business building blocks

New ways of working require new workspaces

by Julia Stuhltrager
Let's think beyond the water cooler. "The assets of most businesses walk out of the door at the end of each day. The challenge to management is to create an environment which will motivate them to want to return the next day.” — Lynn Yates

In the age of the mobile worker, this quote may be truer than ever. New ways of working are demanding new ways of thinking about the most productive work environment. In other words, companies need to figure out not only how to inspire their employees to come back through the door in the morning—they need to figure out which door is the best one for each worker.

Much attention has been focused on the impact of technological change: powerful mobile devices, ubiquitous cloud infrastructure, virtualized enterprise applications, etc. And there are significant economic factors to consider: the rising price of real estate, greater emphasis on sustainable business practices, and the ever-present demand for increasing productivity.

But let’s not forget the changing workforce itself. The needs, workstyles and idiosyncrasies of younger workers in particular are dramatically changing our concept of what constitutes a productive workspace.

What are those conceptions? What might these new workspaces look like?

Organizations that can adapt their workspaces to better accommodate changing workstyles have advantages not only in controlling costs, but also in agility and productivity.


Tomorrow’s workspaces

The office of the future can be a living room, a hotel or maybe even a café. Younger workers are more comfortable working from public spaces than their older counterparts, as seen in the figure below.
new ways of working chart
Young workers also are moving toward what are called coworking spaces — spaces shared by people who work for different enterprises. Renters can choose their cohabitants or leave it up to fate, sort of like apartment hunting and cohousing. An interesting note about coworking space: the biggest benefit people cite is not convenience or independence; it’s a sense of community, collaboration and innovation. They’re not abstaining from office life altogether; they’re choosing a new kind of office life.

Along with a sense of community, however, coworking spaces entail certain risks. Public Wi-Fi isn’t protected like enterprise networks, so it’s important to keep anti-virus software up to date and establish rules and protocols among fellow tenants about Internet usage and security. Keeping information secure also means making sure discussions of anything critical or sensitive happen somewhere private. Even if tenants aren’t out to steal information, they can easily overhear — and act on — things they shouldn’t.

Finally, coworking spaces have different strategies and methods for securing tenants’ devices and belongings. These range from daytime-only hours to security cameras and trust-based “neighborhood watch” systems.

In the end, security really depends on the tenants themselves. Coworking communities thrive when its members invest in the space and commit to mutual respect and awareness.

New workspaces under the enterprise roof

Enterprises are also experimenting with different ways of dedicating and sharing spaces in the main office. Driven in part by the cost of corporate real estate, strategies such as “hoteling” and “hot desking” have gained currency. Hoteling is a process by which employees reserve desk space for temporary usage, and hot desking leaves that process unstructured — first come, first served. Some law offices have now embraced hoteling because of digitization — where most lawyers needed to be in a space along with their physical information, now, most of this exists online or in the cloud.

Strategies like these can keep workspaces from being underused, but as businesses introduce sharing and migration into their workspaces they should make sure their employees still have consistent ways to be reached — via mobile phones — and still have access to private spaces, for calls and conversations that need to be confidential. And while these new workplaces and styles of work are changing the game, it’s important to remember that most workers still work from physical offices, and that these offices can bring great value to your organization.

Implementing new workspaces

These workspace strategies may not be for everyone; simply managing the change can be a challenge. Some keys to success are:
  • A deep understanding of how the different segments, functions and geographies of your workforce prefer to work.
  • A clear and communicated policy of how home-based, coworking and shared workspaces will be supported and should be used.
  • A visible and hands-on role in leading these innovations, with leaders welcoming input and adapting the plan when necessary.
  • And perhaps most importantly, a level of trust that employees will be responsible and get their jobs done.

Implementing new workspaces

If you don’t have a change management plan in place, there’s never a better time to start than right now.
This last point is fundamental. Providing flexible workspaces, including those outside the traditional office, also means you are shifting more accountability to the employees. To facilitate this shift, you should base your Key Performance Indicators more exclusively on outcomes. If organizations are pairing workspace flexibility with more employee tracking and monitoring, they are missing the point.

Equally important to employee accountability is the inclusion of leadership in these changes. If you’re opening your office to new layouts, it won’t do to hide away in your own private space. You don’t necessarily need to “hot desk” your own workspace, but you should lead these innovations like you do everything else important to your business: by being present and available, welcoming input and adapting the plan when necessary.

Workspace and productivity

Organizations that can adapt their workspaces to better accommodate changing workstyles have advantages not only in controlling costs, but also in agility and productivity. Employees can more readily (and economically) be in the right place at the right time to deal with changing market and economic forces.

Allowing employees greater control over how and where they work can increase employee engagement and create a culture that attracts and retains top talent. And that in turn — even though it is born of autonomy — can actually help drive collaboration. It may be counterintuitive, but that’s one aspect of the new world of work: independence fuels involvement.

Organizations must find the right balance between dedicated, traditional desk space and shared spaces. But striking that balance will pay off, as it keeps your workforce returning each day, more energized and more productive.
Julia Stuhltrager
Julia Stuhltrager, Senior Manager, Channel Marketing, Ricoh USA, Inc., has more than 10 years in the information and document management industry. She supports the global and national sales organization with the development and implementation of marketing strategies, campaigns, programs and sales tools that target Global 500 and Fortune 1000 organizations across industries and verticals.
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