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Is Your Office Built for the Future of Work?

Massive changes are disrupting and reshaping the workplace. Based on ongoing research at Frost & Sullivan, workplace transformation shows no signs of slowing down or reversing course. Cubicle farms with assigned desks and the “9 to 5” workday will soon be a thing of the past. Work will morph from a “job” or an “office” to a series of activities and locations (virtual and physical). Workers will increasingly get to choose who they work for, what they do, and where they work from -- based on availability, expertise, and convenience. Lastly, work will become more and more invasive and ultimately an ongoing task with no defined time or physical boundaries.
 
Businesses must prepare now for what’s around the corner and beyond. The changes are multifold, giving rise to questions such as: What will the workplace look like next year and in three to five years? How is the workforce itself changing? What impact will the next generation of workers have on the workplace? How is automation going to disrupt your industry in particular? And, last but not the least, how will you align your technology investments to prepare for the future?
 
Future of work is a hot topic indeed. In a recent eBook and webinar, Frost & Sullivan joined Zoom and its customer Ciena to discuss the evolution of the workplace and its impact on selecting enabling technologies such as video conferencing. A key takeaway is that forward-thinking businesses are putting a strong emphasis on workplace redesign and investing in new technologies to prepare for the future of work.
 
As businesses grapple to understand these changes, it is becoming increasingly clear that tomorrow’s workplace will be defined by three foundational forces:
 
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and cognitive technologies -- AI is already impacting our work and personal lives. Businesses shouldn’t view the emergence of AI in the workplace as a contest between humans and machines, but rather as an opportunity to find innovative ways to amplify human performance with machine intelligence.
  • Workplace and workforce transformation -- Globalization of businesses has resulted in a diverse and distributed workforce. The true impact in the future will come from dynamic teams -- i.e., full-time and part-time employees, remote workers, freelancers, gig economy workers, and crowdsourcing.
  • Agile and radical workstyles -- Static work schedules will become a thing of the past, not only for information workers but also for front-line and shift workers, and many other job titles across industries. For many, the delineation of work and personal life will completely fade.
 
Workforce of the Future
So what will the workforce of tomorrow look like? For the first time we are seeing five generations of workers co-exist in the workplace, which means businesses will have to be agile and ready to accommodate newer ways of working, while also ensuring harmony among generational factions in a diverse and varied workforce. Tomorrow’s workforce will include a mix of both on- and off-balance sheet talent with a strong emergence of on-demand work -- the so-called Uberization of the workforce.
 
Remote working, co-working spaces, and hot desking are increasingly becoming commonplace. As an outcome of the gig economy, work will become a series of activities allowing businesses to essentially pull human resources and specialists on demand from anywhere. We will see core full-time employees performing fixed functions, supported by external consultants and on-demand freelancers working alongside not just for long-term projects but also for short-term activities and tasks. In some cases, on-demand talent that companies leverage, through crowdsourcing and other means, will become more prevalent than in-house resources. Also important is understanding the full impact of AI, which will require massive skill set disruption and compel businesses to retrain and reskill workers constantly.
 
Office of the Future
The multipurpose, multidimensional office, featuring shared workspaces, hot desking and hoteling, is here. Communal, flexible, collaborative and progressive workspaces, which are futuristic in design and environmentally sustainable, will become the norm. Expect to see:
 
  • Shared workspaces -- Real estate is increasingly becoming a fluid asset for businesses. With the rise of flex work, activity-based work, and hot desking, businesses will be able to expand or contract their need for real estate dynamically, based on actual physical office needs at a given time. They will require fewer dedicated buildings, or even dedicated floors. Workers will work side by side with partners and like-minded people.
  • One size doesn’t fit all -- Businesses will replace offices with cubicles and rows of desks with multidimensional spaces that workers will reserve as needed via an online system. Office layout will be reconfigurable as needs evolve. For example, cafeterias that are only used at mealtimes will also serve as collaborative workspaces at other times. Rather than the traditional divisions by departments, tomorrow’s office will be divided into "neighborhoods" where employees will gravitate to those who share similar interests. Hence work will become a place that people will want to go to collaborate and nurture ideas.
  • Open offices are here to stay -- Despite pushback, open office design clearly serves its intended purpose to foster better transparency, collaboration, and innovation -- it isn’t going away anytime soon. However, businesses will have to address workers’ need for some disruption-free time and space. Huddle rooms, phone booths, and "hybrid offices" will grow. Poly recently launched a Perils of the Open Office marketing campaign to create awareness for better collaboration environments. There will be a strong push to technology-enable huddle spaces so workers get access to the best collaboration tools. Frost & Sullivan research shows that globally there are 33 million huddle rooms and less than 3% of those are enabled with next-gen advanced meeting technologies.
Team Communications in the Future
The distributed, dynamic, and on-demand workforce of tomorrow will require unprecedented mobility, connectedness and top-notch experiences to stay engaged and productive. Employees across the board, not just Millennials and Gen Z, are showing a strong preference for mobile and flexible workstyles and open, versatile, and engaging offices. A common thread that runs through all these changes is a stronger need to invest in the next generation of technologies. Given the rapid changes, talent acquisition and retention will be key challenges. Not to forget, workers will need constant upskilling and reskilling to keep up with the dizzying pace of digitization. Technology acquisition will be increasingly focused on fostering better employee engagement. IT leaders who are in the midst of reshaping their roles to become strategic business enablers need to work closely with Facilities and HR teams to design the best employee experiences that can drive business growth.
 
It used to be that people were happy with simple audio calls. With radical changes around the bend, there is a very good chance that you will never meet face to face with co-workers or partners who you’re working closely with and who may be located anywhere, some even situated across the globe. To build the rapport and trust, the dynamic teams of tomorrow need an equivalent of the watercooler experience. Old communication technologies will be replaced by next-generation, ad hoc rich collaboration solutions such as virtual team spaces (e.g., Slack, Microsoft Teams) and most calls will begin with video. Cloud has already changed the game and, with more and more intelligence and automation being built, video meetings will become the de facto standard of communication.
 
Get Ready Now
The bottom line is that significant disruption is coming our way. Accelerated connectivity, a new workforce, and cognitive tools will change our workday. Businesses will need to transform existing facilities to give workers more choice of environments and services with a focus on people and performance. Just as product innovation has been a key differentiator for business growth, workplace innovation and redesign will become critical success factors.