This article was updated on August 8, 2018.
The office of the future saw its first iteration back in the 1990s, with organizations attempting to forgo traditional desks and cubicles and give staff the ability to work anywhere. But the vision was ahead of its time and the technology wasn't there to keep up. There were no collaborative tools, devices were limited and there was no wireless connectivity.
Today, it's different. There are tools that let us work and collaborate with colleagues around the world.
A Creative, Collaborative Work Space
First, there was the birth of co-working spaces with the rise of freelancers — they pay rent to use a shared work space in order to collaborate, network and get out of the house when needed. Now, large businesses are following suit and offering similar opportunities for their employees. Employees are onboard as well, with 81 percent reporting feeling positively about the ability "to work from anywhere in the world," according to the ADP Research Institute® report, The Evolution of Work: The Changing Nature of the Global Workplace.
The benefits are many — businesses can see increased productivity and reduce costs by downsizing office space. At the same time, employees gain from the increased flexibility, which can improve work-life balance. The reduced costs and increased efficiency also allow organizations to be more flexible and agile in a globalized world where the competition may have regional cost efficiency concerns of their own. A more flexible, agile workforce is a huge benefit to competitiveness, as are lower employee-related costs including travel, real estate and the ability to attract and retain talent.
Hot desking is one of the most visible manifestations of the office of the future. It calls for fewer personal desks and instead uses flexible team space, or renting desks on a per-project basis. This works both for staff who come into the office every day and for those who come in less. It has proven benefits for collaboration too, allowing people and teams to interact naturally and share information and knowledge in person or by teleconferencing. Not having fixed spaces also increases exposure to other people in the business and their ideas, which isn't always easy in a traditional office environment.
Adidas has taken the policy to heart — in its new headquarters a large group of brand management employees no longer have designated desk space but can choose which module and workplace best suit their tasks. The office also has open areas, including spacious kitchens, that encourage informal get-togethers. The vision is to create an atmosphere that promotes flexibility and collaboration, while reducing traditional hierarchies, or in some cases eliminating them.
The Systems and Technology Are Here
Improved collaboration software has also made this future workplace a reality today. Where workers would once spend a large amount of time communicating by email, tools exist today for them to join communities via enterprise social networks. Forbes reports that European information technology solutions firm, Atos has embraced this wholeheartedly. The organization employs more than 76,000 people across 47 countries and uses a centralized system to implement instant messaging, video conferencing, document sharing and customer communities. Staff can reach out to peers anywhere in the world for expert advice and input, or join in communities that are interesting or relevant to the task at hand. Atos has become much more customer focused as a result, and thanks to its policy, is able to do more business.
With an ever-expanding array of options to provide flexibility to your employees and encourage collaboration throughout the organization, the future of the workplace is bright.
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