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Why Employees Need New Spaces to Master the Future of Work


Workspace is increasingly seen as a way to redirect people to the work that really matters. Today that largely means digital, according to our recent survey of 500 decisions-makers. Here’s what you need to know about the future of workplaces.

In the history of work, each step change in technology has altered how work is organized, the tasks employees handle and the places where they work. Whether it’s rows of typists in the 1960s, or the cubicle onslaught of the 1980s, the visual cues, tools, layout and location of the places where work is done speak volumes about what is expected of the people who work there.

With the shift into digital, this trend hasn’t changed. In fact, at a time when virtual work and a “no-office” culture have never been more possible, the workspace matters more than ever. But like before, the latest evolution of work necessitates a reexamination of interior design, digital workflows and even corporate locations. 

To better understand the interplay between workspace and output, we conducted a study of 500 business executives to find out how leaders see workspace evolving, and what they are doing to supercharge the space around them. This is what we learned. 

Six Key Findings

Workspace is integral to meeting business goals.

Investing in an efficient and effective workspace is not just a nice-to-have, according to half of our respondents, who said these expenditures are nearly as important as investing in the latest technology. This reflects a new understanding of the changes in work, and the importance of creating a suitable space for new, increasingly digital work to happen.

Corporate footprints are expected to grow, not shrink.

Despite respondents’ belief that nearly 30% of back-office tasks will disappear over the next five years due to automation, there will be no corresponding downsizing of corporate real estate. In other words, work isn’t disappearing; it’s shifting. Corporate footprints are expected to grow an average of 13%, according to respondents. So while software might be eating the back office, work is shifting from the back office to the front, where value is created for customers.

Productivity, agility and innovation drive workspace design.

Already, about 40% of respondents have reconfigured their workspaces, in some cases dramatically, to improve workflow and flexibility. The payoff, as ranked by our respondents, is found in increased productivity, organizational agility and higher rates of employee innovation.

Different workspace characteristics are needed for human and machine work.

Tech industry leaders are using clever spatial design to encourage creativity, collaboration and experimentation among their human workers, while automating tasks that are better performed by machines. Office layouts encourage serendipitous meetings among employees, and designated gathering spaces pull together disparate teams and processes. Meanwhile, productivity apps and other automation tools are being combined with environmental refinements to streamline rote activities, sense employees’ workstyle preferences and free up workers to overcome more intense challenges.

Companies are ready to change places.

Over one-third (38%) of respondents say their organizations are prepared to shift their geographic location, which underscores the dynamics surrounding innovation. In addition to a desire for better access to customers, partners and suppliers, organizations are also eager to tap talent clusters being established in specific locations around the world. Despite global connectivity to data and communications, proximity is key for certain kinds of knowledge transfer.

A new space blueprint can spur the modern enterprise.

If you want to change how people work, start with the place of work. We recommend a more fluid, outwardly focused organizational design that recognizes both where it needs to be and what its people need to get there. The actual work of transforming an enterprise and returning its culture takes years, not months. Employees need to see the enhanced culture taking shape and its working methods evolve.

Making Space for the Future

How well does your space support the above changes? Retrofitting your current real estate can help, but a broader approach to redesigning your workspaces can drive the right behaviors from people, boost productivity, spur innovation and position the company for greater opportunities ahead. 

When evaluating your blueprint for the modern enterprise, we recommend the following guidelines:

  • Don’t infantilize the workforce. You might be tempted to create a games zone or turn office walls into colorful chalkboards. Doing so, however, could alienate many in your workforce. While these initiatives target the millennial worker – and can be a great way to bring people together – they ignore the fact that most of us prefer a good coffee and a reliable Wi-Fi network over fancy bells and whistles. 

  • Focus on real-estate changes that improve collaboration. Study respondents said they were shifting to modular formats to improve collaboration. Businesses should build the case for why extra money should be allocated to new spaces that encourage human interaction and improve productivity. Start by taking a measure of cultural collaboration and its impact on sales growth, team productivity, product development, and/or customer satisfaction and innovation. At the end of the day, if productivity doesn’t improve, then it’s going to be hard to make the business case for redesigning even more offices to drive the right behaviors.

  • Consider how changing space would improve output. Assess what goes into the innovation process at your workplace and the expectations surrounding it, and recognize how different types of workspaces support these goals. Use both hard numbers on shared product development or co-created solutions, as well as qualitative findings such as new worker behaviors. One idea is to rededicate back-office space to activities that create value for customers, say installing space for the customer experience team or players in the customer engagement process to co-create value.

  • Open a node near a talent cluster. Accessing, teaming and co-creating with a global talent pool calls for establishing a node where the action is. Start by reconfiguring a business unit into smaller multidimensional teams. Consider joining a coworking space even just for a couple of quarters and connecting with others who share and work in the same space. The popularity of these spaces and the financial backing they currently receive proves that they are onto something.

  • Continuously calibrate innovation with location. There are literally hundreds of accelerators and thousands of coworking spaces in cities across the world. These new talent hubs offer hot digital technologies and capabilities that can speed innovation or deliver game-changing impact to a business model, operational model or supporting tech. Physical colocation is part of the formula that enables creativity and co-creation.

The benefits of space go beyond simple productivity measures or anecdotal reports on inter- company collaboration. If properly conceived and instrumented, workspaces can drive game-changing creativity and innovation that any business looking to survive and thrive in the digital era requires. As a result, the space in which we work matters more than ever.

To learn more, please read Space Matters: Shaping the Workplace to Get the Right Work Done, visit our Center for the Future of Work, or contact us with any questions.

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Why Employees Need New Spaces to Master the Future of Work