The top 8 ingredients that will form the workplace of the future


The move to a different style of work requires integrated thinking between the three key pillars of any organisation – its people, its workplaces and its technologies.

By looking at the psychological, the physical and the virtual, a different set of behaviours can be established – such as collaborative work – with new processes supported by innovative infrastructure.

1. The agile business

People no longer inhabit their offices or corporate desks. Surveys show that in the average workplace, fewer than 50% of the desks are occupied at any one point in time. A new approach to the workplace is needed, based around teams and tasks and not departments and functions. This approach is called activity-based working and it is the future for agile organisations.

Adopting activity-based working requires a fundamental rethink of the need for and provision of workspace. It requires a detailed understanding of the workforce – by profiling and identifying discrete cohorts.

Typical working days must be mapped and then a range of task-based settings with appropriate enabling technologies delivered. The cost benefit is complex, but one of the clear winners will be a reduction of real estate overhead – typically by up to 30%.

Microsoft, Interpolis and BT have all seen 30% cost reductions, with Macquarie Bank seeing a 23% increase in building capacity. Corporate agility will become one of the key drivers for collaboration – speed to market, speed of decision making between dispersed teams, and the ability to remove downtime and make better use of expertise will all drive collaborative best practice.

2. Become less physical – migrating to the cloud

Bringing people into the physical remnants of yesterday’s order is not collaborative. Desks laden with paper in buildings stuffed with fax machines, computers, servers and software is not a vision of the future.

Companies need to become more footloose and virtualise their infrastructure so that the office does not represent the corporate DNA. As this moves into cyberspace, people will only come into the workplace for one reason – to be with people. And as occupancy of buildings becomes more fragmented and work disperses, people will need to collaborate and communicate across distance.

The growth of the cloud will have a profound impact on collaboration. On-premise systems will migrate to a range of hybrid solutions, usually blending on-premise voice with external software so that people can connect from anywhere. Collaboration systems will be cloud-based applications as the software is provided as a service (SaaS) to people as and when they need it.

The empty building is the logical conclusion of the journey towards cloud-based computing – a building devoid of all infrastructure, software and processing power. In effect, people will come into a building only to be with and work with other people.

The empty building will be a collaborative space for teams, training, mentoring and socialising. It will represent the corporate brand and provide a narrative space for the business.

3. Adopting digital flow

Paper has always dominated work and the workplace. An estimated 17% of floor space is used to store paper in the office today. And paper is in effect the antithesis of collaboration: it can’t be shared; it is analogue and off-line.

In days past, paper flow was passed between people through the internal post system, with each recipient adding comment in different colours in a slow sequential process that resulted in a collective review. But this process is iterative and laborious, and early commentators cannot see the suggestions of those later in the chain.

Now digital flow is set to change the rules. The previous IT revolution was essentially to turn paper digital – what you viewed on screen could then be re-output to paper and would, to all intents and purpose, look the same. No longer. Now the screen has depth with URLs and hover information that cannot be reproduced in two dimensions.

Digital flow will result in a slow death of paper and move people into the digital realm that will naturally encourage interaction and collaboration between documents being developed in online, real-time systems.

4. Always on – the corporate jelly bean

One of the drivers of collaboration will be the increasing acceptance of networks, from ‘social’ to corporate. But there has been a barrier to creating networks between companies. A new standard called XMPP is set to change this, allowing a ‘buddy’ to be added from another company to internal network lists, for example on Microsoft OCS.

Fluid ‘buddy’ lists will provide presence indicators to show the real-time availability of people both inside and outside the corporation. Teams, be they distributed or co-located, will be visible.

The corporate jelly bean means the adoption of a strategy for converged communication and collaboration so that these applications function seamlessly across the enterprise.

5. Web2.0: defining a corporate folksonomy

Derived from the combination of ‘folk’ (people) and taxonomy (the science of ordering information), folksonomy has become synonymous with social or ‘collaborative tagging’ – a phenomenon of the so-called ‘social web’.

In effect, it combines the process of tagging or labelling to categorise content by people in a social context.

Web2.0 was moving the internet from an approach based around the activities of ‘find and use’ to a concept of ‘share and expand’. Folksonomy develops these themes and advances the concept of the ‘semantic web’ to a future where collaboration can become meaningful within a corporate community.

The experience of people using applications such as social bookmarking ( and social photo sharing (Flickr) shows the acceptance of tagging in the public domain. Corporates need to embrace this and start building the foundations for future collaborative systems.

6. Space

What is clear is that collaborative space, rich in technology, with flexible infrastructure and versatile settings will be a critical success factor. Physical space shapes behaviour, and so by creating the right collaborative space, the behaviours desired for collaborative work can be shaped.

7. Etiquette

People no longer have the tools to know how to communicate well, let alone collaborate properly. The rise of the audio conference and then video have challenged people to find a new etiquette for communication. Now data conferencing will change the rules again.

This is confounded by the other formats of communication that exist today, from formal letter, through fax to email, instant message, text message, web discussion forum, tweet or blog.

A new guide to collaboration and communication etiquette is needed, together with a new language – the rules need re-writing.

8. Behaviour

The final ingredient has to be the desire to collaborate in the first instance. The process of interaction requires trust and openness and a desire to work with other people for the common good.

A change management programme needs to be introduced to allow people to understand and identify new behaviours necessary for successful collaboration.

Psychometric types suggest that it is often extroverts that dominate team sessions, while introverts find it hard to contribute. Systems for inclusive collaboration and behaviours that allow democratic participation are essential for success.


Sourced from Steljes

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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