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Everywhere, nowhere: the future of the workplace

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With the UK about to ban social gatherings again on Monday, the rest of the world is increasingly aware that tight lockdown measures will have to come back into effect soon. Work from home is here to stay, and this will shape the future of the workplace tremendously.

What will the future office look like? Will we get back to our 2019 work environment soon? But most importantly, will England win the next World Cup?

These questions are quite difficult to answer without a crystal ball, but as you can imagine, some have already tried to do so. Apart from the last one. We already know everything about that.

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Photo by Glasspool Creative..

The Everywhere Enterprise

You may be familiar with the concept of ‘Everywhere Enterprise.’ To put it simply, the term describes an organisation that empowers a dispersed workforce through the use of advanced technology, streamlined digital processes and innovative team structures. It also serves a ubiquitous customer base, as Gartner network research VP Bob Gill so brilliantly pointed out in one of his blogs.

While the pandemic quite aggressively changed our daily habits, years (if not decades) worth of technological advancements have been shoved down society’s throat, and the one of tons of businesses with it. We now find ourselves with daily Zoom or Skype meetings, remote mental health checks and sometimes even virtual team games to preserve office mentality.

Our very attitude to work has changed overnight.

Most companies have had to adapt or die. You may have heard of Facebook, Google and Microsoft telling most employees that remote working will become the norm in the company, in some cases until further notice, in others (Google) until midway next year.

With such increase in flexibility, companies will be able to cut down costs by reducing office space or by reshaping the way those office spaces are conceived. In some cases, even by changing the salary of their employees based on location (and that was Facebook’s case).

A different office

Offices will certainly look different, perhaps less appealing. According to TechRadartight health security measures will make travels to the office less enjoyable, and all those ping pong tables and gaming spaces will probably have to be reimagined as well.

The offices may become a place for collaboration and occasional meetings, rather than a support to the entirety of the creative process. This is unlikely to be a problem for larger businesses, if they can afford to keep office spaces – but how will this affect small companies, which seem to make up a good majority of the creative industry?

Offices will be cut, or look much different

I’ve already heard about some independent businesses (such as Failbetter Games) having to give up the office until further notice, and moving their employees to work entirely from remote. This is likely to become the norm for most small businesses, who will be able to save loads of finances by simply cutting down on office space, or by eliminating it altogether.

One thing is for sure: if offices are to come back, they cannot do it in the same fashion as 2019. New technologies, new access devices, new security measures will be fundamental to keep the workplace safe, and this applies to all sectors, from small retail shops to the biggest corporations and brands out there.

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Photo by Jason Katsoulis.

The 4 dimensions of the future workplace

Last year in June, intranet provider Unily released a captivating report about the future of the workplace in 2030+. Industry leaders, experts and visionaries were interviewed to understand the trends of the future workplace.

It is quite breathtaking to think about how much has changed since then. Although the pandemic has shattered our existing conception of the workplace, it is just as true that COVID-19 has accelerated new ways of working that still resonate with last year’s report from Unily. This July, the intranet company has asked futurist Anne Lise Kjaer to update the report with a new chapter, to understand how COVID will shape the future of the workplace.

Anne Lise has identified four dimensions of the workplace of tomorrow:

  • Emotional
  • Physical
  • Technological
  • Purposeful

However, all of these can be summarised into one, large concept that engulfs most of their common themes: the future of work will be shaped by the dialogue between technology and human.

The future of work is human and technological

Artificial Intelligence (not the Asimov kind) will be crucial to shape personalised experiences and create positive mental spaces for workers all around the world(Emotional Workplace). Physical spaces will be shattered and Unily expects more and more meetings to take place in AR or VR (Physical Workplace). In short, imagine a meeting on the surface of Mars or the plains of Patagonia, and start drooling over the thought with us.

The masterful and conscious employment of smart tech will fuel creativity and innovation, fostering new business models, ways to work and even employee experiences (Technological Workplace), in a human/tech partnership enriching both ends. And of course, we all know how important purpose has become in recent times – so much that brands and companies now actively seek to leave a positive mark on this world, for the good and glory of mankind (Purposeful Workplace).

The Future of Work

The future of work is underway now. A decentralised workforce with better time management and a healthier work-life balance, probably living in harmony with technology in around 10 years.

AI will lead to more personalised employee experiences, whether at home or in the office, changing the very way in which we think about work. And by then, hopefully, your neighbour will have learned not to litter the beach with his empty plastic bottles.

Which all sounds quite exciting. Next, of course, comes the biggest challenge: how do we prepare for the future of work, if we still have no idea of what will happen in two weeks?


Header image: JSR Agency for V&A.

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