We’ve had agile working, and hot desking. Now, we take a look at the next big workplace trend that's never going to stay still: technology

How can we work smarter?

Employees can be very resistant to giving up their individual workstations, yet ‘owned’ desks are widely underutilised. Our space utilisation data shows that average desk utilisation is just 52% because employees don’t need to be strapped to their desks anymore. Technology that supports employees anytime, anywhere, has driven activity away from the office - it is now completely normal to arrange a meeting in the local coffee shop if meeting rooms are fully booked. Clients often report that employee engagement and happiness levels are at an all-time low, despite staff productivity and real estate efficiencies remaining fairly consistent. They’re also beginning to really worry about extreme levels of agility, which may hamper face-time and collaboration. So far, the industry has only implemented smarter working environments that support a dispersed way of working. It’s less about what you call it – smart working, new ways of working or activity-based working – and more about breaking the link between the worker and the desk.

Collaboration is key

Clients are now asking: how do we bring our people back to the mothership? This is essential since a good workplace bonds employees to one another in a way that virtual communication cannot replicate. The physical workplace has the ability to reconnect employees to the company and can also offer an organisation the chance to showcase its culture. The corporate values implemented in the workplace can quickly transform a business and positively impact the workforce. As a result, we are starting to see the rise of the ‘Destination Workplace’. These workplaces connect people with one another, creating environments that ensure people really want to go to the office as opposed to simply having to go out of personal or organisational obligations. Destination workplaces provide environments other than desks for staff to collaborate, celebrate, contemplate, feel at home, eat well, relax, play and enjoy work while contributing to the bottom line as a community. We will soon start to see more businesses encouraging staff to be autonomous and judging them by their outputs. At the same time, we will see an increase in companies providing destinations for their workforce and encouraging individuals to be together as much as they physically can. This push-and-pull type business model will deliver real employee engagement, happiness and wellbeing.

Will robots need desks?

Early experimentation of artificiality still hasn’t received rave reviews from users. People are still frustrated in the self-service check-out queue and loath speaking to a machine when paying a bill or booking an appointment. Businesses may have implemented these systems to reduce costs and increase efficiencies, but most of the time, have had to back these automated processes with emphatic human beings, who are frequently called upon to resolve issues. Sure, right now, businesses are experimenting with and applying automation - but we will soon swing back to valuing and commercialising human-to-human contact. This is similar to what we’re seeing with the return of UK call centres, which were off-shored a decade ago. Embracing the U-turn, these businesses now advertise their UK-based teams as a USP.

AI replacing knowledge workers remains speculation. AI should be seen as an extension of our ability to be more productive, rather than a threat to our way of life or job security. The uptake of artificial assistance has also had a slow pick-up. Market research shows that 98% of iPhone users have tried using Siri, however, 70% very rarely use it. People prefer using voice commands when driving or when alone, while others believe that speaking to an electronic device is strange. We don’t think that virtuality will ever really replace actuality. There is no replacement for a face-to-face conversation with another human being. This is absolutely relevant for knowledge workers who are typically employed by businesses to create value, predict trends by joining the dots and to resolve issues.

Technology is the way forward

We see the office of the future as the centre of organisational collaboration where workers come together to connect with one another. There will still be demand for office space, but the role of technology and AI has the potential to become critical to enhance the overall experience. The ability to find available times in diaries, book an environment that best supports the activity/collaboration on the agenda, order refreshments based on user preferences and usher guests to the right space upon arrival, can save a lot of time and hassle. Various devices talking to each other have the potential to save energy, increase workplace satisfaction, gather feedback and keep a check on usage patterns. That said, we will still need human office administrators to remain our troubleshooters!