The future of work is hybrid – if you’ve been around the Creativepool Magazine for long enough, you’ve read this many times from me now. While remote work is definitely here to stay, there is still a significant percentage of the workforce looking forward to going back to an office environment. If that hasn’t already happened with the lifting of restrictions, of course.
Many workers will go back to find a work environment that is much different from what they left. The Covid crisis gave employers a chance to step back and reconfigure their workspaces, bringing in a number of innovations which are certain to revolutionise the way we work in the future – though not all of them are necessarily exclusive to the pandemic.
Top workplace innovations for 2021 and beyond
Over a year ago, the future of work sounded quite scary to any fan of dystopian fiction and privacy advocate. Thermometers at the entrance, thermal cameras and sensors to scan body temperature while at work, plexiglass separators between desks and more – this was the reality of over a year ago, and it appears clear that we are still a bit off from getting rid of these measures entirely.
But while increased surveillance is definitely the scariest part of the future of work, there are also a number of innovations that we can only look forward to. I’ve collected exactly 15 below.
Artwork credit: Matt Bain
Work From Anywhere!
Spotify’s Work-From-Anywhere policy made some noise back in February as the company announced that employees would be able to work literally from anywhere, with no ties to a certain location. To an extent, of course. As a Spotify employee, you probably wouldn’t be able to work for the Australian offices whilst in the United States – but there is a certain amount of flexibility and you can easily expect to work from any close timezone with relative ease.
This is incredibly innovative and what many hoped to see from progressive companies following the pandemic. If it’s true that remote work made us just as productive as an office environment, there is no reason to forbid employees from chasing their own mental wellbeing by choosing the best location to work from. Will you miss Friday night drinks with your team? Probably; though you can resort to the next point in this list.
VR/AR/Mixed Reality Meetings
I hinted at Mixed Reality meetings in this week’s main feature, and I truly believe that Zoom is only the first step in virtualising office meetings. Future employees will be able to digitise themselves through avatars to get around the issue of body language, eventually managing to be there and in the moment whilst still working from remote.
If you don’t like the idea of a 3D model talking to you, you could resort to Telepresence Robots. These robots put your face on a 1:1 scale on a portrait-view screen and enable you to break free of the constraints of a small rectangular tile on Zoom. By having full control over the robot’s camera and movements, you can easily participate in meetings as if you were there – though don’t expect full body language from these means. We’re not quite there yet.
If you’ve been following LinkedIn’s work policies and initiatives, you already know about this one. The social media giant introduced a music room in its LinkedIn HQ in California, fully equipped with high-end music instruments and equipment. Employees can blow off steam by jamming away in the music room, and because these act as live performances, musicians improve the team’s morale as well!
Personally, as a rusty guitar player with very little time to play anything lately, I’d be all in for something like that.
Green, More Sustainable Offices
Plants, plants, plants! Who doesn’t love having some greenery around? Even a metropolis enthusiast like myself gets cheered up by the presence of some nature. It has been proven that living in greener, more sustainable offices improves overall mental health and productivity, as well as bringing some considerable health benefits from standing around nature.
This is not necessarily a new idea, but we can see it coming to life soon. To give you perspective, Google has an orange grove in Tel Aviv as a collaboration space, and it looks absolutely stunning.
Away With the Open Office!
Open offices were nice and trendy about five years ago, but the trend is somehow reversing now, especially seen all that happened with WeWork pre-pandemic. Employees enjoy more collaborative spaces, but sometimes (and for some people) focus can only be found in some more private, secluded desks with our very own personal space.
As a result, some employees and companies have realised they prefer private spaces now. This is not to say that the open office will disappear completely – but it will be much progressive and appreciated to give employees a choice.
The Google Offices in Tel Aviv
Private Work Lofts
On the topic of private spaces, there are some organisations in hospitality who are facing the challenges of social distancing in an entirely new and creative way. One of these is Zoku, which now offers private spaces to employees, allowing them to work away from family, noisy neighbours and partners.
Remote work clearly isn’t for everybody, and often family dynamics will get in the way of productivity. These private work lofts can be rented at any time and are designed for employees wishing for a more private, secluded space – or for those travelling around the world for work reasons.
Bring Your Pet to Work
There’s nothing quite like bringing our fluffy friends to work to boost employee morale. Pets are adorable and they de-stress employees, so it is normal that more and more employers are looking to adopt “Bring-Your-Pet-To-Work” days for their employees. Additionally, it has been proven that pets on the workplace make for a better connection with your work-life balance, on top of boosting the team’s morale.
Surely there are some downsides, such as distractions and potential allergies from other members of the team. However, overall reports seem to indicate good results in most cases. I can easily see why; it’s hard to say that bringing a pet to work won’t make the workplace more cheerful.
I will admit I’m cheating a bit with this, but for a good cause. The Covid-19 pandemic has offered employees a unique chance to switch their workspaces to cloud-based systems entirely, though these systems themselves have already been around for quite a while.
Many people could not imagine their lives without a cloud-based subscription service now, which makes it easy to forget that we used to carry bulky hard drives whenever we went, with multiple backups waiting at home. Cloud-based systems are already revolutionising the workplace with more collaborative environments and increased data security, so it’s only a matter of a few years before they become the norm, rather than a fancy add-on. I can imagine that most of the creative and advertising industry already is cloud-based.
Ever heard of dynamic glass windows? These revolutionary glass panels are smart in every way, often equipped with tinting options, and enable employers to have full control over the kind of mood and atmosphere in the office.
From regulating daylight intake to tinting the actual glass for atmospherical reasons, these dynamic glass panes are still not as widespread as they could be, but they are set to render blinds obsolete in the future as the technology progresses. If you are curious about these, SageGlass is one of the largest manufacturers of dynamic glass out there.
Desks, Desks, Desks!
A desk top is often synonym of work, so it makes sense that there are a number of innovations in the future of desks. Future employees will be able to benefit from Smart Desks, for instance; these are not quite the kind of desk you’re thinking of, with touch screens spread all over the surface (though those may come too), but rather ergonomic desks that can adjust their settings based on whether you are standing, sitting or otherwise. All with the press of a button.
In terms of desk design, there are a few innovations in the space as well. One of these is Movable Desks, essentially desks that can be reconfigured to fit together or be split apart, just like pieces of a giant puzzle. These configurations allow for flexibility, mobility and collaboration between employees, who can easily move their desks to team up and then move back to their separate spaces as they wish.
A similar concept is the one of Superdesks, though much less adopted than the other two. These are desks so long that they embrace the entire office and enable most of the employees to sit all together in one long collaborative space. The Barbarian Group did something similar; up to 170 people could sit at the long Superdesk, which moved across over 4,400 square feet.
Image credit: Webby Award winner Stuart Holmes
Hot-desking is a relatively new concept that is being embraced all over the industry, so this term may not sound new to you; it relates to the concept of unassigned seatings. Employees coming in an office every day can choose to sit always in different spaces, and there is no assigned desk where one can perform their work.
You can literally sit anywhere you please, from desks to couches and chairs. Of course, this means that the employer must make a conscious effort to create spaces that are easily reconfigurable for productivity. Some believe this will increase mobility around the office, but it looks like employees are simply choosing to stick to a different place every day, rather than jumping and moving around more. As people would do, it seems.
The switch to remote work was a sudden change for everybody. To some, it felt too sudden for sure, meaning they found themselves having to reconfigure their mindset to remain productive from home. This is where inspiration and focus apps kicked in.
These have always been around to some extent, but they boomed during the pandemic. My personal favourite is the Forest app, which sets a timer of your choice and then gives you a malus if you pick up the phone before the end of the focus session. It also plays some nature or urban noises in your background, which seems to help a lot of people (myself included). However, I also regularly make use of Spotify playlists for focus, and there is an app called Freedom which blacklists any potential distraction website or app, forcing you to focus for your set amount of time.
The Virtual Office
One of the downsides of a home office is that it is harder for employers to set up meeting rooms and project spaces for their employees. Some simply resort to Skype or Slack groups, which are not always as efficient as they can be – especially for larger teams.
Knowing that, some companies are offering a number of interesting solutions for the home office: virtual, customisable office spaces with top-down 2D view, enabling employers and teams to book interactive conference rooms or set up virtual spaces dedicated to specific projects. One of these companies is REMO, which is also compatible with Skype and other IM services.
If you’re saying you’ve never dressed smart from the waist-up only, just to attend a quick Zoom meeting, you’re probably lying. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and in fact I will bet that the vast majority of us will have done that at least once before – shorts and ducky socks while showcasing elegance from the waist up. As it happens, someone is being smart enough to capitalise on all that.
There are companies out there like Style Fílos which are configuring themselves as being “waist-up professional stylists. They brand themselves as being perfect Zoom companions, and though this is not an innovation in and of itself, I still applaud their creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. In other words, I think it’s pure genius.
Image credit: Zara Picken
Modular Home Offices
Lastly, if your employer is all about aesthetics while working from home, there are options out there to create ‘modular’ home offices which can be branded as needed. These companies will provide proper modules, accessories and equipment to make your Zoom calls look more ‘professional’ and in line with the company you’re working for.
Sure, a bit of the authenticity gets lost. Personally I’m all for a colourful, full shelf of games and books in the background, rather than an aseptic white wall. But if it helps with aesthetics, it’s an incredibly creative solution to the problem of remote meetings – and it can help the team feel more cohesive!
The future of work is… having a choice on how to work
Amidst all these, the bottom line and most important undertone is that employees of the future workplace will have a choice. They will be able to choose if they want private spaces or collaborative desks; they will be able to reconfigure their work space as, how, when and where they please, sometimes even while travelling countries.
Flexibility and authenticity are not just two buzzwords that will go away with the pandemic – they have the potential to redefine the entire job market, shaping the future of the industry towards a more inclusive, diverse, sustainable and adaptable workplace. All of this to ensure the best work/life balance for employees, productivity and performance for employers, and simply a much more peaceful work environment for all.
The future of work is bright and has people and employees taking the centre stage. All we need to do is follow through now.