The Future of the Workplace
I had the privilege of spending a couple of days in the company of Dr’s Anne Marie McEwan and Marie.C.Puybaraud, discussing the future of the workplace. You can see the thoughts on line – “smartworkplace – the power of collective intelligence” – or digested in this article on BBC News. The physical workplace has been evolving for centuries, as we have moved from cottage industries, through the industrial workplace, to modern times. A steady stream of technological breakthroughs have lead us to where we are today. Inventions like the lift have enabled radical changes in the way that offices are designed and built, and how space is used.
Marie and Anne Marie have been projecting workspace needs forwards, to look at what the potential future workplace of 2030 might look like. It isn’t as big a leap as it might sound, 2030 is twenty years away, it’s like looking forward to now, from back in 1989. They propose three different scenarios. Our first meeting was at the grand, but very welcoming, One Alfred Place. Euan Semple, Dave Terrar, Anke Holst and others joined for a group discussion about the current forces affecting the workplace. Dr Marie Puybaraud talked through the research report (summary here: The Smart Workplace in 2030).
The Smart Workplace of 2030 will see:
- A complex and competitive world focused on collaboration, innovation and creativity.
- An industry focused on knowledge and co-creativity.
- A culture for collaboration and collective intelligence.
Both physical and virtual elements are present, and telepresence is very much the norm, with technology present in ALL human activities. That technology enables a greater range of choices about the physical location that work occupies – work may well become something that you do, rather than a place that you go. Taking the three proposed future scenarios in turn, the report suggests very different scenarios that might emerge:
1. The Hive… The Network
Agility, anonymity and access become key themes. Workers become highly mobile, and work comes to us, with technology providing the virtual connectivity that teams need to collaborate and co-ordinate. A mixture of synchronous and asynchronous communication tools enable collaboration on projects, and access to shared knowledge.
2. The Eco-Office… The Community
A radical form of industrial democracy and corporate re-engineering. The Eco Office depicts a sustainable world where the creation and sharing of knowledge drives economic growth. Operations centred around communities. ‘Employee villages’ create workplace communities, and support a shift from hierarchical to self-managed teams, with flexible work/life balance.
3. Gattaca… The Fortress
The rise of the corporate office. A ‘swarm’ society, grouped together on the basis of shared interests and commercial affinities, which would see a high concentration of economic growth in prosperous areas, with a mass migration towards them. A society with a ghetto mentality, defending itself from recurrent synchronised failures.
The discussion steered towards a view that these three scenarios might co-exist, with a widening gap between large corporates and independent co-operatives of professionals and micro-businesses. Interestingly, for me at least, digital communication is central to each of the three scenarios, which is a good reminder that the tools can create both positive and negative environments.
Sometimes a less utopian view of social media is worth contemplating, if for no other reason than making sure that we don’t go there.
The group in discussion, photos by Benjamin Ellis.
Thank you for this amazing summary of our conversation. I particularly like your observation “that the tools can create both positive and negative environments”.
I also like “both physical and virtual elements are present, and telepresence is very much the norm, with technology present in ALL human activities.”
The meshing of the physical and virtual dimensions of the workplace is something we have been exploring for a while. The E2.0 conversations taking place on various blogs just now are missing this mash-up of place, space and technologies – embedded and ambient.
You know that September has been a month of intensive conversations for us. We were thrilled to be the guests of Mark Rock and Karen Barber at Best Before TV’s offices near Tower Bridge last week. We heard about a case study of a legal company strategically placing technologies within the workspace that draw people to it, conversations around social tv rather than the water-cooler.
The times they are a-changing’. Thanks again, Benjamin.
I’m seeing a major trend towards virtual working – most of the Big companies have started test pilots and creating a virtual environment. Savings are in the millions as they usually rent out very expensive buildings in the centre of London.
Now though, productivity will be the driver. I can see it working.
It’s a change that’s been in process for a long while – even by the mid-90’s at Cisco, the larger customers (and Cisco itself) had large remote user bases. It has taken a long time for the concept to go mainstream, but the environmental agenda and increasing office space costs has finally forced the late majority of adopters to look at it. It is probably the single largest factor in causing people to rethink the workspace. The latest evolution is the idea of co-working, something that I believe holds great promise for small to mid-sized businesses.
[…] key here is the disappearance of “place” – a theme from “The Future of the Workplace“. Businesses, unconsciously, are built around “place” – employees meet […]
Cool dude!! great post.
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Nice post dear !!!!