Change is often quite gradual and it is only when we look back that we see how far we have come, so before we go forward let’s review the changes that have occurred over the last five decades.
This was when the office was being transformed by electronic devices – the photocopier and the electronic typewriter, whilst the dictaphone was starting to challenge the value of short hand for typists. But it was not technology that made the biggest change to the smoke filled workplace, but the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 which protected men and women from discrimination on the grounds of sex or marital status. Whilst gender pay gap and sexual equality remains an important current topic, prior to 1975 there were workplaces where women were not even allowed on the Directors floor.
The new decade saw electronic typewriters being replaced by word processors which was a productivity revolution in the creation and editing of documents. This fed the other big revolution – the fax machine, enabling documents to be scanned in one office and magically transmitted down the phone lines to another office. The was the era of the YUPPIE (Young Upwardly Mobile Professionals) who were rising up the corporate ladder, where status symbols became so important, where the company car, the brick sized mobile phones, and most importantly the size of the office and depth of carpet pile within it.
The personal computer finally arrives in the office on mass, bringing with it windows software and e-mail, and heavy L-shaped desks to accommodate screens that were as deep as they were wide. Smoking was also finally banned from the workplace. The World Wide Web was officially born half way through the decade, giving access to knowledge globally, and via newly created intranets corporately. The universal, one size fits all, open plan workplace became the new standard.
The Palm Personal Digital Assistant enabled people to start comparing diaries in the meeting room and before long this evolved into the Blackberry phone. Always on, always available e-mail exponentially grew the amount of electronic communication and a big challenge to employee’s work life balance. Dress started to become more casual with dress down Fridays becoming the norm as did coffee shops and coffee culture. Sustainability made its way into the workplace following Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth with recycling and motion sensor controlled lighting.
Employees demanded flexibility in how and where they worked, resulting in an exponential increase in home working as well as multiple work-setting choices in the office. Co-working enabled gig-workers and start-ups to have an affordable and innovative workplace, to such an extent that the corporates joined the bandwagon. Corporate offices became less corporate, with slides and camper-vans, phone booths and yoga rooms. Smart phones buzzed with Apps that provided access to the building, booked your meeting space and measured your daily steps, as wellbeing drove us to stand whilst we worked, or walk whilst we talked.
Future Predictions for the Twenties
“Never make predictions especially about the future” Casey Stengel, Author
What will the future hold for us in the workplace over the next decade? Well, our Consulting team spread across Europe, with hundreds of years of workplace consulting experience between them, and backgrounds in psychology, tech, economics, finance, design and change management have come up with the following for you to consider:
1. Robot assistants will be in attendance in meeting spaces to take notes, manage the AV, and bring the coffee – yes they will be able to open the doors and use the lifts through IOT , but like their dalek predecessors, they will struggle with the stairs during fire evacuations
2. Ties and formal dress wear will be back in vogue not by mandate but choice. The new generation will want to dress smart, whilst Gen Z execs will not understand this new crazed formal attire
3. If regulation clears the way drones will be seen cleaning windows, maintaining the exterior of offices, providing security and delivering parcels or even pizza…
4. Office buildings will have large battery cells in the basement which will be charged up overnight and power buildings by the day, smoothing the peaks and troughs of energy demand, enabling greater reliance on renewables and dramatically reducing the reliance on fossil fuels.
5. Wellbeing and sustainability will be fully integrated into the workplace, with settings that you can work at as well as pedal, generating power the energy that drives your lap top – a green lean machine.
6. Wearable tech and IOT will become more integrated enabling all sorts of unimaginable connections in the office –back sensors will alert you to correct your body posture, hydration wearables when you need water, ear ‘buds’ will enable you to tune into conference calls, music or even translate colleagues foreign language jokes so they will no longer be lost in translation.
7. Sensors and IOT will make our buildings so smart that they will be able to personalise our spaces – lighting, temperature, humidity, scent – to our individual preferences and for specific activities. Work Space will become Your Space.
8. Human well-being in the office is already topical but we anticipate the physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual and social wellness will all become increasingly important in the next few years. Spaces to regenerate, particularly for more introverted data scientists and programmers, will be one response to this. This will move beyond the common “chill-out rooms” to specially designed capsules, with purified air and the sounds of singing birds or the flowing water, helping employees take a nap or meditate. The capsules will adjust the length of the nap to the stress levels and the natural biorhythms of the individual.
9. The rise of plants and biophilic design will surge as employees will not be as easy to convince that working in buildings, away from nature and often away from natural light is not harmful to their physical and mental state. As the importance for the environment and the human of eating the fruits of and breathing the air from plants becomes more scientifically understood, the workplace will become ever more biological and botanical. Perhaps meetings will even be held whilst hanging from hammocks between trees in the indoor botanical garden café…
10. Employees will want to be focused on meaningfulness and causes, not just reward and applause. Why is the company in business, for whose benefit and what is the impact of its operations? The workplace will be a powerful conveyor of purpose and meaning, connecting people with both.
For more information, contact our Strategic Consultancy team.