What will the work environment look like in the future?

The 4th Industrial Revolution is having a profound impact on the job market. More than 65% of children entering school today will be in occupations that do not yet exist. Dorota Osiecka, Colliers Define expert in the Business Insider interview.

How will the development of new technologies revolutionize the work environment in the near future?

Predicting the future – even the near future – is risky. Most predictions in the area of technology are in fact extrapolations of phenomena that already exist, though perhaps not yet common. The development of technology, including above all various forms of intelligent algorithms, allows for far-reaching automation, which will be subject not only to simple, repetitive processes but also to such seemingly unobvious and rather associated with “white collar” areas as law, medicine and investment portfolio management.

However, just as it was in the case of the first industrial revolution, the professions that will be forgotten will be replaced by new ones. A recent World Economic Forum report on the future of work estimates that 65% of children entering elementary school today will be in professions that do not yet exist today. So the long view is counterintuitively optimistic. What we have a problem with is the short and medium term, requiring change management in a world of broken continuity – a world defined by new technologies. It is in the short to medium term that human adaptability may prove insufficient, and we may see areas of exclusion emerge, both on a macro and micro scale. This makes it all the more important for managers to be able to focus on what is human – on consciously shaping and managing the employee experience.

What changes are occurring in the way business approaches employees? What does experience design mean? Is it just a new trendy buzzword or an actual change in approach?

In today’s knowledge-based economy, most organizations are human capital companies, that is, those in which intangible assets constitute significantly more than 50% of key resources. Most of these organizations are aware of the importance of creating an environment for employees and associates that allows them to realize their full potential.

The problem they face is the lack of a holistic approach to designing employee experience. We know from numerous reports (including a global Gallup survey) that up to 87 percent of employees are not engaged in their work.

Much has been written about how to attract and retain talent, the needs of younger generations of employees and the resulting need for a change in approach. However, despite the popularity of the topic, initiatives aimed at solving the “employee problem”, i.e., increasing engagement at work, attracting and retaining talent, unfortunately often boil down to uncoordinated actions taken by HR, IT and administrative/operational divisions. I mean initiatives such as employer branding campaigns, recruitment or training in the HR area, BYOD (bring-your-own-device) policy and a number of applications and systems supporting efficiency at work, inter-team communication, mobility, etc. in the IT area, as well as investments in creating an exceptional office space and various amenities for employees. These are often very valuable initiatives, but as long as the employee experience issue is not addressed holistically, we cannot expect tangible results.

What elements make up the total employee experience in the workplace?

The total employee experience in the workplace is sequentially made up of all stages of interaction between the employee and the organization. From the recruitment process, through the development and progression of the career path, to the employee’s parting with the organization. Creating the desired employee experience must be consciously implemented at each of these stages.

However, to achieve the desired effect, it is not enough to develop good procedures. It is necessary to have a coordinated, holistic approach which includes actions on four key levels: human, process, technological and physical. When creating an optimal work environment, we need to consider topics such as the culture and climate of the company, management style, relationships with superiors, sense of purpose, and the quality and possibilities offered by the physical space in which we function.

Are we witnessing an evolution or a revolution in this area?

We are in a phase that is succinctly described by the English word disruption or interruption. But Amara’s Law says that in general we tend to overestimate the impact of change in the short term and underestimate its importance in the long term. The same is true in the area of shaping the employee experience.

We already know quite a bit about the key aspects of that experience, what shapes it. We know that in a global economy based on knowledge, the winners will be those who can consciously shape this experience by building an organizational culture that allows you to break free from the paradigm of “fighting for talent”, making talent choose this employer and not another.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned lack of a holistic view on the problem of experience in the work environment causes most companies to get bogged down in implementing disconnected HR initiatives, new technologies, or designer interiors full of gadgets and improvements for employees. These initiatives, while appropriate in their own right, have at best a limited effect, being reactive rather than anticipatory – precisely because of the lack of a coherent strategy.

So changes in the creation of the work environment are not just about its physical appearance? What values and assumptions are at the heart of this process?

There are two assumptions at the core of conscious design of work environments.

The first is to focus on the strategic business goals of the organization. Companies are increasingly aware of the fact that their environment has a real impact on how they function. Therefore, in our work, we always start from determining the business objectives and priorities of the company.

The second, no less important assumption, is the consideration of human needs. When designing, we act in a human-centered design approach. Our tools allow us to include the employees’ perspective in the design process. This allows us to precisely diagnose problems and choose solutions. We believe that only by combining these two foundations, we can create an environment that acts as a tool for achieving goals.

Much has already been said about the differences between Generation X, Y and Z employees and their different expectations and needs. Is this aspect really crucial when designing a work environment?

For some time now, the topic of generational changes has enjoyed unflagging popularity. However, it is worth taking a closer look to understand what areas are actually affected by these differences. What hasn’t changed are the basic needs related to factors such as access to light, thermal comfort, and acoustics.

Designing environments that better support human needs is more a result of our growing awareness, not generational change. Nor does systematic research confirm the existence of significant generational gaps in areas such as job satisfaction, engagement or sources of motivation. The sense of purpose of work, development opportunities or autonomy in performing professional tasks are important for representatives of all generations.

What really distinguishes representatives of younger generations from their older colleagues is, above all, the proficiency in the use of modern technologies and the associated expectations. In the age of social media, it is very easy for employees to see how their work environment functions against today’s standards. Companies, therefore, need to stay abreast of modern organizational models in order not to be left behind.

What challenges will employers face?

Technological progress, including in particular the automation of processes will result in the elimination of not only simple, but also complex, yet repetitive and predictable activities. The professions and specialties that will remain, not subject to automation, and the new ones that will arise as a result of technological development, will require complex skills in the area of interpersonal relations and creativity, as well as the ability to manage unpredictable phenomena in the broadest sense.

The war for talent and key professionals will therefore become fiercer than ever. The focus on identifying, attracting and retaining talent – currently a key focus of strategic HR – may prove to be an outdated model. Key professionals will not want to be tied to one company for years, opting instead for a flexible model and engaging only in the most interesting projects. In the situation of constant change and frequent reconfiguration of personnel composition, it will be very important for companies to be ready to offer flexible forms of work, the ability to quickly build and reconfigure teams, management of dispersed teams and management or leadership models allowing to achieve peak efficiency of the team in the fastest way possible in a given context.

In what direction will the work environment evolve?

The work environment, understood as a physical space and a set of cultural norms and rules shaping the behavior of its users, will evolve towards maximum flexibility and adaptability to unpredictable conditions. When it comes to resources such as real estate, new models of “ownership” are gaining popularity. In addition to the traditional ones, such as ownership, lease or long-term rental, there are flexible models – short-term renting of “serviced spaces” or co-working.

What used to be reserved for start-ups unable to afford high rental costs, is becoming a natural expansion strategy for large corporate clients. It is estimated that in the next two years the number of users of co-working spaces will increase to 3.8 million, to reach over 5.1 million in 2022. In such a fluid, flexible and dynamic world, the more important will be the issues of identity, identification with the brand or a sense of belonging to a community of people who have converging goals, common ground and a coherent system of values.

I deliberately avoid the term “organization” or “company” – the aforementioned trend of increasing independence of professionals means that soon in many sectors we will be talking not so much about “companies” as about communities, or even “guilds” of people bound together by common goals and shared experience. The company in which I work comes from the real estate sector. This is the core of our business, but the model in which we operate is also changing. More and more often we advise our clients in areas seemingly unrelated to real estate, such as change management, agile transformation, building innovative organizational culture or overall employee experience design. New challenges require new approaches and new tools.

What remains constant is the human context and the need to adopt a perspective that puts people and their needs at the center of the process.


*Originally the article was published on Business Insider Polska.

See All