Alison White of PLACEmaking takes a look at smart working – exciting future technology solutions and what ‘going to work’ will look like 10 years from now
The way we work has been changing steadily since the introduction of the personal computer in the 1970s. By the turn of the millennium, laptop users were able to work from multiple locations but it was the game-changing iPhone – combining cloud computing with communication – which revolutionised the ability to work remotely and on the move. Since then, smart organisations have fully embraced mobile working and enabled staff to balance their external obligations with business needs – gone are the days of the 9 to 5 working week in traditional offices.
Whilst working from home on a Friday is common for some, our clogged roads and peak time congestion do suggest that traditional working patterns still exist for many. Employers offering minimal ‘flexibility’ around the perceived core requirement to be physically “in the office” will find themselves left behind smarter employers who are busy preparing for the future.
What does that future look like?
Our way of working will continue to evolve and become increasingly smarter. Having continuous access to quicker, more reliable and personally profiled and filtered information with continuous communication connectivity will limit the need to physically travel to places to work, enabling us to choose places that suit our needs: when we want to work alone we will choose places that are comfortable and convenient including, if we so wish, our living/working home base.
Will we all be working from home?
We are social creatures at heart, and working from home only suits us for part of the time. When we want the benefit of stimulating company, the buzz of social interaction and/or the advantage of exceptional technology connectivity we will walk or cycle to our nearby ‘Village Hub’: a drop-in space not owned or provided by a single employer but a highly serviced independently operated place, accessed on a pay-as-you-go basis. Not a concrete, glass and steel office but characterful places where we feel welcome to come and go as we please: a far more relaxed, informal and social atmosphere – high street coffee shop meets library, meets workshop/techno lab, meets home kitchen. In the ‘Village Hub’ we will happily ‘work’ alongside other specialists from different sectors, industries and backgrounds, organically partnering with a selection and contracting with them on common enterprises for one or multiple customers.
We will have continuous real-time connectivity to colleagues and partners who are themselves in their local ‘Village Hub’. We’ve adopted new attitudes to ownership of the workplace: we don’t own anything but as consumers of a services we have access to a range of different and diverse work settings used for an agreed duration to complete our tasks, handing them back for others to use when we’re done. The providers host the environment and the services on offer, focused on customer care and offering bespoke personalised technical support and encouraging local providers to develop a range of add-on lifestyle services such as child care, dog walking, retailer deliveries etc. and theming the ‘Village Hubs’ to attract different interest groups on different days. Larger towns will have multiple hubs and the hosts will actively manage the hub offer, mixing specialists in response to business opportunities or changing demands.
What is the purpose of the office?
The HQ will have a purpose but perhaps we should think of it as the ‘Mother Ship’ rather than an administrative centre and/ or simply where the corporate leadership team is housed. The purpose of the ‘Mother Ship’ is to be the brand flagship, driving business development and incubating new customer products or services. In continuous virtual engagement with its remote and contracted specialist resource base it add value as a place of learning, a place to refresh professional connections during planned events. The value of the ‘mother ship’ – unlike the HQ – is not about how big and bland it is or how prominent its address, but in its connectivity to communications networks and highways and how well it expresses the value of the collective enterprise to its customers.
Our current style and traditional management approaches will have changed. In place of promotion based hierarchy and line management supervision, managers are instead now specialist ‘navigators’, drawn from the same talent pool as their colleagues but with additional attributes such as exemplary communication, co-ordination and exceptional marketing skills. Respected by their colleagues, they are team players who happen to have specific personal characteristics that support a diverse range of specialist resources. With no single corporate ladder, everyone will take responsibility for their own career ladder and it is the navigators hands-on role to align resource to match output demands, attracting and assigning the best possible talent to meet customer needs – they don’t achieve that sitting in pointless management meetings.
When we visit the ‘Mother Ship’ it will be for specific events. We may well do that physically, but we can now also do so virtually, represented by our own avatar which, as an extension of ourselves, will occupy space as if we were actually there: moving around, mixing and interacting with colleagues, partners or customers. There will be artificial and intelligent systems managing the environment, facilities and provision of the services we will make use of but our avatars are effective only if, whilst remote we are continually focused and in control of ‘our’ interactions – if we “nod-off” so will they! The internal environment needed to host these events will be different: no longer offices filled with desks and sterile meeting rooms but informal, social and communal spaces and creative multi-functional communication-rich visually transforming ‘project areas’ that foster innovation and reflect the importance of interactive teaming-based problem solving. The platforms that we use will also change – out will go typed email and messaging, in its place will be voice-activated collaboration and conversation platforms.
What impact will this have on our lifestyles?
Avatars have no need to commute by car or train, so peak time mass transport in and out of city centres is no longer needed. As a result, the dynamics of where to live change, no longer dictated by commuter distance from an employer’s office but instead influenced by proximity to the local ‘Village Hub’, the type of interest groups or co-workers it attracts, who we want to engage with, and the community in which we want to live.
Well-located ‘Village Hubs’ add to already established community facilities and to places previously blighted by commuter travel patterns. Universal connectivity and enhanced use of technology will enables us to seek new opportunities on a national and global stage but from the comfort of our local community. Positioned on the high street rather than in now defunct business districts, the “Village Hub’ contributes to the creation of new forms of social cohesion as retail patterns change. Staying local means we adopt healthier modes of transport for local journeys, car ownership will be replaced by pay-as-you-use personal automated mobility services, on-call to pick up and deliver us to destinations and then be available for other customers.
With greater emphasis on preventative health-care and widespread use of personal health monitoring systems, we can invest and enrich community based facilities. Our local health-care providers are in real-time contact with specialist centre of excellence for directing treatment and remotely controlling surgery robots, thereby making world-class quality health-care accessible from our local ‘Well Care Centres’. Meanwhile, virtual access to global institutions remodels the higher education sector, enabling young adults to stay within their community during intense learning periods and tailor their learning to suit their own needs, circumstances and expectations. Connected to a range of institutions ensures life-long learning can be accessed across the community, fitting in with contractual work commitments or caring responsibilities, ensuring skills are refreshed and updated and investment benefits the individual as well as the community.
As a result, the intensity of demand for affordable living in concentrated places is balanced with opportunities to remain and invest in local but highly connected communities. Curiously the technology advancements of the future that we feared would harm our way of life could indeed offer us the opportunity to work smarter, stay local and reconnect with what we value most – our friends, our families and our communities.
Alison White is co-founder of PLACEmaking: Workplace Designers and Change Advisors
For more information on how we can help you, please visit www.placemaking.co.uk