Successful companies the world over are making the necessary shift of recognising the value of the workplace as a business tool to help hire and keep the best talent.
Linda Trim, Director at workplace specialists Giant Leap, says “for South African companies, the overarching imperative must be to see workplace strategy as a business opportunity rather than a just a design challenge and a cost containment exercise.”
With 80 percent of the average company’s costs tied to its talent, which is increasingly globally mobile, here are the top five workplace changes South African companies will need to adopt in the next two years to keep pace with international trends.
- Build the ‘Internet of Workplace’
In larger companies, “Internet of Things” (IoT) integration has so far primarily been at the building level, using real-time dashboards to track workplace occupancy, building water consumption, elevator usage, temperatures and more.
“However, threads of the next stage of this are starting to emerge, “notes Trim.
“Companies are starting to embrace everything from smartphone apps that control the window shades, to tablets in meeting rooms that enable employees to order a coffee through a virtual concierge or to adjust the temperature.”
Companies that build a workplace linked by internet connectivity – an “Internet of Workplace” – will leverage devices, furniture and environments that interact digitally to drive productivity.
For example, Dutch bank ‘ABN Amro’ is using occupancy data to help employees find available workspaces, and analysing traffic patterns around lunchtime to manage lift rush hours.
- Ingrain the co-working mentality in real-estate strategy
By 2020, there will be 26 000 co-working locations worldwide. By comparison, there are 24 000 Starbucks globally. Initially, co-working was simply a term for the use of a shared workspace that businesses – many of them individual entrepreneurs or small start-ups.
“Today, top class co-working spaces like FutureSpace in Sandton, are used by a wide variety of businesses, including multinational companies, “says Trim.
In the future, companies will also need to think more about accessing office space rather than owning or leasing it. This paradigm shift will require an evaluation of “core” and “flexible” space needs so that businesses can execute a real-estate strategy that minimises cost and maximises opportunities.
- Make employee experience a core part of business strategy>
While most business leaders already have an understanding of the importance of employee engagement, three-quarters of those surveyed in a Harvard Business Review study said that most of their employees are not highly engaged.
“Engagement and productivity can have a direct impact on the bottom line, says Trim. “One of the best ways that companies can ensure that their employees are engaged is to dedicate someone entirely to the employee experience. By creating a position of a ‘chief experience officer’, you can focus attention and resources to reduce work-day friction and create positive experiences for employees.”
- Create a workplace that makes people healthier
Low productivity due to poor health damages companies’ profitability. In the US for example, overweight workers and those with chronic health conditions account for more $153 billion in lost productivity annually.
“To combat these trends, wellness is and will remain one of the most important topics in workplace design,” says Trim.
“Employees will soon expect to be healthier when they leave the office than when they arrived. This will be thanks to access to high-quality air, natural light, water and healthy food choices, plus wellness programs with opportunities for exercise, health care services and social engagement.”
Technology can also play a role. Some European companies encourage employees to wear Fitbits and answer daily questions to assess exercise levels, stress levels, productivity and overall well-being. Employees then translate data-driven insights into decisions around how, where and when to work.
“By 2020, we expect that the importance of benchmarking built-environment performance to wellness standards will increase dramatically,” notes Trim.
- Enable an agile organisation
Most organisations have dedicated teams with certain expertise that work on specific products or services for clients.
“Due to changing client demands, a quickly shifting environment and evolving technologies, organisations are starting to rethink these structures by prioritising collaboration between teams, breaking down silos.
The “agile organisation” is a term that’s getting a lot of attention right now,” says Trim.
To boost collaboration between people with different areas of expertise and backgrounds, agile organisations must be able to bring people physically together to work. Collaborations are key, which means that more people will come to the office and average occupancy rates will increase.
Additionally, formal planned meetings are replaced by short, effective “meeting moments” and continuous informal collaboration within teams.
According to a study from McKinsey & Company, businesses that are deploying agile development at scale have accelerated their innovation by up to 80 percent.
“The year 2020 isn’t far away. It is critical for South African companies to make space and location decisions that create engaging and productive experiences for employees,” says Trim.