The modern workplace is undergoing significant change, and it’s no surprise that many of these changes are driven by the adoption of new technologies. However, unlike previous eras of technological change, most of the technologies being adopted by organizations today have the potential to offer more autonomy, choice and flexibility to their employees. This can cause disconnects (literally) with the built environment, but it’s also possible for those who design and manage work spaces to adopt a new mindset to stay in lockstep with technological change and to ensure the creation of positive workplace experiences.
So how does this happen? How do we keep people at the center of work in an increasingly technologically-driven workplace? As companies look to define the future of work, this question poses a major challenge to employers of all sizes. A people-centered future workplace begins with decision-making centered around people’s’ changing expectations, behaviors and needs. The right workplace tools will anticipate and improve existing work patterns rather than insist upon new ones to enable productivity and improve the overall workplace experience — something that too many employers overlook.
The legacy of old technology for today’s workplace
To move beyond outdated methods of workplace planning, it’s important to recognize the historical influence of technology on today’s workplace design. If we look back to the 1950’s and 1960’s, there was a movement born of the German concept of Bürolandschaft to create more organic, collaborative workplace designs to enable new types of work. However, it was the rise of the personal computer that curtailed this movement and helped to create the dense, desk-intensive floor plans that were, until recently, the standard for global office design.
Desktop computing and telephony essentially mandated that a person conduct most of their individual work in a fixed location, and over many decades, there grew an (accurate) assumption that people must conform their work to the technology and spaces provided to them by their employer. In essence, both the spaces and the work were designed around the dominant tools of the era, and today many workplaces are still designed using these outdated assumptions.
However, in the last ten years the rise of mobility has been game-changing. Today, most employees critical technologies don’t reside in a single location but instead travel with them in their pockets, purses or backpacks. Perhaps without realizing they were doing so, Information Technology (IT) teams enabled new levels of user autonomy, freeing people not just from their desktop technologies, but from their actual desk tops.