OfficeMap's Chief Experience Officer, Robert Wilkinson, joined Ticker News (Morning Edition) and their presenter Alana McLean this time last week for a live stream interview discussing the future of work.
You can find the transcript for the interview below:
Alana: With Coronavirus affecting so many businesses and operations on a global scale, attention is shifting to what must change to secure the safety of employees as countries navigate through various degrees of getting back to work. This morning we are joined by OfficeMap's Chief Experience Officer Rob Wilkinson to discuss the future of work. Good morning Rob.
Rob: Good morning Alana and thank you for having me.
Alana: Jumping straight into this topic, can you share with me what you see are the technology trends of the future? Are company's saying goodbye to the corner office dream?
Rob: 2020 has certainly proven itself to be the year of social distancing and solitude; where the proverbial “keep out” sign went up on the office door urging us to stay safe by staying at home. How has what we covet for a working environment changed in the face of the COVID19? Prior to Coronavirus, there was a priority to ensure that workers feel connected to their environment with offices dedicated to creating spaces for productivity, play and socialisation. Do we still dream of spaces where no cent is spared and one of the perks of the employment with said company was the office that you were going to get to frequent daily? (I’m looking at you Apple and Google) As the workforce tenderly begins to return on site to some capacity it is time for many businesses and indeed individuals to look at what “the office” might just look like.
Let’s start by putting it out there - the idea of the traditional office space is not a NEED any more due to the increase in automation and our advancements in technology. Gone are the days where it was essential to go into the office because without being on site, you would not have access to the files, information and co-workers which allowed you to complete the role for which you were employed. Offices have primarily become a venue to support the collaboration of work. What remains crucial is that the spaces are innovative and provide emotional benefits which increase employee productivity.
There are 5 trends I believe will define our offices of the future. Many of these are intertwined and are actually born of the result of each other as we embrace our new normal and continue on a trajectory dedicated to the evolution of technology and employee wellbeing.
Alana: You bring up some interesting points there Rob. Now on screen we have what you believe are these 5 trends, can you take me through what you mean by the first trend here - All hail technology?
Rob: Absolutely. Technology, and most importantly, connectivity continues to be the number one driver in how we adapt our office spaces to suit our working requirements. As technology evolves and businesses continue to embrace its offerings thought needs to be given to HOW we collaborate with each other. Many companies have moved away from the separatist idea of their international offices and employees having very little to do with each other. Instead, they embrace the association, encouraging intercontinental teamwork. COVID19 has seen a massive rise in our usage of platforms such as Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts and as we move to virtual communication with our local compatriots as well. Our physical office spaces need most critically to provide space for our virtual co-workers to join in efficiently and successfully with screens, audio and a good internet connection!
Alana: And secondly, you've got here "Make me mobile - the replacement of the office with a workplace". What changes do you foresee this entailing?
Rob: Our offices have changed their appearance over the years as we work from home, cafes, the airport, the library and often any other space we could imagine thanks to the technology we have available. We were already moving towards the work concept of a work/life balance and flexible working arrangements when COVID came along and essentially fast tracked it. We really can and have been working anywhere and current circumstances prove it can be done successfully. Does this make the office essentially obsolete? Some businesses are seriously toying with the idea as the economic impact of COVID takes its toll and they look to reduce their overheads and employees continue to turn their back on returning to the office.
Many businesses are entertaining shared working spaces with other companies and exploring hot desking. The younger generation also join the three other generations currently still gainfully employed in the workforce with a different set of expectations. They anticipate that their work life will mirror their personal life with a range of connectivity and mobile options available to them. There is the silent “given” that the company they work for will be utilising the technological tools we have discussed and they embrace this with confidence. What this ultimately spells for all of us is that as long as we have a space, we essentially have our office at hand.
Alana: Onto this third point, how do you believe organisations should go about de-densification and keeping adequate distance between employees?
Rob: Office design was already moving away from the traditional cubical set up prior to COVID, but the pandemic is likely to spell the death of offices filled with rows and rows of desks. De-densification of our spaces supports our current need for physical distancing and ensures that just because there is space it doesn’t mean we should plug it with workstations. Our offices will continue to be thoughtfully spaced out with density of numbers and indeed equipment taken into consideration.
This brings me to the fourth point - Yes, to open space, but not necessarily open space offices, and creating an environment that supports activity-based working. Not so long ago the concept of open offices was all the rage. We began to sour on the idea when we realised that this meant our working style was ironically pigeon holed – that we were left with limited options as to how we could work. We have discovered that working from anywhere truly means anywhere – from sitting on the lounge to standing at the breakfast bar and we want an office environment which can replicate these choices. To best support productivity and well-being, employees need to continue to be presented with what is known as activity based working environments. We want the space to sit and collaborate with our co-workers but we sometimes need solitude just to plug in to the task at hand and work in a quiet space.
The sit/stand desk has become a hit as many of us have decided that being confined to a desk chair is not for us. By also providing social spaces (in what now needs to be a safe capacity) employers are encouraging organic interactions between workers which can also yield great results when speaking to our productivity and wellbeing. Despite our COVID reservations when it comes to socialising, our commitment to being a choice orientated society will dictate that this facet of office design is unlikely to change in the future.
Alana: That is very interesting. Now lastly, with freedom and flexibility, what do you believe are the monitoring and accountability trends employers should consider?
Rob: We have ascertained that in a nutshell we are looking to work in spaces with a level of freedom and flexibility. Despite the pandemic almost instantly granting this to a large portion of the workforce, employers continue to see this working style as a privilege rather than a right. There is always a concern that this flexibility will be abused, that those working from home are not truly working and that productivity could suffer as a result. There is also the sharing of information and sensitive files virtually to take into consideration as long gone is the filing cabinet and key being our only filing option. Businesses need to continue to pivot their internal policies and procedures to ensure that these flexible arrangements benefit all parties.
COVID19 in itself has meant we have been subjected to a new level of monitoring and accountability as we enjoy what we have previously seen as our social liberties – we need to check in to social venues by providing our personal details and we often find we are having our temperature checked regularly at various locations. Employees need to be mindful that this practice should and will spill over to their work environment and they should see it as a positive. Programs such as that offered by Office Maps are designed to be non-invasive but informational where employers and employees alike are able to keep their finger on the pulse with who and what is where.
Ultimately, the office doesn’t need to be dead and buried. The space, just like us, needs to make some adjustments to best serve our needs. Workspaces need to remain a hub for collaboration and productivity and be able to be as flexible as the individual. This will ensure that the concept of the office maintains a relevance in our working lives now and into the future.
Alana: Thank you so much for you time today Rob. If you want more information on how OfficeMaps are successfully tackling some of these trends, head over to their website shown on screen - officemaps.com.
Rob: Thank you for having me.
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