Featuring Jenn Barnett, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Wellbeing, and Keely Woodley, Partner, at Grant Thornton UK
At Grant Thornton, we’ve looked at the technological, cultural and socio-economic drivers that are shaping the future of work.
The world of work is being rapidly transformed, driven by new technologies, workforce demographics and employee expectations. Traditional centralised workplaces are giving way to more fluid and local community-focused workspaces, equipped with the latest communication technologies and designed to foster employee engagement and productivity.
Jenn Barnett, Grant Thornton’s Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Wellbeing, says: “Workplace solutions need to address two issues; organisational needs, based on meeting some of the main challenges facing a business, such as cost, productivity, knowledge transfer and talent acquisition; and the needs of people, which is a culture that enables autonomy, flexibility to adapt to change and personal growth.”
Distraction or Disruption, a report by commercial property and investment management company JLL, suggests that up to 30% of corporate real estate portfolios will include flexible working space by 2030. An earlier report, Workspace Reworked: Ride The Wave Of Tech Driven Change, also pointed to fast, efficient connectivity becoming the fourth utility driving business location decisions.
Director of EMEA and UK corporate research at JLL Tom Carroll says: “Businesses are increasing their use of technology, not only to boost connectivity between employees, but also to drive continuous innovation and performance, which is having a profound effect on real estate.”
The workplace also has to be somewhere people feel they can do their best work, as highlighted in a new report from Staples, Vocation Frustration. It found that for most office workers (77%), the quality of their office workspace is a contributing factor in how fulfilled they feel. Three-quarters (76%) agree that a well-functioning and attractive office workspace encourages better staff retention.
The rise of flexible working and mobility has also fuelled growth in the adoption of shared and co-working centres, not just by entrepreneurs and start-ups, but also by larger organisations that can use them to relocate employees.
David Galsworthy, co-founder and CEO of Techspace, London’s first co-working space specifically designed for tech scale-up businesses, reports a particular trend among teams who are expanding internationally, deploying an international office into a market where the space is ‘move-in’ ready, and can accommodate the growth requirements of an ambitious international expansion.
“The barrier to entry for larger corporates is relatively non-existent, which allows decision-makers to deploy teams with limited risk,” he says. “The shared ecosystem and network benefits are still relevant to larger organisations, giving them the opportunity to exchange knowledge and collaborate with others for mutual gain as well as supporting recruitment efforts.”
Does this mean that the traditional centralised office will be rendered obsolete? On the contrary, many organisations are placing more value on face-to-face contact between employees for the purposes of knowledge sharing, collaboration and building social connections.
“We want to enable our people to feel they have a voice and that their ideas matter,” says Barnett, “the idea being that if everyone is responsible for growth we’ll all share in the profits. We also gave a lot of consideration to our physical office location and undertook several office refurbishment projects to create more collaborative workspaces.” Partners now sit in open plan areas rather than in their own office, and people spend more time talking to each other.
“Human nature is such that most people want a sense of belonging, to be part of a team or a bigger community. Digitally or in an office environment, that is really important and, whatever the future workplace looks like, it’s important this is still created so that the focus is about working better together,” Barnett adds.
There are compelling reasons why collaboration is so important to business, as Keely Woodley, one of Grant Thornton’s partners who specialises in business support services, explains. “The proliferation of data within organisations is unprecedented and the real challenge is making sense of it. Face-to-face collaboration is the best way for our people to do this,” she says.’
“Technology is changing the way we use spaces. You can gather data and do any training that is required on your own and in any location. But the workplace becomes somewhere you come together to test things out and explore new ideas in a more physically collaborative way.”
The real key to a successful outcome will lie in the hands of the leadership, something that Chris Hood, director of change management and workplace consultancy Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA), believes is often overlooked.
“There are many leaders who actively promote transformation to new ways of working and believe that somehow, once the doors open, everyone will simply launch off in the right direction. Even with skilled change management, this is not what happens. The most successful workplaces are those where leaders are totally engaged and are spending the time and resources necessary to lead,” he says.
“An average workplace in the hands of a great leader will work. A great workplace in the hands of a poor leader will not.”
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First published in Grant Thornton UK’s Agenda magazine on 29 Mar 2019.