V3 Enterprise Mobility Summit: Recent advances in technology have changed how we carry out our jobs and transformed the workplace as companies adapt to meet the needs of a more dynamic, mobile workforce.
Flexible working and hot desking are now commonplace in offices as businesses adopt new working practices.
But while better mobility means more freedom over where to work, the reality is many traditional offices don't make the best use of newer technologies, and employees can become less productive as they tackle a tedious set-up process every day.
Bigger companies, such as Google and Facebook, have implemented the most recent technological innovations to ensure that staff are able to work as flexibly as possible without disruption to their working days wherever they are. But the reality is that small companies, such as an accounting firm or marketing agency, struggle in terms of adoption and operation.
So why is it that, despite recent advances in technology, flexible working is not as easy as it should be?
The changing workforce
We spoke to Indi Singh Sall (pictured), technical director at IT and facilities services firm NG Bailey, who gave us some insight into the challenges and explained why many smaller organisations can't quite achieve the right workspace environment.
Sall said that one of the first problems is workforce demographics. Employers often fail to realise that their workforce is made up of different generations with different expectations of a working environment and different ways of working.
In most offices, there are people aged 45 to 60 working alongside a generation born into a much more tech savvy society.
"The requirements of a workplace are no longer the benefits we thought once upon a time," said Sall.
"Medical care, company cars etc are not as important anymore. It's now more about flexibility and how [employees] work and operate in the office or remotely."
One of the problems, according to Sall, is that switching from the 'virtual world', i.e. at home or in a coffee shop, to the physical, i.e. in the office, is just not seamless.
"It is so complicated. [Employees have] to do so much more to get connected into that work environment, and the security measures are different between them," he said.
"We need to think about what an individual experience is like. Implementing a solution is important, but adopting it in any environment is the most important part."
It is also important to note that UK companies have been outsourcing process-oriented jobs to countries such as India over the past 20 years or so.
These changes have caused problems, such as communicating between employers in different locations, which organisations also have to address.
However, the third and most critical challenge is the technical innovation in the past decade which, as Sall points out, is a key criterion in attracting future talent.
"A lot of companies don't have flexible technology. When they employ someone they say: 'These are the rules and you have to stick to them.' It stops people being flexible and creative," he explained.
"Workplace transformation needs to become part of the culture and it isn't. Big technology firms get it. [But] smaller companies are stuck in their old ways of how they want to operate or work."
So how do companies address these challenges? One of the first, and perhaps most obvious ways, is workspace design and layout.
Many companies still have traditional set-ups that support the older working format of fixed desks with extra space that isn't really needed, such as filing cabinets and large desks for each person with multiple monitor set-ups.
This can cause problems for companies trying to embrace flexible working, such as hot desking, as it's difficult for employees to know which desks are free and costs money in terms of lost productivity and office space that could be used in more collaborative ways.
"When it comes to the new style of hot desking, people come into an office and it's difficult to find out which desks are available and which aren't," said Sall.
"We are looking at a kiosk solution which would allow employees to see their department and what desks are available."
This would allow an employee to scan their security pass at the kiosk when entering the office and see which seats are free, eliminating the need to physically search for a desk.
It could be presented in the form of an office map, with free desks in green and busy desks in red. When an employee scans their pass and chooses a desk, the kiosk assigns their telephone extension to that workspace so that reception knows where they are sitting.
"If in your department all the desks are filled, you'd be able to scan the rest of the office block via the kiosk to see where is free," Sall explained.
This would consolidate real estate and allow businesses to see how space is being used over time. It might be that, after a while, they realise that the layout could be altered to save time and money.
Fail to prepare and prepare to fail
Sall thinks that companies that don't understand the value of a flexible and seamless workspace layout, which connects people and the buildings together, are going to fail.
"If designers don't get their act together and don't understand what they want in the future it'll be a missed opportunity for them, and they'll be new players in a space that understands how to redesign the office," Sall said.
"Those that bridge the gap between the technology and the layout will be the winners. We need to engage the people and the tech."
Workspace policies are also critical in enabling a more productive workforce, and the delivery of a work transformation programme is an example of how technology and a company's HR department can work together.
"If an organisation needs to put these in place, HR has an important role to play in making it a success," Sall added.
At the moment, many businesses have yet to get flexible working right. But it is crucial to many companies that employers can support the mobile technology used by workers to save money, foregoing real estate without sacrificing productivity.
Employees don't want to spend time logging on every day. The technology should work seamlessly from home or in the office, where they can enter and are instantly connected from the get-go, and not have to spend time hunting for an appropriate work space, regardless of the device they are using and the set-up to support the way that works for them.
The ideal office of the future, therefore, will be flexible and adaptable to the way people want to work, as opposed to the current regimentation.
"Adopting to change in the way you work, whether at home or in the office, is the same," Sall said. "The days of working 9-5 really are gone."
For more insights on mobility, business technologies and strategy make sure to register for the V3 Enterprise Mobility Summit running from 24-26 February.
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