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2019 will prove to be something of a momentous year in our home nation of the UK. But as recent developments in our own business have shown, the future lies beyond national borders and we’re pleased to embrace a global perspective. This extends to the key workplace trends we will all experience in the coming year, not least the way in which the physical office works in parallel with digital space to create a domain in which work is freer of both time and place. That much is evident in each of the following trends, presented in no order of importance.

The digital workplace

For decades, technology has been the main driver of workplace change. What is important to acknowledge now is that change has been happening at an accelerating rate over that period to bring us to a point at which the distinction between digital and physical space is increasingly irrelevant.

This is not about videoconferencing systems and the like which ape physical interactions but a new era in which offices and digital workplaces overlap and offer their own advantages and challenges. People will always need to meet up in person for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it allows them to collaborate and develop relationships in particular ways (and because we like it). But they will learn to see this as part of a working day and not its sole component.

The challenge will be to create offices that address the needs of this new era and to manage the creep of digital workspace into the rest of our lives. It may be that some businesses are lagging in this regard, but more are becoming aware of how to harness digital disruption to their own advantage. As a new report from Vodafone claims, there is evidence that businesses with a progressive take on digital readiness are more confident about their futures.

Engagement

A recent poll from Cascade HR named employee engagement as HR’s biggest challenge for the second year running. This is a complex challenge, as a recent study from the IES argues. The authors suggest that engagement is a multi-faceted challenge that requires increasingly sophisticated solutions including an open minded to agile working methods.

Physical space can shape people’s behaviour, feelings and attitudes towards their employer. Organisations must think about the workplace as an ecosystem of spaces that allow people to have choice and control over where and how they work.

The experiential workplace

A new report from Gensler highlights how people now judge their experience of an office against how they experience the other places they might be working. The report shows that there is a direct connection between the quality of design and a positive emotional response from people and found the best experiences anticipate people’s needs, tap into their emotions, and engage the senses.

The challenge for designers and managers then becomes how to make their office the best place anybody could imagine getting some work done. It concludes that ‘in a rapidly changing environment, designers will be required to rethink and reinvent how people experience every aspect of their lives and spaces that they live in.’

Beyond coworking

It may be that some people still see coworking as something of a niche, perhaps even faddish, phenomenon. But there won’t be many of them left soon as the concept evolves away from its roots as a property model that allowed startups in real estate hotspots to occupy space at lower cost, for flexible periods and in an environment full of like-minded people.

Now, it is appealing to a much wider range of organisations, including large corporates who are drawn to the idea of a core and flex model of real estate management that allows them a great deal of flexibility in the way they occupy offices and also as a way of reorganising teams and acquiring talent and knowledge. Europe’s key evangelist of this new era is Antony Slumbers who sums up the state of play here.  

According to a survey conducted at the CoreNet Global Summit in Boston earlier this year, the percentage of employees at respondents’ companies utilising coworking spaces has doubled over the past two years. When asked what percentage of their global workforce are or will be using co-working on a regular basis, respondents indicated the following: Today: 11 percent; in two years: 17 percent; in five years: 23 percent.

Professional convergence

The recent name change of BIFM to the Institute of Workplace Management tells us a great deal about the changing nature of the workplace. It is not primarily a rebranding exercise. While facilities management is office focussed, the name change reflects a more complex landscape for work in which there is a convergence of the roles of what were once demarcated professions, including HR, IT, real estate and general management.   

Wellbeing

A nebulous idea that covers a range of physical, psychological and emotional needs but an essential component of modern workplace design and management. Already a prominent objective for organisations, their focus on wellbeing will increase next year as awareness grows of how the workplace can shape people’s physical and mental health, not least in the way they interact with technology and address issues such as long working hours and a more diverse workforce.   

One of the intriguing sub-trends to look out for is the conflation of wellbeing with sustainable building and workplace design.

Globalisation

Although created by common global forces, especially technology, workplace trends manifest themselves in specific ways in specific regions. This is not even a national issue, because what happens in New York is not subject to the same influences as Silicon Valley. The same could be said of London and Edinburgh, Melbourne and Perth.

What we can do is exchange the ideas as they spring up in different parts of the world in response to the forces of change. Learning from each other is what globalisation is all about.

Inclusivity

The workplace is more diverse than at any time in history, so inclusivity must be designed in at every level. It must address the needs of a multi-generational and ageing workforce and a wide range of physical and psychological needs. The physical office should be agile and accessible to a wide range of people and so too should working culture. This is not solely about diversity, although that too will be important, but about embracing difference and creating an organisation that is welcoming to all.

Domestication and urbanisation

Just as work has escaped the confines of the traditional office to colonise our homes and public spaces, so too are those spaces transforming the design of offices. This is not only evident in aesthetic terms, but also the functions of the office. While soft seating and a more domestic feel replaces many traditional workstations, agile working might be seen as nothing more than the creation of a cityscape within an office, with its parks, cafes, quiet spaces and random encounters.   

AI

We’ve been talking about AI for some time now, but 2019 may be the year it starts to impact extensively on people’s working lives. Like many genuinely disruptive technologies, it will change things gradually, then suddenly. A report this year from  tech firm Spiceworks suggests that found that within the next 12 months, 40 percent of large businesses in the US and Europe expect to implement one or more intelligent assistants or AI chatbots on company-owned devices, compared to 25 percent of mid-size companies and 27 percent of small businesses.

The good news is that most commentators think the advent of AI may be as catastrophic as some forecasts suggest. According to an analysis by PwC, in the UK around 7 million existing jobs could be displaced, but around 7.2 million could be created.

Headspace

Although psychology and physiology have always played an important role in understanding how best to design offices for people, growing workplace complexity is seeing designers and their clients call on some other disciplines to understand what makes people tick. Amongst these are neuroscience and anthropology.

These are important as we increasingly try to address issues such as how to deal with distractions and acoustics, personality types and the creation of effective teams along with the spaces needed to address these issues.

Flexible working

Old but gold, there is still a pervasive inertia with regard to the adoption of flexible working in some organisations as well as widespread misunderstanding of what it means, most typically that it involves working from home rather than the office. The truth is that it takes a wide variety of forms, and while these are now commonplace, they are not universal.

This is a shame because flexible work models offer the chance to address a wide range of work related issues including improvements in work life balance and productivity but also helping mothers back into the workplace and encouraging more fathers to take a greater role in childcare, both of which are important in reducing the earnings gap between men and women.  

By Gary Chandler, CEO

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