5 Ways Your Workplace Will Be Unrecognizable in 2026

Fast forward 10 years: what will your workplace look like? Bernice Boucher, head of JLL‘s workplace strategy practice in the Americas, has some ideas.

Image via Death to Stock.

Image via Death to Stock.

Buildings and space that anticipate your needs. Collaboration with robots. Cafes, parks, and airports as the new office. Sound far-fetched? Workplaces are evolving more rapidly than ever and employers have seen dramatic shifts in where, when, and how employees work. Ten years from now, your workplace may well be unrecognizable from the office you use today. Work is becoming more digital, and yet in need of a more humanized experience.

In this article, Bernice Boucher explores five ways your workplace will be totally different by 2026.

One reason for rapid workplace evolution: employees today expect more from their workplaces than ever before. The one-size-fits-all model is no longer relevant as workers seek environments that are more mobile, flexible and personalized. Offering thoughtfully designed facilities and offices is a great way to attract and retain top talent while fostering employee well-being, engagement, and productivity.

The future is both digital and human

Companies ignore these trends at their peril, because those that adapt are most likely to win the war for talent and thrive in the future. Here are five trends transforming the future of work.

1. Smarter buildings for digital workers

For years, many companies have used using smart, computer-controlled building systems to reduce energy usage. With today’s advanced, Internet-connected systems, wireless sensors and “machine-to-machine” (M2M) communications, buildings can be even “smarter.”

Within the next 10 years, the office could be unrecognizable, offering more agility, flexibility, and connectivity that support new ways of working, playing, and living. In a smart building, employees can use mobile applications on the fly to reserve their workspace or meeting room as quickly as their needs change (and contribute to a more efficient, productive, and cost-effective use of space in the process).

Some buildings and facility management teams now offer on-demand temperature and lighting mobile apps that enable workers to control temperature, lighting, or even the background music in their individual office or zone. This creates the just-right “Goldilocks” workspace that boosts productivity.

Smart buildings also provide better indoor air quality and environmental controls that not only improve a company’s environmental sustainability contributions, but also boost employee health, wellness, and productivity. Another productivity increase comes from today’s mobile apps that provide a direct, “frictionless” way for employees to enhance their workplace experience.

2. Innovative amenities and workspaces for a productive, liquid workforce

Innovative office designers are taking cues from the retail world, creating technology-enabled, collaborative, and high-quality experiential workplaces. At a practical level, a meeting lounge might include a coffee table with an embedded interactive tablet or virtual and augmented reality technologies to support immersive collaboration with colleagues onsite or located a thousand miles away.

On the fun side, one Wisconsin company designed an office hallway to look like a New York subway car, with seats for working and informal meetings. A British gaming company, Mind Candy, created a meeting room that looks like a tree house.

Within the next 10 years, the office could be unrecognizable, offering more agility, flexibility, and connectivity that support new ways of working, playing, and living.

Companies battling in the war for talent are putting “user experience” at the forefront of their workplace strategy. Offices with generous food and beverage provisions, along with gyms, games, and recreation spaces are becoming increasingly common as firms compete for top workers. Giving employees choice and flexibility over where they work is also becoming a top priority as companies fit out their offices with a greater variety of spaces to work in and give their staff the best technologies for their work.

Tomorrow’s offices will offer an even greater variety of work settings and a range of amenities and recreation spaces. In fact, offices could very well resemble the hospitality industry, providing high-quality food and beverages, concierge services, and expansive wellness programs and fitness amenities as standard features of core locations.

In response to the growing “liquid workforce” of on-demand workers, and to accommodate mobile working, some companies are also providing networks of workplaces beyond their own leased or owned facilities. From corporate co-working spaces to airport lounges and coffee shops, corporations will need to ensure that workers have secure, reliable access to corporate data and resources wherever they reside.

The workplace is becoming increasingly digital and the actual experience of work is becoming an incredibly important factor in talent attraction and retention. The standardized model is no longer relevant as the workplace evolves to become more mobile, flexible, and personalized.

3. Humanizing the work experience

Progressive companies have realized that their employees are seeking hyper-personalized employee services and work environments. Digital building operations are making it possible to individualize the workplace experience more than ever before.

Though it sounds counter-intuitive, the one-size-fits-all workplace is falling by the wayside as data demonstrates that different workers have different preferences. Increasingly, companies offer upgraded spaces such as club rooms, meeting rooms of varying sizes, lounges and, yes, even traditional individual desks — creating flexibility and choice for employees.

Today’s advanced building technologies allow employees to control their workspace environment and make it easier for companies to offer workplaces that support their unique corporate culture. Using digital FM tools, a company can create a seamless electronic work environment that provides the same experience whether workers are sitting at a desk in a corporate office or in a home office hundreds of miles away.

From reserving conference rooms to adjusting lighting and temperature preferences, digital FM provides employees with new levels of space personalization and efficiency — often through a convenient a mobile app. Then, the data generated from automated systems can be analyzed to reveal how the workplace could be improved to increase employee productivity and satisfaction.

4. Unlocking the power of CRE data

A digital revolution is transforming corporate real estate globally. Traditional real estate service providers are becoming technology companies, focused on expediting workplace services and smart portfolio strategies as the lines are blurred between corporate real estate services, HR, and IT.

Integrated corporate real estate management systems can create a robust data set that informs more accurate occupancy planning. Employees benefit, too, as companies use data-driven decision-making — rather than guesswork — to enhance the worker experience, productivity, and boost talent recruitment and retention.

Smart building technologies are contributing to these advances, too. Automated building systems, work-order systems, and occupancy sensors generate reams of data that can be captured and analyzed for a better understanding of which office spaces employees use — and which ones they avoid. Workplace strategists can tap sensor data, Wi-Fi signals, and security badge data for analysis to produce powerful insights about workplace patterns. Data and analytics enable organizations to provide the types of workspaces that employees actually want, based on data rather than on assumptions.

Data can be used to drive design, cementing the link between the strategic aims of a business and day-to-day operations. Cubist Pharmaceuticals, for instance, used special badges to track employee interactions and identified a positive correlation between cross-team interactions and higher sales. Using this data, the company invested several hundred thousand dollars in replacing its small office coffee points with larger ones that were shared between more employees. In the quarter following the redesign, sales rose by $200 million dollars.

Elsewhere, Bank of America used sociometric badges to learn why some call center employees were more productive than others. Realizing that the most productive employees were those that took breaks together, the bank rescheduled employees’ breaks to maximize interactions and saw a 10 percent increase in productivity.

On a broader scale, a company can use data and insights to see which leased or owned facilities have the most productive employees, and to gain an understanding of why. The data may show, for instance, that a new facility with larger windows and more natural light has significantly more productive employees — no surprise there, given the amount of available research on the effect of natural light on productivity.

5. Designing for the innovation mandate

Innovation is at a premium for many companies today, with 75 percent of CEOs saying that innovation is at least as important as operational effectiveness for finding new sources of revenue that enable a company to grow.[i] Innovation might mean developing new products, but it can also mean creating new business models or novel methods of service delivery.

Today’s companies must use every tool — including workplace and real estate strategies — to support their professionals in sourcing, testing, and bringing new ideas to market. When innovation is key, the most innovative companies provide a wide variety of spaces that meet employee needs, including well-designed selections of technology-enabled quiet rooms, collaborative workspaces, short-term breakout spots, and social areas for accidental encounters.

In fact, employees at the most innovative companies benefit from better-designed and more functional workspaces, with adjustable features, collaboration areas, a variety of workspaces, noise management and access to outdoor areas, according to Gensler and JLL research. The innovation mandate also means investing in people, processes and tools to drive a culture of innovation forward, with recognition and rewards that celebrate the best new ideas.

The most innovative companies provide a wide variety of spaces that meet employee needs, including well-designed selections of technology-enabled quiet rooms, collaborative workspaces, short-term breakout spots, and social areas for accidental encounters.

Nearly 60 percent of CEOs say that the most important ingredient for successful innovation is having the right culture — something that CRE and workplace strategy can certainly enable and support. In fact, Gensler research shows that workplaces that effectively serve the four modes of knowledge work — focus, collaborate, learn, and socialize — produce more innovation for the enterprise.

Employees at the most innovative companies benefit from better-designed and more functional workspaces, with adjustable features, a variety of workspaces, noise management, and access to outdoor spaces. The most innovative employees, Gensler found, are twice as likely as less innovative peers to have access to, and use, cafeterias, coffee shops, and outdoor spaces for work, as opposed to being in the corporate office. These innovative employees also report having twice as much control over when and where to work.

Strategies to support innovation are evolving every day, encompassing not only the design of a space, but also its location. In the future, a real estate portfolio could even include accelerator, incubator, and innovation spaces where companies can work with startups, partners and researchers to develop new products, services, and ideas. Accelerator spaces — spaces for startups and high-growth companies — can act as places for large companies to identity new ideas or investment prospects at source.

Product development can be significantly expedited through the creation of innovation spaces, where mature companies bring their teams to work alongside partners and suppliers to jointly work on new products and services. Spaces where companies can work with partners in adjacent industries will be key as technology blurs the lines between different sectors.

Get ready for the future Monday morning

In nearly every industry, these five trends are already changing workplace practices. Some organizations have recognized that traditional work and workplace practices don’t apply to today’s modes of working. Nor do traditional workplace strategies support the collaboration and innovation that so many companies seek to foster. Forward-looking companies and their workplace consultants have an opportunity today to help establish new approaches and best practices for tomorrow. Before we know it, we’ll be waking up on a Monday in 2026 and experiencing a kind of office we’ve never seen before.

[i] PWC, Unleashing the Power of Innovation, New York, New York, December 1, 2014, p.4, p. 9

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