How to Harness Technology’s Effect on the Workplace

Technology is transforming business. Tim Allen, CBRE‘s head of workplace consulting for Europe, Middle East, and Africa, explains how the real estate services company is harnessing the change.

Inside CBRE's new Madrid office, one of the locations where they've implemented their Workplace360 program. Photo courtesy of CBRE.

Inside CBRE’s new Madrid office, one of the locations where they’ve implemented their Workplace360 program. Photo courtesy of CBRE.

Technology has caused, and continues to create, exceptional businesses for companies and employees alike. It is, however, predicted that by 2025 up to 50 percent of current occupations will no longer exist due to the impact of its implementation transforming business. This means a revolutionary shift in the way workplaces operate is expected to take hold over the next decade.

In practice, the future ideas, trends, and behaviors that will shape work and the workplace are already perceptible today. Some are clearly evident, such as the ongoing impact of big data and disruptive technology or the adoption of remote and flexible working, while others are emerging quietly around us. Here’s how you can stay ahead of the changes:

1. Realize that the “war for talent” is a real business challenge, and respond accordingly

One such emerging theme for global corporations is attracting and retaining top talent, and its impact on the workplace. It is increasingly evident that companies, whether through innovation or data analytics, are sitting up and taking note that the “war for talent” is a real business challenge. In a recent survey, polling real estate decision makers at a suite of world renowned companies, a third of respondents cited this as a key issue going forward, acknowledging that labor and skills shortages were a concern. This is an increase from 21 percent last year and marks a continuing trend that the workplace has to adapt to ensure the best and brightest candidates are engaged.

A key reason behind this is that work, in particular for the younger generation, is seen as an all-encompassing experience, evidenced by the 85 percent of Genesis survey interviewees believing that work and life will become more enmeshed by 2030. Increasingly, a good salary alone is no longer enough. Employees want to work with like-minded, intelligent individuals on exciting, creative, and rewarding projects and in essence are valuing happiness over money.  Companies and organizations that fail to respond to this trend are likely to suffer.

As a result, the implementation of new workplace strategies is beginning to come to the fore with exactly two-thirds (67 percent) of companies reporting its adoption as a key strategy to find and keep the best employees. A key component of this is providing quality space, with excellent transport accessibility, in an amenity-rich location. In fact, 65 percent stated that these three factors together are a pivotal feature for location and building selection, and, ultimately, workplace satisfaction.

2. Optimize your space aggressively

In many instances, office design hasn’t changed in decades. The norm is still fixed, linear desks with little additional space for collaboration or shared enclosed space for concentrated working. Furthermore, there is a traditional association between reward for senior promotion and an individual’s own office space. This is set to change with new intelligence emerging.

For example, at CBRE in London, on average, 60 percent of desks are utilized Monday to Friday, meaning over a third of desks are not in operation daily. Take these desks away from the plan and re-purpose the space and it begins to transform. Space optimization leads to more balanced office designs that offer a variety of ways of working, including more collaborative space that encourages discussion, innovation, and, ultimately, improved working relationships, communication, and education. This approach naturally creates a less traditional and hierarchical mindset, allowing individual offices within the workplace to be used by any employee. Alongside the introduction of additional quiet and focus rooms, this enables heads-down, focused work to be supported appropriately.

Literally and figuratively, new office designs are creating room for a “new norm” and fresh ideas are coming to the surface, which are already being adopted by some cutting-edge firms. With an emphasis on employee health, relaxation areas (including sleeping rooms), grass areas for staff to unwind, art, music, and even pets at work could all play a part going forward. After all, a healthier and happier workforce is beneficial for all stakeholders.

3. Plan ahead and implement your “office of the future” now

The knock-on-effect is a drive for sustainable initiatives to be embedded in future workspaces, too. At CBRE, we have developed a program called Workplace360 which has been adopted in 21 of our global offices, including Amsterdam and Madrid in EMEA, with further roll out to follow.

A common area in CBRE's Madrid office, bathed in morning light. Photo courtesy of CBRE.

A common area in CBRE’s Madrid office, bathed in morning light. Photo courtesy of CBRE.

The program utilizes a number of new measures for the office of tomorrow. For one, most staff don’t have assigned desks; they’re encouraged to move around and store their possessions in assigned lockers. Alternative ways of working have also been introduced to facilitate the staff’s self-selection of the most appropriate and supportive work setting to get their tasks completed. These include offices and focus rooms, open and collaborative seating arrangements, and ample places for teams to work. Particular attention is paid to allowing information and work tools to follow employees in the day-to-day work environment, including cloud-based file management, “follow me” printing, and online and site-based support services. This allows employees to be mobile throughout the day, while protecting confidentiality of sensitive documents.

In addition, the supporting premise for the program is to enable the indoor environment to have optimal air quality, allow access to natural light, and avoid glare. This is all designed with consideration for employee wellness and energy efficiency in mind. Other aspects might include high-efficiency lighting and air conditioning systems equipped with sensor controls to operate only when required. Biophilic design elements and varied collaboration zones have been introduced to suit different work styles and meet the end goal to optimize employee health, wellness, and productivity, and thus improve business performance.

Looking ahead, the focus will be on shared – not owned – space. The design of commercial property is likely to be transformed, and interest in adapting workspaces and associated strategies will continue to gain momentum by companies. The cost of labor, more often than not, is the single largest expense for companies, so the impact of improving productivity through shrewd working strategies can be material. With the correct advice, employee wellbeing and engagement will be enhanced, which will positively influence a company’s profitability, brand, and culture.

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