The workplace is changing, so how can you?

Old habits may die hard, but to paraphrase Bob Dylan, the times are a-changing. No matter which way you look at it, you cannot deny the way we work is evolving. In this fast-paced modern work environment, there are old habits that employers need root out, and quickly.

The pace at which businesses and working habits are changing, at least in part, comes down to advances in technology, particularly artificial intelligence (AI), which, according to McKinsey Global Institute, is contributing to the global economy changing at 300 times the scale of the Industrial Revolution.

In this era of rapid change, one question needs to be asked: how is this impacting workers?

Numbers can shed some light on this. Our The Way We Work Study revealed that 65 per cent of knowledge workers — those who 'think' for a living — believe their roles won’t be the same in five years time. Even more worrying, 35 per cent think that their job will not exist at all in the same time frame.

Businesses therefore have two options: remain the same and have change forced on them, or get ahead and create a culture that can flourish.

How can businesses take up the challenge, making change positive for its people and the bottom line?

Virtual is reality

It used to be that the office was synonymous with the company. People commuted in in the morning, sat at their desks hard at work, and left in the evening. The office was where the work got done.

Sounds familiar? That is because many employers still put a lot of weight on presenteeism in the office. However, does being confined to the office make employees more productive? According to the Office of National Statistics, Britons’ productivity is the lowest among G7 nations, even though working hours have risen sharply.

Letting go of the office as a company’s stronghold may help. There is already a quiet revolution in the making. The Way We Work Study found that over half (52 per cent) of knowledge workers work in virtual teams. And they like it. 42 per cent of people believe that virtual teams can be more effective than face-to-face ones. Work is evidently so much more than sitting at a desk for eight hours a day. Embracing virtual working may crack Britain’s productivity problem.

More talent from... everywhere

It is a truth universally acknowledged that it is people who make a company. Not the computers, not the chairs, not the ball pits or hammocks you may have installed in your office — they are just embellishments.

But the hiring market, especially within the knowledge worker space, is no longer just local. Thanks to technology, it is often borderless. People, with the right technology, can work from anywhere. You can also source project-specific talent, to shore up the skills you may not have, by offering freelance roles across the board can help. The appetite from candidates for this type of role is there. In fact, 53 per cent of knowledge workers would consider changing to freelancing over regular employment if it was offered.

Build flexibility into your company culture. Speak to your staff about whether freelancing or other flexible working arrangements could be for them. If they are commuting in from afar or have long been considering moving further afield, it is important they know that your business would support them. Meanwhile, extending recruitment searches to the freelancer network can help you attract more talent from all over the country and beyond.

The new normal

By now, the conversation about adapting collaboration software should not be a question of 'if', but 'how'. After all, over half (57 per cent) of knowledge workers state they now use on-demand tools — cloud or Internet-based programmes — for teamwork or collaboration. It is now the expectation that a business provides workers with pre-approved and intuitive technology.

However, with the swarm of different solutions out there, it is essential you choose the right tools for your team. Getting it wrong can impact productivity instead of enhancing it. Make sure you have an adaptable digital strategy in place, including consultations with staff and trial periods for any new technology you bring in. Your staff are going to be the people using in daily, so ensuring they are happy with it should be central to its adoption.

Does it mean the office will die out?

For all the claims about the office reaching its sell-by-date, it is not dead yet. Nor will it be for some time. While an overwhelming majority (69 per cent) think the office as a physical workplace is less important than in the past, only 7 per cent say they would like to spend between 75 per cent and 100 per cent of their time away from it.

Rather than becoming virtual beings, workers still require a physical touchpoint. Workplaces will become less rooted and more spaces for meetings, collaboration, and a quiet space away from the coffee shop or home. A more flexible workplace may mean you could hire less office space, but invest more in catering to employee needs.

If you ignore the current environment now, your business will lose out. When it comes to change, it cannot be stopped. Technology is altering every aspect of the world and the office is no exception. This is not a negative thing, in fact it will be a huge benefit, enabling your business to become more agile and effective. If you adapt soon, you can not only make your staff happy, but also nurture a culture that thrives on change. The tectonic plates of business are shifting, make sure you move with them.

Trevor Connell, Executive VP, Worldwide Sales and Service Providers, Unify