices about work and life. The changing nature of work and the types of work available derives new opportunities for employees to increasingly act as contractors or consultants working on projects or shorter-term during peaks of organisation workload. There is benefits on both sides allowing the organisation to scale up during busy periods and providing flexibility to employees that value a different balance.

Competition for talent is not a new phenomenon. What we are experiencing currently is the faster cycles of workstyles and job creation through technology change and the increased awareness of availability of opportunities through technology. A friend lamented that the last time he applied for a job, it was opening the broadsheet newspaper on a Saturday morning and circling the roles that fit. The paradigm of search and placement has changed and has reduced the loyalty of employees to stay in roles that are not interesting or meeting their development expectations.

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Organisations are striving to be smarter, to innovate and to harness the creativity of the collective. Creative knowledge work is about generating original ideas[6] and this requires bringing people together to collaborate. Workplace design needs to accommodate needs for thinking and creativity. We’ve already seen the work-setting needs change as clients set foot on the journey to a more agile workplace.

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In designing a future workplace, organisations need to understand it’s not a ‘one-size fits all’ and the spectrum of agile and the variety of work-settings (both intracompany and intercompany) impacts the choice of how and where to work. This new paradigm of choice is often chartered through organisational objectives of efficiency and space optimisation, but also recognises the changing nature in the workforce and the behaviour types needing support. Choice is the modern mantra with primary responsibility to enable employees to do their best work.

Other trends toward wellness and user experience are critical to maximise engagement. This is the new horizon of performance optimisation and employee retention. Integrating food and beverage strategies and providing social spaces, have become key elements to successful workplace design. Well buildings are spaces that influence the behaviour and health of the people that work for them. Improvement to such factors as air quality, acoustics or ergonomics can affect individual well-being and push-up productivity.[7]

Further, art in the workplace is recently being celebrated as an important element of good workplace design. Research has found that art helps businesses address key challenges such as reducing stress, increasing creativity and encouraging the expression of opinions.[8] Circling back to technology, workplace apps are creating high performing workplaces by providing organisational information, way-finding, space reservations and allowing specialist expertise to be located. These tools are providing a greater sense of community and fostering innovation.[9]

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There is no perfect state; we are in a constant state of experimentation and evolution. The challenge I see is the conflict of allowing employees choice of where to work vs the organisational goals of supporting movement within the organisation for collaboration and serendipitous engagements.

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The movement of many organisations to create campuses vs a distributed real-estate strategy challenges the retention paradigm that employees will only stay if they have choice working from more convenient locations such as home and co-working spaces.

My view is the value of collective energy and employee collaboration through campuses and centralised real-estate strategies should remain the primary workplace strategy augmented by situational use of 3rd party spaces to increase flexibility and increase utility by outsourcing low occupancy spaces such as auditoriums, boardrooms and project spaces. Activated buildings such as The Porter in Sydney and smart precincts like Hudson Yards in NYC keep teams together while acknowledging the needs for variety of working environments and work-settings. The variety of open and closed work-settings and acoustic solutions across the floorplate (and the precinct) addresses the challenge of working without distraction; a common complaint in agile environments.

We are in a wonderful time of workplace. Haworth’s ‘Organic Spaces’ value proposition continues to be very relevant. Our focus on our clients’ individual needs allows us to partner in a unique way. Clients are challenged with many internal (organisational) and external (competitive) pressures when making decisions for real-estate, and Haworth continues to focus on being a trusted advisor to these conversations impacting people and workplaces.

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[1] Worktech Academy, 2017
[2] Worktech Academy, 2017
[3] Dr Catherine Ball, CoreNet Melbourne 2017
[4] Worktech Academy, 2017
[5] Worktech Academy, 2017
[6] Worktech Academy 2017
[7] Worktech Academy 2017
[8] Business Committee for the Arts and the International Association for Professional Art Advisors
[9] Worktech Academy 2017

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