Gear up for the workplace of the future

Despite growing digital transformation, employees seek office environments that provide human connection

Forget robots and artificial intelligence (AI). Human connections and proximity to nature are the priorities for the workplaces of tomorrow, as the Urban Canvas research project JLL organized at the TEDxSydney event last year demonstrated.

More than 200 professionals from 19 industries were asked to imagine what cities and workspaces would be like in the year 2050. While it is strongly acknowledged that robotics and AI have an indispensable role in both the workplaces and the cities of the future, participants in the research project expressed a strong need to balance this technological rise with a deeper connection to nature: They crave more open spaces, air, natural materials and environments; and technology is the enabler that improves productivity in the workplace and the ability to participate in more human interactions, including spending more time with family and friends.

The project confirmed that the concept of a workplace will still be relevant well into the future. Human beings want to communicate with other human beings. People will come in to work for the experience and collaboration in person. The more we get sucked into the cloud and digital world, the more we want human connection.

What can your organization do to gear up for this workplace of the future? Consider:

Putting your people first

Your organization could start with building a strong community and people-centric focus within your organizations by giving employees ample choice and flexibility over where and how they want to work. This approach enables you to attract and retain top talent, and could be achieved via various means, such as fitting out offices with a variety of workspaces or investing in facilities, the best technology and a range of nonfinancial perks, such as a cafe, gym, and recreation spaces.

A sense of community could also be incorporated into workplaces by introducing “plug and play” areas, public bike racks, and community and art activities for employees such as walking tours around the local areas.

Changes to staff culture won’t happen overnight, but they will happen progressively. There will be a need for staff to get comfortable against the perceived threat of technology. It’s about creating community and the worker tribe.

Encouraging idea-sharing

Your organization could also adopt an external coworking model in the offices where you invite startups and lean, agile businesses to work alongside your own teams to stimulate collaboration, entrepreneurship, and innovation.

For instance, DBS launched a financial technology (fintech) accelerator program in Hong Kong, where DBS Accelerator startup ventures are provided with high-quality office space, resources, and mentor support to incubate and build entrepreneurial fintech ventures into a business that can compete and adapt in swiftly changing markets.

Implementing flexible physical arrangements

Flexibility is paramount when planning the physical workplace of the future. In recent years, we have seen companies decentralizing from a single head office to a variety of hubs in key locations. For instance, American home rental companies Airbnb and HomeAway have opened up offices in Singapore.

And rather than buying office furniture, a viable option is looking at more modular and cost-effective fit-outs, as well as renting. Activity-based working is one way to increase flexibility. JLL’s Corporate Solutions has developed a system in house called WorkSmart, where workspaces are deliberately made to be flexible with multipurpose furniture, tools, and surfaces that boost collaborative practice and encourage employees to move around.

Leveraging technology

Incorporating smart technology for surveillance, monitoring, and metering will also become increasingly important. With the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), more experiments with robotics in the workplace in nonthreatening ways are emerging, such as using AI for online training or as a receptionist.

“Over the next 10 to 20 years, we will continue to see a range of current job functions being fulfilled by robots and other automated machines,” says Phil Clark, JLL’s Head of Business Transformation, Integrated Facilities Management. “This will result in providing opportunities for future workers to upskill and concentrate their efforts on the work that will produce the biggest benefits for business performance.”

Being a successful company will be more demanding in the future than it was in the past. However, businesses that start creating a more pleasant, nature-inspired work environment  while also fostering collaboration and community will be ahead of the curve.

Want more? Talk to the team