A Future that Works

The places in which we work are changing dramatically. Just 20 years ago, the offices of large organizations were clustered in capital cities or economic hubs, and work took place almost exclusively in those offices. The offices themselves were a sea of nondescript cubicles, with leadership cocooned away in the stereotypical penthouse office suite.

At this time, offices were simply a place to congregate to create output, much of which revolved around the fulfilment of rote tasks, such as manual invoice processing within an accounts payable department. Capital cities were, by and large, hubs for these large organizations, clustered into vertical “regions” within the city, think Bank in London or Wall Street in New York.

Now, however, we are seeing a rapid change. Work is beginning to move outside of capital cities, with start-ups and innovation centers now clustering around talent, such as in the emerging tech hubs of Bristol, Madrid and Lisbon. The phrase coined in the 1989 movie Field of Dreams (“If you build it, they will come”) no longer seems relevant to the modern business world.

Digital disruption, coupled with economic growth, has fueled an intense talent war, with organizations struggling to fill vital digital roles, such as big data, analytics, creative, social media and digital strategy specialists. As such, the global emergence of attractive regional talent hubs in which organizations can build “hot houses” for “start-up-like” teams within their business are becoming, and will continue to become, increasingly familiar. Organizations such as Barclays, Accenture and even the HM Revenue & Customs have moved internal start-ups and innovation units away from central London and into regional hubs, such as Newcastle and Bristol.

From Location to Office Design

Cities are one thing, but what about where people actually “do” work?

The office's role in business today has undergone a massive shift. No longer is the office just a space to produce and congregate; it is now an enabler of creativity, production, innovation and company culture. The metrics needed to evaluate office space effectiveness need to change, as the previous metrics of productivity, e.g. receipts processed, calls answered, emails sent, are no longer relevant.

FANG organizations have been fundamental in making this shift. Think of Google’s offices, which ooze company culture through every primary colored writeable wall and slide, or the open work spaces that encourage chance meetings and, therefore, collaboration or innovation. The ethos of these tech firms is now shaping many legacy businesses in terms of culture and office design as traditional companies adapt to enhance internal collaboration and innovation to drive digital strategies in their organizations.

Office function doesn’t end here, as these spaces also need to operate as talent incubators or nurseries. The idea that millennials want freedom to work remotely is false. The real story is that millennials want to work closely alongside their boss to learn and also to make a good impression. Office design, therefore, needs to foster this, from seating arrangements that put management within touching distance of graduates, through to collaboration and break-out areas that encourage chance encounters of differing hierarchies in the business. Google has made an art out of the “chance encounter,” specifically designing office spaces with layouts that maximize “casual collisions”.

From moving to regional talent clusters to pulling down those grey cubicles and replacing them with standing desks in open plan offices, it’s undeniably apparent that businesses are rethinking space. Cities and offices are no longer viewed as just congregation points for business.

Office location and design are fundamentally linked to talent, innovation, collaboration, culture and productivity. Therefore, effective use of these spaces needs to be viewed as a critical strategic imperative as organizations look to drive digital initiatives and succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.