Future workplace will combine people, digital technology and physical place

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Philip Ross says, 'movement, steps, standing will all become part of the expectation of the workplace, and it will be quantified.'

(This is third in a four-part series of stories on workforce development in the produce industry.)

Futurist Philip Ross believes an unfixed desk and activity-based working environment, enabled by wireless technologies, will energise employees and save money.

Kicking off the programme for the new UK fresh produce industry HR event held in London last week, Philip Ross, the founder and CEO of UnGroup, explored the future of the workplace and how businesses can get ready for Generation Z (people born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s or those aged between 12 and 17 years old today), who will enter the workforce in the next five years.

“The future of work is a collision of people with new digital technology and physical place (where you put people to work),” attendees heard from Ross, who specialises in predicting the impact of emerging technology on the way we work, shop, consume leisure and live. 

He described most workplaces as “not great” at the moment, where many employees are disengaged partly because expensive facilities have resulted in a lack of space. 

In the future, Ross envisages a better way to organise office space so that it is exciting, dynamic and convertible to provide enough room for working and meetings, as well as wellness and social interaction.

“Across almost all organisations we find on average that about 50% of desks are in use every day,” he pointed out, explaining that most workers sit based on their position in the company’s ‘organisational chart.’

Ross suggested the future of work is based on the “real organisation” of staff based on “activity-based working” within “un-corporate” offices that inspire innovation, attract talent and clients and save money.

“You rescale the building based around the activities and tasks that people are doing and how many are being done at the same time, and let people move and walk between different, specialist environments, which is good for well-being,” he explained.

“It takes about 30% off the overhead of properties, and 30% off the bottom line as well.”

Ross said this move away from ‘command and control’ towards self-configuring teams is being supported by analytics data from Microsoft 365 that, for the first time, can determine the real interaction and the real work taking place between staff.

He added that this method of “real-time working” reduces internal emails, and is being adopted by the likes of Microsoft and Facebook, and the MacQuarie bank in the City of London, which has wiped out six floors. 

Rather than having thousands of desks, Ross described the future workplace as a “physical, social network” which he termed “Jelly Bean working,” with an unfixed desk working environment enabled by wireless technologies, especially the smartphone as 5G emerges.

Indeed, he envisages workers being supported by “great technologies” that allow for “fantastic methods of connecting across distance” to provide “equality, access and diversity” for communication and interaction among staff, especially those who are unable to get into the office.

One company that has revamped its workspace is Boston Consulting Group in New York, which went from a very corporate, conservative environment to a laptop-first, wireless-first solution with cafés, graffiti on the walls and a buzzing atmosphere. 

As a result, Boston Consulting Group has experienced a doubling of acceptances in job offers and has succeeded in attracting the so-called “Starbucks Generation.”

“We think Generation Z will expect a digital workplace experience,” Ross explained. “They want a ‘no-collar’ workplace ... they’re also expecting well-being.”

Ross predicted that sedentary work will become the biggest issue for employer’s duty of care, explaining how in Australia there is a major campaign which claims ‘sitting is the new smoking.’

“Movement, steps, standing will all become part of the expectation of the workplace, and it will be quantified,” he noted, detailing new apps coming from California that can track work levels and movement.

He also believes the next generation will expect the ‘wow-factor’ in the workplace, highlighting the new Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, whose entire lift lobby is wrapped in an LED video wall that displays California’s Redwood National Forest with full sound.

“If it’s not ‘Instagram-able’, they don’t want to be there,” he warned. “Will someone take a selfie in your workplace?” 

To support this environment, Ross said he believes in the future all major companies will provide employees apps that “glue together” the entire employee experience.

Examples include the Sephora app that brings people together via lunch date suggestions, car sharing or hobbies, as well as offering classic functions such as reporting faults, booking rooms. Or the employee app from Westpac, a major Australian bank, that lets staff find people and experts with capabilities in real time based on location.

To read PBUK’s other reports from the HR event, use the links below:

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