The business landscape has changed drastically in the last few years, and work is getting more mature and technologically advanced. This has created various opportunities and challenges at the workplace for both employees and employers. It is observed that in many organisations today, engagement is alarmingly low, and there's growing awareness that traditional workplace design is contributing to the problem instead of helping to solve it. As workers are putting in longer hours and performing creativity- and knowledge-based duties more than ever, the office has become a venue for personal expression, rather than a purely functional space. Hence, creating a progressive workplace that supports the physical, cognitive and emotional needs of people, offering them with choice and control over how they work will help achieve maximum productivity.
In many organisations today, engagement is alarmingly low, and there's growing awareness that traditional workplace design is contributing to the problem...
Organisations need to be mindful of several new factors/trends that will be key contributors to the productivity of their workforce.
1. Physical spaces and well-being
Organisations have strong reasons to be preoccupied with physical wellness, given its clear connection to costs. Worldwide, rates of heart and lung disease, diabetes and obesity are rising sharply. According to Steelcase, in the US, $300 billion is the cost of stress caused at the workplace. The ubiquity of technologies is driving people to multi-task like never before, leading to cognitive overload. Hence, rapid changes in the work people do, and the tools and the technology they use have made work more complex, demanding and stressful. These factors are all powerful catalysts for employee burnout and other signs of ill-being, making well-being a form of risk management. Organisations can make a significant impact on their employees' well-being by focusing on the physical environment.
According to the Steelcase study, 69% of employees in the world are disengaged. The results reveal a strong corelation with employees' satisfaction with their work environment and level of engagement. Lack of privacy is employees' foremost complaint about their workplace. The imbalance between collaboration and privacy at many offices has reached crisis proportions. In other words, while the watering holes and caves of our ancestors have been replaced by gathering places and private enclaves in our offices today, in the coming years, organisations will have to accommodate people's needs for both types of settings. Hence, desigining a workplace that offers an optimal balance of place, posture and presence will help boost wellbeing and heighen collaboration at work.
2. Millenials will (still) pose a challenge
The millennial generation, born between 1980 and 2000, is now entering employment in vast numbers, and will redefine the culture of 21st century. According to Steelcase Growth Market report, India's workforce is growing rapidly and in the next 25-30 years, the number of people added to it could equal the entire population of the United States. This growing population will be majorly dominated by the millenials who are powered by technology and competition, and who prefer a flexible working style, privacy and collaboration; they mix traditional values with a western outlook. Their exceptional communication skills and professional competence makes it vital for organisations to retain this younger talent.
To heighten collaboration, many companies are placing too much emphasis on open spaces and not enough on enclosed, private spaces.
To accomplish this, workplace design plays an important role. If created to support the kinds of work that people need to do today and tomorrow, it can foster both efficiency and creativity and inspire people to do their best work, unleash their potential and help their organisation win. Within the workplace, there should be spaces that encourage people to sit, stand and move throughout their day, while supporting the different kinds of work they do and the multiple technologies they use.
3. 'Presence disparity' causing alienation
Digital workspaces are taking a front seat, with work flowing across distributed teams. While this allows faster, smarter and more innovative work, teams also face challenges while dealing with their counterparts in other locations. It threatens productivity and makes collaboration taxing. To overcome this, there is a growing necessity to design workplaces integrated with tech-enabled solutions that will help boost human connection, improve the quality of communication, support diverse workstyles and encourage natural work rhythms. People should be allowed to have quality interactions in both physical and virtual workplaces.
4. Open plan—no longer such a great idea
In organisations all over the world, collaboration has become the big engine for progress and innovation. To heighten collaboration, many companies are placing too much emphasis on open spaces and not enough on enclosed, private spaces. The idea is that open workplaces encourage collaboration and help workers to feel supported in their work, building trust and loyalty. Today, open plan seating in offices, which was merely about 25% of the floor plan earlier, has now increased to 45-50%.
While open office culture is associated with several advantages, there are drawbacks too. Too much interaction and not enough privacy has taken a toll on workers' creativity, productivity, engagement and wellbeing. According to the Steelcase study, 98% of Indian employees name lack of privacy as the main factor hampering their productivity. Also, the open office culture promotes distraction and a noisy work environment—in some open-plan offices, noise ranges from 60 to 65 decibels. Therefore, a mix of open and enclosed areas—"I" spaces and "we" spaces—should be implemented. Instead of providing only open-plan work settings, organisations should "create settings in which people are free to circulate in a shifting kaleidoscope of interactions."