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    Wide Open Spaces Put Traditional Offices Out to Pasture

    Elizabeth Dukes

    As workspaces evolve from brick-and-mortar to the unlimited expanse of the digital world and technology connects the workforce in ways that were never before imaginable, IT, HR and FM professionals are working in tandem to ensure the office travels where the worker goes.  The best workspaces need to be flexible, mobile and managed by technology giving workers what they need to be successful and making the workplace exciting enough to attract and keep the best grads and young workers.  

    Wide open spaces put traditional offices out to pastureWhirlwind changes have occurred over the last 10 years in how people work, where they work, and the very nature of the office itself. Companies large and small are evolving their workplaces to suit the needs of today’s workforce. 

    We’re rapidly transforming our workplaces from the 1950s style where the supervisor could keep an eye on everyone to the popular 70s cubes where nobody even knows who came to work that day. 

    Not only do individuals work differently today; people often need to work together. Thus, the ubiquitous ‘conference room’ is changing too. Some companies are giving meeting spaces creative names and letting employees vote on them. And, now we also have new names for the type of space itself. Some call them meeting rooms or conference rooms, of course. But these days they are often called names like “huddle rooms,” “enclaves,” and “collaboration spaces.” Names that reflect not the notion that a group of people will simply assemble in a room and assign tasks to the guy who forgot to show up, but rather they will brainstorm; they will focus; they will draw upon one another’s strengths, and come up with ideas and answers.

    So, fast forward and where do we land? At Google, LinkedIn and others, famous for innovative collaboration spaces, not for just the purpose of trying to be young and cool. There’s much more to it. 

    The expectations of the best and brightest they’re trying to attract to our companies play a big role in designing the right space. Today’s college graduate is thinking about what his/her life will be like working for this company. Because the workplace is changing, expectations of younger workers are changing. Not “evolving.” It’s not evolution. It’s happening much faster and more dramatically than that.

    The twenty-somethings have grown up with the technology that older workers witnessed. They understand it. They know how to use it. They expect it. And, in fact, they are not comfortable without it. And it’s not just the technology. The whole world of work they are entering is quite different from it used to be. 

    Millions of us spend our days – and often nights – working. Whether we’re in a corporate mega-campus on acres of rolling hills, the 46th floor of a downtown high-rise, in a hotel room or a customer’s office, on a plane, at Starbucks, or even on our sofa at home, we likely spend more time working than not. We may spend more time with our coworkers than with our spouses and kids. 

    Americans are spending more time at work than ever before. In fact, U.S. workers spend more time at work than anyone else in the world. The average workweek for an American worker is up to about 46 hours, adding up to 378 more hours per year than the average German worker, for example. And we’re not finished when we leave the office. One recent survey found that the average American worker spends an extra seven hours per week on work tasks such as checking emails and answering phone calls after normal work. We also take fewer vacation days than anyone else. 

    At work, we’re expected to do our very best, to hatch our best ideas, and to share those ideas with others. The traditional office, however, forces the worker to adapt to a fairly rigid infrastructure that doesn’t foster creativity or collaboration. I have not heard it said by anyone lately that people perform at their best when confined.

    Companies of every size must consider productivity and how it’s achieved in the contemporary business environment. It’s about a transformation that is touching companies around the globe.

    Human resources, information technology and facility managers can collaborate to conceive, design, build market, deliver and support whatever products or services the organization requires. 

    The term we hear thrown about today is “matrix environment,” meaning nobody can work in isolation. Every worker is connected to nearly every other worker in the organization in some way. So it’s not just that you have to collaborate to make productivity possible, so does everyone else in the organization.

    If you look at the big picture, two key forces need to be reconciled.

    First is the expectation of employees, especially younger workers. Younger workers have changed the way people view a piece of paper. They are accessing and placing documents directly in the cloud, not printing them and filing them in folders and cabinets. Keenly aware, for better or worse, that there’s no such thing as a 9-5 job any more for white collar workers, they expect to be connected 24/7 with everyone and everything that they need to do their job. In their personal lives, they certainly are that connected

    Second is the need for improved economics in developing and maintaining space.Today’s CEOs, CFOs and facilities managers are keenly interested in new concepts and create more efficient workspaces in order to reduce the overall spend on real estate. This includes promoting worker mobility and investing in technology. While the corporation increases productivity and reduces the cost of hosting workers, employees can be more productive and experience better work/life balance. 

    These drivers are not only reconcilable; they are beautifully wed, and the wedding ring that holds them together today is technology. Technology has not only blown the concept of the workspace wide open, it has allowed collaboration to explode within the organization.

    A handful of functions that are being dramatically altered by technology today are:

    In the old model, each of these functions was managed separately. But, they are related to one another and the clear benefit is to integrate them into a system that manages all of this data and turned it into usable information, helping you respond to issues like:

    • Are we delivering high quality services?
    • Is it cost effective?
    • Is our environment flexible to meet rapidly changing marketplace demands?
    • How will we maintain our current employee base and keep them engaged?
    • How do we attract the newest and best talent? 

    The fact is there is simply no going back. The days of the giant cube farm are as over as the days of polished mahogany office doors with names stenciled in gold. Technology, globalization, and a new generation in the workforce have changed all that permanently. The changes are exciting, and they challenge all of us to understand them and embrace them.

    The lightning pace of change in the way people work presents an opportunity to create some very real solutions that will make significant improvements in the way offices work. Software technology must allow workers to proactively eliminate the information roadblocks and daily problems that occur in facility management. Two of the forces driving change are: The expectations of employees and companies looking to improve economics around developing and maintaining space. More specifically:

    • Generational Shift. Younger workers have changed the way people view a piece of paper. They are accessing and placing documents directly in the cloud, not printing them and filing them in folders and cabinets.
    • Corporate Citizenship. Employees are interested in being part of an organization that is environmentally responsible, community driven, and that promotes employee wellness.
    • Collaboration. The emphasis is on collaboration and open spaces, with lots of natural light, color, mobility, and amenities.
    • Smaller Footprint and Smaller Expenditures. Today’s CEOs, CFOs and facilities managers are keenly interested in new concepts and create more efficient workspaces in order to reduce the overall spend on real estate. This includes promoting worker mobility and investing in technology. While the corporation increases productivity and reduces the cost of hosting workers, employees can be more productive and experience better work/life balance. 

    The best workspaces must be flexible, mobile, and managed by technology that gives workers what they need to be successful.  Companies can proactively prepare for the changing workspace and become more innovative with their facilities, work-from-home policies, real estate costs and more.

    Download the first chapter of Wide Open Workspace

    Elizabeth Dukes

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Elizabeth Dukes

    Elizabeth Dukes' pieces highlight the valuable role of the real estate and facility managers play in their organizations. Prior to iOFFICE, Elizabeth was in sales for large facility and office service outsourcing firm.

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