A progressive leader’s guide to the future of work in Australia

What does the future of work mean for employees, employers and workplaces?

We are, right now, living in the future of work in Australia. There is a fundamental transformation occurring across workplaces, and significant changes are raising tremendous organisational challenges. This is a time of unprecedented disruption, and the pace of change is only getting faster. As always, the best way to tackle change is to be prepared.

A glimpse into the future of work

The future of work is being moulded and influenced by macro trends and forces in the new world of work. As you read this guide, work is evolving – the workforce and the workplace. Organisations are encountering new challenges daily in how they create a strong company culture, facilitate collaboration, entice new talent and strategise for growth. A significant difficulty is the pace of the evolution, which has undeniably accelerated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

All of this means a meaningful conversation is happening in workplaces across the globe around what the future of work looks like. And how can the future of work be more adaptable given the inevitability of further disruption?

A customised work environment which supports innovation, collaboration, creativity and employee health is now an expectation. Companies need to consider ‘what’s next?’ continually for their workplaces to flourish in this evolution.

Let’s explore how the future of work impacts the four fundamental elements of all work – people, process, place and tools:

People

A workplace strategy is not one-size-fits-all. The future of the workplace needs to be designed for multiple generations, to facilitate collaboration between people of not only different ages but different cultural backgrounds. On top of this, a successful strategy will take into account different working styles and offer flexibility to employees so they can work in the way that is most productive for them.

The future workforce encompasses exciting new talent with fresh ideas and new ways of working in addition to current working generations who have a wealth of experience to draw upon. This is an impressive knowledge base, and smart workplace design will tap into the magic of bringing unique individuals together into a dynamic and diverse workforce.

A flexible workplace, one that isn’t based solely on physical location, allows organisations to expand the talent pool and attract employees who are specialists in their fields from anywhere. Choosing the talent and skills necessary for the future of work over age and location will keep your company at the fore, and upskilling existing employees into new roles will keep them up to speed.

Process

Let’s dive into what work processes we’ve seen in the past and where the future will lead us. There are four primary ways of working we see across workplaces:

  • Activity Based Working (ABW): This working style allows employees to choose from a variety of spaces according to the nature of the work they're undertaking. First seen in the early 1980s, ABW is customised to suit individual organisations and is empowered by choice.
  • Agile working: Appearing in the 1990s/early 2000s, the agile working methodology is about modular, project-based workspaces which can create different spaces thanks to flexible furniture and fit-out materials.
  • Open-plan / Hot desking: This working style has been around since the 1940s but gained popularity in the 1990s. Lately, open-plan offices have received significant criticism for compromising employee focus, but at Axiom, our attention is on the type of fit-out best suited to your organisation, not whether open-plan is good or bad.
  • Flexible working: Although only established in the last decade, the idea of flexible working has been around since the 1970s. Flexible working is defined as leaving behind the traditional, rigid 9-to-5, five-day week structure. The flexible working model encourages diversity and inclusion, helping to future-proof and strengthen organisations.

Place

The office designed today needs to meet the needs of the workforce of tomorrow. In the future, with remote workers forming a more substantial and permanent part of the workforce, we will see workplace designs include more virtual spaces.

Although for some roles and tasks, physically coming together in an office will be far more productive and positive, this may not practically be possible. So as physical attendance at meetings will no longer be guaranteed, seamless virtual connections in more spaces will become a requirement.

With an elevated need for virtual collaboration, workplaces need spaces which can be configured to meet these needs – marrying the physical to the virtual.

Tools

The future of work and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are terms often grouped together, and for good reason – AI is transforming the way we work and the workplace of the future.

AI has the potential to have a massive impact on the way workspaces are designed as well as how we use them. Some of the applications we’re expecting:

  • Tracking human behaviour for us to properly understand how spaces are being used. The potential for exact data around how space is utilised (as opposed to how people report they are using it) will transform workspace design. Think about what sensors placed on the bottom of office chairs could tell us about how many hours per day these chairs were actually being used or how meeting rooms are being used and the size rooms required. AI will help us bridge the gap between what we perceive and what actually happens.
  • Smart building employee facial recognition – imagine the lift called on entry and no need to press a button to get to your floor. This could also be associated with health screening (consider how temperature taking has been used during the COVID-19 pandemic) and, controversially, linking faces to health histories.
  • Done-for-you room and meeting booking based on your requirements – even down to the perfect temperature setting.

Tools like these hold the key to making more efficient use of space and potentially reducing space requirements over time.

How is the future of work affecting company culture, productivity, and growth?

With dispersed teams, long-term remote working situations and health concerns in physical office spaces, the future of work is asking us to rethink how we build company culture, how we track productivity and what growth will look like.

COVID-19 has seen a global shift to remote working, which has revealed some interesting consequences like:

  • Millennials are struggling with a lack of in-person mentoring and constant feedback on their work as opposed to older generations who feel stable in their roles and are comfortable working out of the office.
  • New employees are grappling with onboarding outside of a physical workspace.
  • Employees at the beginning of their careers missing out on incidental learning opportunities as they are isolated by working from home.
  • Poor acoustics in physical spaces designed for in-person meetings causing an inferior experience in virtual meetings.

Organisations need to explore how they can overcome these effects to ensure a positive company culture, onboarding experience and learning environment for their teams.

Ultimately, digital transformation is only a tool. People are still humans who need cohesion, contact and learning, and the workplace needs to support this.

How has COVID-19 reshaped the future of work?

What’s already happened

COVID-19 has accelerated the future of work and the future of the workplace. In a March 2020 study, 31% of respondents said that COVID-19 was the trigger to begin allowing remote work at their company. The use of video conferencing has boomed, with Zoom reaching 200 million daily participants up from only 10 million in December 2019. And 32% of organisations are now replacing full-time employees with gig workers.

When it comes to tech, what we’ve observed is that most companies have already gone through digital transformation, but until now, their behaviour hasn’t changed. For example, virtual collaboration tools like Zoom have long been available (and even installed on laptops), but the rapid change to remote working throughout the pandemic has meant the behavioural shifts required to usher in the future of work are now occurring out of necessity. Simply put, the technology has been there, but adoption has now accelerated and employees are or will be returning to work post COVID-19 with an evolved way of working.

What’s on the horizon, and how will it impact the workspace?

With 74% of companies planning to permanently shift to more remote work post COVID-19, what can we expect to see in the future of work post COVID-19?

Whether companies decide to go entirely virtual or work towards a hybrid workforce with employees both in a physical workplace and working virtually, there will be challenges for remote working in Australia around collaboration, connectivity and culture:

  1. Communication will need to be more deliberate; there will be less incidental conversation and connection.
  2. Certain employees will struggle not to participate physically as their working style isn't necessarily cohesive with remote working.
  3. Planning and preparedness will be vital to ensure a seamless connection between physical and virtual team members.

And while things may appear rosy right now (less commuting and greater productivity!), as remote working continues into the long term, we’ll see further impacts arise.

The future workspace will require more virtual spaces where employees physically in the office can easily connect with dispersed remote colleagues. At the moment, these spaces take advantage of video conferencing technology, but 3D telepresence (hologram) will likely make an impact down the line.

Are you ready? The future is now

Challenges to the future of work

Workplace challenges for the future of work:

  • Collaboration and teamworkAlthough collaboration doesn't have to happen face-to-face for it to be successful, it is almost always easier to encourage powerful co-creation when people are in the same physical space. Although not ideal, the reality is that the need for virtual collaboration is only growing. Tools like Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Drive make it possible for dispersed teams to come together and work with one another virtually.
  • Employee engagement and company cultureRemote employees can often feel left out of team lunches, water cooler chats and casual office banter, and that's because they are! With more and more employees working from home, companies need to be conscious of these feelings and ensure ALL employees are being engaged and feel a part of the team. A remote workforce doesn't have to be a disconnected one. Technology has made it feasible to communicate, collaborate, and lead from any place but it does take intention and thoughtfulness to make it work.
  • Data securityVirtual employees and staff using mobile devices is a challenge which will become further pronounced. Protecting sensitive data with proper cybersecurity is crucial. Keeping information secure online isn't just the realm of the IT department; all employees need education in data security measures.

What does the future workplace need to look like?

Some key trends are influencing what the office of the future will look like:

  • The greener the better:We're not just talking more indoor plants, but some serious green sustainability credentials too. We see a shift where creating a top-quality working environment, which is more responsible in terms of sustainability, becomes beneficial for business as well as for the environment - attracting prime talent from the eco-conscious younger generations.
  • Personalisation and flexibility:Activity Based Working will continue to play an important role in workplace design. Offices will be designed to foster employees' intellectual processes and working preferences - catering for and enhancing people's working lives. Workspaces will provide different environments for different phases of work and also include virtual spaces where remote employees can collaborate with those on-site.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI):AI will work out whom you need to meet with and pick and book you the perfect space to do it based on the task at hand. Meeting invites will be sent, the right tech will be scheduled, and with each meeting AI will become smarter, predicting what you need with greater accuracy each time.

What is the risk of not evolving with the times?

Companies who haven’t kept up with the times or adopted new working methodologies risk the success of their business and miss opportunities for better performance and lower costs. The one-size-fits-all approach to workforces and workplaces is archaic and best left in the past.

Ignoring remote working, activity based working and other future of work concepts could result in higher business operations costs such as unnecessary real estate overheads. A company ‘dragging their heels’ through this evolution will:

  • Cripple company culture
  • Cause poor collaboration
  • Discourage new talent and neglect current employees
  • Lose competitive edge and become irrelevant
  • Minimise profits
  • Diminish influence and reach

The role of workplace strategy: how to get from here to the future

What is workplace strategy?

A workplace strategy strengthens your business’s overarching strategy and goals. By combining the two from the very start, you can guarantee they remain aligned through upheavals like office relocations, refurbishments, outside disruptions and for business as usual too.

Good workplace design is built on hard data and conclusions about how people work, and it strives to produce a workplace that will promote the business’s purpose, goals and strategy into the future, as the company expands and evolves.

Commercial leasing may mean that a company needs to lock into a space for the next ten years, but that doesn’t mean the company needs to lock themselves into a particular way of using that space. A smart workplace strategy should allow for adaptation of the use of space over time, even as unforeseen changes come to fruition over the next decade.

How can it impact more than just your office design?

The research and data collected as a part of workplace strategy aren’t just about a cool looking office, rather your strategy will:

  • Equip your business for external uncertainty
  • Distinguish the best ways of working to improve efficiency and productivity, increasing revenue and profitability
  • Devise a plan for intelligent organisational change
  • Attract talent and retain existing employees by producing a robust and thoughtful work environment
  • Uphold underlying business objectives and goals

Pragmatic considerations for implementing your new future of work

Are you getting excited about the future of work and ready to move forward in your workplace? There are some practical considerations that you’ll need to take into account like the lease agreement on your space.

Traditional lease terms are often not in line with how companies are working, growing and evolving today. This poses a problem if you’re looking to shift to more remote working, an agile working environment or any of the other future of work trends. However, options like subletting additional space or using your space differently can still align your company with the future of work.

In the future, long-term leases won’t be as common. While organisations will still require and benefit from bringing employees together physically, most will want enhanced flexibility to add and subtract space as their needs unfold.

Future of work illustrating rethinking of space

In conclusion:

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The way we work is evolving as we speak, and the pace of change isn’t getting any slower. Now is the time for your company to embrace the future of work and plan how your workplace can facilitate a strong company culture, promote productive collaboration, attract top talent and be prepared for change and growth.

But you don’t have to go it alone. A workplace design partner will help you with designing a futureproof workplace that helps you achieve key business objectives. Book a complimentary consultation with us today, simply fill out the form below.

Book a complimentary consultation with one of our workplace consultants today!

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