The workplace is a dynamic, ever-changing environment, undergoing constant fluctuations due to a large number of influences. Given how drastically our offices have changed since the year 2000, predicting the next era of our modern office can be a daunting task.
The immediate future is a little clearer, however. Recent trends in technology, mobility, and employee-focused practices are already having huge impacts on the workplace. These influencers will only grow as we move toward 2020.
We may not have the jetpacks or robot co-workers some early predictions of the future promised (yet), but we are in store for some incredible changes all the same.
Mobility and the Fluidity of a Work-Life Balance
The largest change reshaping the workforce is the rapid mobilization of many positions. As many as 34 million Americans are able to remain productive while working outside of the traditional office. This trend is not going away anytime soon, with experts predicting a further 50% increase in mobility by 2020.
Technology is rapidly erasing physical boundaries by increasing connectivity. There is a downside to our instant access, though. Our connectivity is also erasing traditional work-life balance. Thanks to the proliferation of email, Wi-Fi, video conferencing, and smart phone technology, we are able to work from anywhere, at any time. So our work never leaves us—unless we leave technology behind.
As a result, knowing when to stop working has become a significant problem. As our technology continues to improve, learning to draw a line—blurred as it may be—between priorities will only grow in importance.
From Cubicle Farms to Privacy Pods
The physical office space is undergoing a change as well—not just design-wise (bye-bye, cubicles); technology is making it easier to work from home, but not all employees are 100% remote. This results in a need to integrate mobile-enabled employees into the physical office (i.e. hoteling) when they are on-site which requires flexible space and shared working areas.
Some take this one step further with “hot-desking,” meaning employees may find themselves in a different space every day (and have introduced “privacy pods” to help create the missing personal spaces). Companies have been favoring collaborative “campus” office layouts for the last several years rather than skyscrapers and office parks. In the office of the future, you may feel like you are back on your college quad—and who wouldn’t want to go back to college again?
Employees are the most important part of any company—what else are companies, if not a sum of all their people, after all? This may seem too obvious to mention, but many organizations have not yet taken this to heart.
In the future, employees will be “viewed as an asset, not a cost center.” Creating employee-friendly working environments is not just a nice HR practice. It’s also essential for maintaining a competitive business. High turnover has been shown to lower productivity, increase staff workloads, raise training costs, and more.
According to a study by Deloitte, young workers cost between $15,000 and $25,000 to replace. Other estimates cited in the Wall Street Journal put the combined costs of replacing and training employees at upwards of twice their annual salary. Instead of cutting employee benefits to save money, companies are learning to improve their bottom line by spending on their employees so they stick around.
The Bottom Line
While we may not be using jetpacks and hyperloops to get around the office anytime soon, the workplace of the future will be a very different place than it is today. Rapid advances in technology have allowed workers to remain productive while away from the office, leading to increased mobility and communication.
Work-life balance may be further blurred, but a whole new class of mobile worker has emerged and made the physical office less of a necessity. At first this change meant rows of only-periodically-used cubicles, but today’s wave of mobile workers is reshaping the office landscape. Shared spaces, hoteling, open office designs and privacy pods will grow more common to accommodate the flexible worker. At the same time, employee- friendly practices are being acknowledged as great sources for a company’s stability instead of inessential perks.
It may be too early to predict the office of 2100…but the office of 2020 is already taking shape.