Future Work Space
The world of work is undergoing major transformation. It is a silent revolution that will impact on all dimensions of our every day lives. From how we work with colleagues through to our personal relations and the ways we will demand redesigned homes. The changes? will affect all aspects of our environment, from the architecture, design and location of buildings to the use of our cars and public transport system.
The unleashingof the power of the internet allows us to work from almost anywhere. This is because a growing number of us are ‘knowledge’ workers who work with our brains instead of with our hands. Factory employment has fallen from a staggering 30 per cent in the 1970s to about 15 per cent today. By 2010, only 10% of us will be occupied in such jobs.
This is because of globalisation which has led to the shift of production capacity to low cost countries in South East Asia and, particularly, China. In that country, there is massive investment into the industrial infrastructure with government financial incentives such that few firms located in the west can compete. If you can’t beat them, join them. And this is what large US and European corporations are doing. They are setting up manufacturing operations in China but keeping their research and development, marketing, design, sales and other ‘knowledge’ capabilities in their home countries.
The outcome is the ‘knowledge corporation’ and the key challenge for corporate leaders is to leverage this employee knowledge for competitive advantage. To put it another way, today’s high performing companies have to be creative and innovative.
This demands a revolution in the ways in which we have traditionally conducted business. Old style management practices no longer work. Creative employees will not be told what to do. Management in the past encouraged conformity and sticking to the rules. Thisis no longer acceptable. Creative employees – those responsible for designing, developing, marketing and selling new products – want to be excited in their jobs. They regard their jobs and what they produce as expressions of their individuality, personality and distinctiveness as human beings.
This puts the architecture, design and location of work space at the very centre of the corporate strategic stage. These are no longer the background against which work gets done. On the contrary, they determine the very nature of work performance.
Creative employees have to be inspired. And nothing is more important in this than the architecture and design of buildings. Compare the drab structures that were thrown up as offices in the 1960s and 1970s with the exciting, inspirational total work environments of today. Canary Wharf and the City of London are full of outstanding examples, as are the CBDs of Paris, Berlin, Milan, New York and San Francisco.
But inspiration comes not only from the design of buildings. Their location is equally as important. In a study of employee creativity a few years ago, I found that companies were reluctant to move from high rent, high cost, congested London to greenfield low cost sites. Why? Because such locations would be removed from the coffee shops, bars and restaurants in which so much cross-fertilisation of ideas and innovative solutions are discussed. Philips in the Netherlands was compelled to move parts of its design function from Eindhoven to Amsterdam because of the reluctance of creative young potential to live in the former town.
In the modern corporation, high performance is heavily dependent upon intensive levels of employee sociability. Ideas have to be exchanged and brainstormed. Meetings with colleagues and customers have to be arranged at a moment’s notice and on an ad hoc basis. There is no place for hiding behind locked doors in self-confined offices.
But the alternative is not the old-fashioned open plan. The high performing corporation encourages employee sociaibility through a variety of ways. Through the layout of corporate cafes – at the centure of business activity – through to the distribution of coffee points, meeting rooms and subtly designed thoroughfares, colleagues with varied responsibilities and functional responsibilities are alwauys walking into each other. Through this, nodding contact evolves, over time, into conversations and, then, into serious discussions and, often, into formal and informal cross-expertise, project-driven customer focused teams.
The modern workplace has to offer a total environment. High performing companies have gyms, swimming pools, sports centres and leisure clubs. For creative employees, the workplace is more than a job. The contract with their employers goes beyond the wage payment. For their creativity to flourish, there has to be a tight psychological and emotional bond. The workplace becomes a family or a community from which personal identity is derived and through which personality and talent are expressed. The task for facilities management is to sustain exciting, holistic work environments so that employee creativity continues to flourish. This means that there is a constant pressure to redesign and refurbish these environments so that they neve become boring. If employees are expected to be continuously innovative and creative for the benefit of their employers, these employers have a responsibility to provide and ever-changing, evolving exciting work environment.
Creative employees are the drivers of the knowledge economy. In whatever sector of the economy they are located – financial and professional services, retailing, high technology, telecommunications, etc – they are shaping the predominant cultures of the future workplace. They are creating the aspirations for all other categories of employee. In whatever jobs, people expect their companies to offer congenial, sustainable facilities. But their expectations extend beyond this. Modern society is becoming more rootless with the declining influence of family, neighbourhood and community. The search for affiliation and personal sociability is now more directed towards the workplace. Companies have to respond to this if they are to motivate their employees, many of whom are doing the most mundane and uninteresting jobs. This puts the role of property developer, with their architects and designers, and facilities managers at the very heart of the corporate strategic core. To ignore this simple premise, is to undermine the competitive advantage of any business that aspires to best practice and to be leading edge.
© Professor Richard Scase