This post concludes the two part series on the changing workplace.
What do new ways of working and new worker needs portend for the future of buildings? One person even went so far as to ask “do we even need buildings?” The rhetorical question generated a lively response with some noting that people can now work anywhere and others opining that while true, “working anywhere” is not always analogous to “working effectively.” Their point was not that individuals are less focused when working remotely but that some work simply requires the sort of dynamic interaction that conference calls and video conferences just cannot deliver. From this discussion a number of points emerged.
- The building can be viewed as an accordion, expanding and contracting not only in size as needed, but also in organic ways that nourish the development of culture, relationships, and innovation.
- Possibly the most important future role of the physical building will be as a cultural and social expression of an entity.
- Why do we need office standards? Why not simply give people space and let them create the environment that works best for them? (I must admit, the corporate FM in me has a ready response to that one…but I shall keep it to myself)
- The office space needs to become more as many people have less at home. Counter point: The office can be less because I value collaboration more or spend less time there.
- Sustainability is now a core competitive competency and becoming fully integrated into the business of business. This fact, coupled with worker’s interest in social responsibility and ever more aggressive energy codes means that the “net zero” building is a realistic and expected standard.
It is not about the building, silly – it’s about organizations and their work. When we talk about the evolution of the workplace we are really talking about the evolution of organizations and their structure. At the end of the day work is about producing and realizing value. When the group turned their collective thought to this subject a number of ideas emerged.
- On one hand some see a homogenization of work culture occurring, including a shift away from industry-specific planning to a task / function focus. Others insist that organizational culture is a key differentiator, both to the market and associates that will not lose importance.
- The next phase of design will be the design of organizations.
- The “gender” of organizations is shifting from a traditional male model based on power and control to a feminine model that nurtures and values collegiality.
- More than ever before the driver of real value is the capacity to turn an idea into reality.
The group was unified on the continuing importance of structure and place. These attributes demonstrate permanence to employees, thereby aiding recruiting and retention; and project brand and stability to clients. It is undeniable however, that buildings and workplaces are changing in fundamental ways. Buildings are already learning to learn and will continue to become more intelligent. Workplaces are evolving to align with the cultural preferences of new generations of workers whose own values will continue to morph over time.
All in all an invigorating evening with a room full of interested and interesting people. Listening and observing, I could not help thinking that this is an exciting time to be in our profession. A time of great change, tremendous promise, and the important work of envisioning, designing, building, and working in the ever changing workplace.