How we work, where we work and how we use our workplace has changed dramatically in the last 50 years. The indications are that our working habits will change even more in the future. But how and to what extent?
Compared to Ford’s assembly lines (production) and paper factories (offices) of the beginning of the last century, the workplace is now immeasurably different for a lot of industries. This change can be best described as evolutionary; however, the last 20 years have seen an increase in the speed in which changes occur.
The below table illustrates how work has changed and will change in three dimensions: how we work, where we work and our use of space.
From routine processes to creative knowledge work
In 1959, the legendary management consultant Peter Drucker first described the rise of “knowledge work” in Landmarks of Tomorrow. Three decades later, Drucker became convinced that knowledge was a more crucial economic resource than land, labor or financial assets.
In light of how our workplaces have changed and will continue to change in the future, organisations are now increasingly catching up on the reality Drucker foresaw.
How we work is increasingly changing from individual routine-based work to project-based work. Employees are working in more groups and teams, solving complex problems in teams composed of many different types of people and competencies. The problems are often unique and require divergent and creative thought and work processes.
Multiple locations instead of static offices
While work historically took place at a central office (often large headquarters), today work is also conducted remotely in multiple locations, including at home.
With a combination of mobile computing devices, high-speed wireless connectivity and various applications, ubiquitous mobility complements this development and removes many of the prevalent frustrations around working remotely. This includes slow connections and dropped video and teleconferencing.
Today location is not a limit as anyone living anywhere with a laptop and a Skype account could become your company’s next employee.
Shared workstations outrule fixed desks
How we use space in work is also changing. In the past, employees had one designated desk, with space allocation according to rank/title in the business hierarchy, so the office of the VP was significantly larger than that of the graduate trainee. However, in today's office environment, employees are also met with shared workstations, with no fixed desks but flexible rooms that can match the task at hand and work setting.
Workspaces will meet new demands
These new working habits have been evolving for some time now, and some may even feel that the New Ways of Working are a reality already. As work is evolving to be a continuum from full-time in-office work to mobile, remote, distributed, virtual work, the facilities must adapt to support this.
Indeed, facilities - as a concept - will be broadened from considering just buildings to encompass spaces. These spaces will be faced with four demands:
- Ability to interact (visually, physically and virtually)
- Agility (flexible and adaptable to change)
- Diverse (provide for a range of activities and functions)
- Capacity (effectively service the user's physical and virtual requirements) [space]
Finally, buildings will become more intelligent, being bundled with a range of smart technologies. Sensors will be able to monitor the body temperatures of the employees and adjust the climate controls accordingly. In the near future, office buildings - and buildings in general - will have the ability to tailor the environment to the specific needs of the occupiers and thereby accommodate for the increasing diversity in both habits and working preferences.