The office, as millions of us know it, is evolving. The rigid, structured layouts, the cubicles, the desks, chairs and cabinets that have been a familiar presence for decades are no longer fit for purpose. In fact, in many cases they're holding companies back.
For some small businesses, there's no need for a physical office any more, but even many medium and large-sized enterprises are taking a good, hard look at the workplace and thinking of ways to make it more effective, turning it into a place that supports the way they work now, not the way they used to.
It's not just companies looking to change the way they work, but also their employees. Mercer's Global Talents Survey 2017 reported that 51% of UK employees wanted more flexible work options, and 49% wanted their employer to focus more on health and wellness.
This is backed up by a recent European Workforce survey by ADP which discovered that 37% of the workers surveyed stated that they wanted to combine working with the office with working from home.
So what has caused this shift in what we prioritise in working life? More millennials and generation Z workers are entering the workforce, motivated not just by wages and career advancement, but by their work/life balance and their social needs. According to ADP's survey, these two factors came behind pay and remuneration when respondents were asked what mattered most, with workers in the UK going above the global average of 28% for work/life balance to 33%.
One way to improve this much-desired work/life balance is for companies to allow their employees more flexibility, giving them more choice over when and where they work. This kind of flexibility isn't just of benefit to workers, but also to their employers.
When Deloitte surveyed millennial workers for its 2017 Millennial Survey, it found that those in organisations that offered more flexible arrangements rewarded their employers with higher loyalty. In highly flexible working environments, only 2% more millennial workers saw themselves leaving their job within two years than anticipated staying beyond five. In the least flexible organisations, the gap reached 18%.
The same survey found that those working in a flexible environment were twice as likely to say that it had a positive impact on organisational performance and general wellbeing.
A new kind of office
What does all this mean for the office? If the corporate desire for flexibility is put together with the worker's personal desire, it is no surprise that more open, flexible workspaces become so important. They don't just empower flexibility, but also collaboration, giving people the space and facilities they need to work together in whatever teams or ad-hoc partnerships they need to.
Flexible workspaces and hotdesks promote agility by breaking down the silos and enabling people to connect. More formal, closed-off meeting rooms and boardrooms will always be a necessity, but more companies are embracing informal meeting spaces with comfortable seating and a more relaxed feel.
The changing office isn't just about furniture and layouts, but also about having the technology in place to support them. For many workers, it will be out with the desktop PC, in with the lightweight convertibles and laptops, though there will still be users for whom more powerful workstations - either desktop or mobile - will be a requirement.
Cloud-based services, communication and collaboration tools will have a critical role to play, as companies look to knit teams and departments together, full-time or part-time, in the office or at home. Secure, wireless technologies are also becoming crucial, enabling workers to operate in any space and with whatever facilities they need to, seamlessly.
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Esther is a freelance media analyst, podcaster, and one-third of Media Voices. She has previously worked as a content marketing lead for Dennis Publishing and the Media Briefing. She writes frequently on topics such as subscriptions and tech developments for industry sites such as Digital Content Next and What’s New in Publishing. She is co-founder of the Publisher Podcast Awards and Publisher Podcast Summit; the first conference and awards dedicated to celebrating and elevating publisher podcasts.