The office of the future is still about people

At first glance it seems rather counter-intuitive that organisations around the world are spending time and money making their offices more attractive and more fun while expecting and even encouraging their employees to spend less time in them.

Office of the future

But the two holy grails of modern HR – creating the so called “office of the future” and supporting greater flexibility around work patterns – are not mutually exclusive, because they both come down to what people want and need to deliver their best work and feel good while doing it.

It does require a little change of thinking, however. In the past, employees who only turned up at work to use the free gym and spend an hour having coffee with colleagues would soon be sitting in HR for all the wrong reasons. Yet if that motivates them to exceed expectations and meet deadlines, look forward to the next task and bring some new ideas to the table, everyone wins.

The real focus in the quest for the office of the future should be on creating spaces that encourage people to use them as and when required, to work as they want to work, and to make conversation. In other words, its about the employee needs, interests and motivations of the present. Your employees.

Not everyone can create Google’s renowned work environment, but not everyone needs to – or would benefit from it. Each organisation must think carefully about how its business runs (which is very different to how its office runs), how its people think, who those people are, and how often they need to get together.

Equally important is watching out for possible flashpoints. People who had to be dragged screaming from their offices into an open space environment may be equally worried of the next big idea. Some fear “big brother” as technology expands further and further. Others may see games rooms and good coffee as all part of the modern workplace and some might see them as frivolous.

And, of course, a modern office must take account of modern employment practices; in particular, the trend towards more and more contingent workers and consultants.

The general consensus of people involved with all the various aspects of the “office of the future” is that it’s all about creating positive connections. One recent US study showed, for example, that engineers who shared space were 20% more likely to communicate digitally and emailed four times more frequently when collaborating on a project.