Put the hype to one side. How, why, where and when people work is constantly evolving. There is no workplace revolution but, after decades anticipating the new world of work, it has become reality. From mobile working to virtual working, the long-anticipated future is here. The challenge now facing organisations is how to maximise the potential of the new working environment.
Among those leading the way in innovative ways of thinking about contemporary workplace realities are Royston Seaward and Martin Laws who respectively lead Deloitte’s Digital and Work + Place propositions. Between them, Seaward and Laws offer two perspectives on the same challenge – how to optimise the work environment for employees and for customers.
“We’ve all been talking about the future of work without realising it’s already arrived,” observes Laws. “Partly, it’s been masked by the recession, but as we move out of austerity and back into growth, it is becoming clear that expectations have risen.”
Seaward agrees. “In the war for talent, the physical manifestation of your brand suddenly becomes very important. Generation Y demand it. It’s a vital part of the new employee proposition,” he says.
Clearly, the growing influence of Gen Y (millennials born between 1982 and 2004) in the workforce is an increasingly disruptive force. By 2025, Gen Y employees (many now in their 20s) will grow to represent 75 per cent of the workforce. For this emerging generation, work-life fit is valued more than compensation growth or skill development. And more than half of Gen Ys believe increased mobile working would improve their productivity. “Today, it’s more about showing people what you stand for rather than telling them,” reflects Seaward.
Research from Deloitte indicates that a number of trends, including demographic shifts, are now converging to create a perfect storm. As the global economy picks up, companies are pursuing post-recession growth. At the same time the unrelenting pace of technology raises both
expectations and potential performance by allowing people to work in different ways. Last but by no means least, firms are embracing alternative employment models to populate their operations – everything from flexible working, to contracting and crowdsourcing.
“Companies are responding to the disruption in different ways,” says Seaward. “In Western Europe the need for growth is partly defensive – spurred by the need to fend of global competition and recruit talented employees. Providing exceptional places to work is one way to attract and retain talent, as well as increasing productivity.”
Martin Laws acknowledges the corporate imperative to pursue smart growth. “That means doing more with what you’ve got – both in terms of how you manage talent and how to manage the working environment. But it is about continual evolution rather than revolution.”
So how can companies optimise their workplace environments? How can the Chief HR Officer simultaneously combine talent retention with workforce flexibility?
How can the Chief Technology Officer create a diverse portfolio of technology assets that keep pace with the changing demands of workers but do not require budget-busting investment? And how can the Property Director manage the real estate portfolio so that it is an asset rather than a liability?
It sounds like a tall order. But Laws and Seaward believe the answers lie with providing flexible solutions in the four key areas that make up the organisation’s corporate infrastructure: talent; technology; place; and space.
The working environment is an innovative tool for talent management. But the people must come first. “Human capital is still your primary asset,” says Seaward. “It’s easy to get carried away with the glamorous gadgets, but it has to be for a purpose.”
The key to managing talent, adds Laws, is to increase the flexibility of the organisation’s people engagement so that it is able to redirect resources to priority areas. Tis includes embracing alternative employment models such as crowdsourcing and contracting, while also creating an attractive working environment to retain talent.
“Younger people now talk about work life integration not work life balance”, says Laws.
Two examples illustrate how omnipresent digital devices are in our lives: people now routinely check their smart phones and other digital devices 200 times a day; many of us use mobile devices to check information within seconds of waking up.
The technology challenges encompass mobile, social, analytics and cloud technologies, as well as cyber security. Companies need to find cost-effective and adaptable ways to connect people and things. They also need to recognise and embrace the rise of social media and the virtual communities they create.
But, technology is only a tool. “It is people who make innovation by finding new uses for technology,” says Seaward. “Technology is the enabler but lack of technology can also put people off.”
And, he says, Gen Y already uses technology differently. “When people over 25 go online they typically use search engines. But when people under 25 go online their first port of call is social media. The over 25s search, but the under 25s want to discover.
The third big challenge for companies is selecting their locations and real estate portfolios. “People have very clear ideas about where they do and don’t want to work,” observes Laws.
“And location options – in terms of where you want to source your talent pool from, where they want to work and where they can actually operate for maximum enterprise success – are myriad.”
“There will be different factors for different businesses. If you are a private equity frm in the UK then you may still be attracted to an office in London’s Mayfair to reassure clients that you are close to other major players. But whilst talent and technology can be scaled up or down within months, real estate is lumpy and long-term – making rapid change to location difficult and expensive. The challenge is working out how to optimise this inflexible asset.”
Alongside talent, technology and location strategies, companies need to manage their workspace. A building can have a rich diversity of spaces. “The buildings aren’t the problem. The challenge is to be flexible about what’s in them and how we use them,” says Laws. “Companies will offer multiple environments. There is still a place for big, shiny corporate spaces, but one size no longer fits all.”
Deloitte Digital is practising what it preaches at the Buckley Building in London’s Clerkenwell. The building’s evolution is symptomatic of broader changes in working life. The emphasis is on flexibility and creating space and opportunity for interaction. Teams can gather quickly when required. There are no individual offices nor permanent desks. Instead, there is an array of different working areas and collaboration technology. This provides their talent with a choice of how they want to work, empowering them to make this choice through a culture that has collaboration at its heart. This, you realise, is what the future already looks like.