Corporations are changing. They are becoming more agile and reliant on dispersed talent networks and open source innovation. This contradicts the traditional workplace design which evolved to support the uninterrupted flow of paper processing, focused on efficiency and visual supervision. So, as connectivity and access to knowledge become the defining features of business and society, we have become confused about the purpose of the office.
We therefore need to shift the focus of the workplace from efficiency to engagement, to redefine how and where work is accomplished and explore ways that the workplace can inspire and enable people to do their best work. We are also now contending with four generations at work and whilst they have varying priorities, their expectations are closely aligned: choice and flexibility, greater transparency, more teamwork and more amenities to support authentic sociability, knowledge, convenience and wellbeing. So the business environment of the future needs to support choice and flexibility, facilitate those with complementary skills connecting across networks, enabling complex relationships to flourish and employees to learn fast, unlock their passion, improve performance and react quickly to new business priorities.
Technology is of course playing a big part in this, now enabling us to work anywhere and so the arguments in favour of more flexible working practices are powerful and here to stay. Findings consistently suggest that workers gain better work life balance, are more productive, can concentrate better and experience reduced stress and commuting times. Flexible ways of working also enable office buildings to be used more intensively, as workspace can be used on a shared, as-needed basis. This is central to the value of the co-working phenomenon. The defining characteristics of co-working spaces focus on creating community, on collaborative rather than individual working and a range of spaces to support innovation. These ‘third-space’ workplaces vary in terms of scale, variety of settings and even where they lie on the leisure-work continuum. They share certain layout characteristics, including zones dedicated to concentrated working, collaboration, touchdown for short duration visits, formal and informal meeting rooms, café and social spaces, business and tech support spaces. Most significantly, they also actively curate events to support a community of interests and knowledge sharing. Not surprisingly then, corporations are starting to embrace the use of co-working spaces both in city centres and close to where people live, helping cut down commute times. These co-working spaces become neighbourhood services that can improve the work life balance of millions of people but also improve local communities and the growth of local economies. In addition, the corporate users benefit from access to innovative talent through the co-working ecosystem and from ‘spaceless growth’ – maximising flexibility while minimising fixed costs.
These new working models are changing the workplace from a container of routine work into a hub for bringing colleagues together. The office begins to look and work more like a city. Fundamentally altering how space is used over time and redefining the boundaries between corporate, retail and hospitality uses. Drawing to the office valued urban experiences and spaces: quiet areas, individual experiences, courtyards, cafés and social destinations. The successful characteristics of cities become part of the design language; permeability, diversity, overlapping experiences that surprise, delight and constantly change. Space no longer reflects hierarchical structures but supports dispersed networks and open source innovation. It is used more intermittently and intensively, designed with meaning, focused on values, culture and community. The nature of the city also changes as it becomes an extension of the office –a broad workscape in which key work functions move into coffee shops, co-working spaces and the public realm. The workplace becomes less of a static backdrop to routine solitary work, and much more a setting for a diverse mix of spaces, amenities and events to facilitate serendipity, community and knowledge. The focus shifts to become flexible and responsive, a hotel-style facility that provides a high level of service and experience to its demanding ‘guests’.
This new blurring of boundaries of space, time and use has served to increase rather than relax the pressure on work settings to perform. The only constant is dynamic change. This new, people focused approach demands fresh thinking in the design, leasing and servicing of buildings and workplaces.
- Space is used as a key medium for expressing corporate culture and values.
- Design and leasing needs to support continuous adaptability and diverse use patterns.
- Loose fit, activity-based settings for collaboration, creativity and contemplation.
- Shared spaces, used as a means to facilitate collaboration and community.
- Amenities and service provision to support work/life (food, wellbeing, learning, etc.).
- Technology interfaces that are intuitive and seamless to improve user experience.
- Events curated and managed to create memorable experiences and to attract talent.
- Permeable to the public realm to reinforce a sense of community and connection.
It is easy to see how real estate portfolios will increasingly become a dispersed network of social and adaptive working environments, empowering individuals and teams across different work contexts. Our own workplace will be a menu of co-working environments that leverage our social networks and support our personal needs and aspirations day to day – hour by hour.
Despina Katsikakis I Workplace Industry Leader
With an international reputation for thought leadership and innovation on the impact of the workplace on people and business performance, Despina serves as an independent advisor with over 30 years experience working with corporate occupiers at board level with clients including Google, Microsoft, Barclays and Unilever.