The workplace is transforming in ways which we previously could not have imagined. Technology is now connecting people with opportunities in a remarkable way as we see an increase of decentralised work alongside an increase in decentralised workers. The observations on portfolio careers, the gig economy and the liquid workforce are endless, most of which describe the organisational and societal impact of the shifting construct of work. For many, this notion is no longer just an idea or concept, but a reality of a more flexible approach, which is largely owned and created by the individual themselves.
Physically, the environments within which we work are evolving. Glass towers and hundreds of clinical grey cubicles are being gutted and redesigned into open, bright, engaging spaces.
The shared office illustrates how organisations are shifting from owned or leased and centralised facilities to purpose-built hubs, housing state-of-the art meeting places and technologies. A transient environment, providing cost advantages, just-in-time services, and flexibility.
The remote office gives some interesting insight into how some are replacing the daily commute with teleworking. The adoption of liberating technology means for many, the daily, sweaty, London underground experience could be a thing of the past, not to mention the flexibility to manage our increasingly demanding lives.
In some instances, a global office presents previously unobtainable possibilities. Perhaps the best skills for a project are not in physical reach at all. Our future colleagues may not just be diverse in terms of background and skills, but also geographic location. Could the best person for the job be sat in a tiny remote village on a completely different continent, where our businesses do not currently operate?
With a lens on the future, if we reimagine possibilities that a virtual world brings, suddenly a virtual office, not filled with avatars, but holograms can feel like a not-so-distant reality.
Undoubtedly, the workplace is being redefined and reimagined, built upon new thinking around productivity and engagement, and the opportunity that technology brings.
Advances in technology and design architecture are radicalising the concept on the workspace, at the heart of which will be a focus for active, creative, productive work participation, not constrained by physical boundaries or outdated mindsets. Work is becoming a thing that you do, not a place that you go.
Yet as technology brings opportunity, the remote environment that that the digital world unearths, poses an interesting challenge. Social media and the internet connect us to hundreds and thousands of people, yet research by the Office for National Statistics, showed that 5% of adults (16 and over) in England reported feeling lonely “often / always” – that’s 1 in 20 adults. Interestingly, the younger adults reported that they experience loneliness more often. We see today how young people can have thousands of friends online, and yet perpetually feel unsupported and isolated.
(Source: “Loneliness – what characteristics and circumstances are associated with feeling lonely?”, ONS 2018)
This insight leads us to question whether we are really understanding what impact the advancement of technology is having on the future of relationships? From birth to death, human beings are hard-wired to connect to other human beings. In her book, “The Village Effect” psychologist Susan Pinker explores how face-to-face contact is crucial for learning, happiness, resilience and longevity, as she brings together the findings of the new field of social neuroscience with gripping human stories. Most of us have left the literal village behind, and don’t want to give up our new technologies to go back there. There is evidence however, that supports the notion that we need close social bonds and uninterrupted face-time with our friends, families and co-workers in order to thrive―even to survive.
Connection is more powerful than you think. It is more than how may bars of reception you have or how strong the Wi-Fi is. A strong network is less about the number of LinkedIn connections you have, or how many likes you get on your Instagram feed.
It is about turning the conversations, the meetings and the interactions with others, into something purposeful, and meaningful. As we mindlessly allow social media and online interactions to define our ways of engaging, do we need to re-frame the how we connect with others?
Connectivity has the power to supercharge and transform the relationships we have, nurture and build, but equally the possibility to erode them. We have the tools and technology at our fingertips to collaborate, share and engage, but how we use the technology is key. Can we better leverage technology to keep hold of the face-to-face contact that is so important to us as humans? How do we replicate a true sense of community in an increasingly disparate world? In a world where people and technology collide in new ways, our challenge today is to consciously create our new village in a digital world.