04/06/2015

By Marco Landi, President EMEA of Polycom


Imagination runs wild when we think of the workplace of the future, but I’ve got news for you; it’s already here. Technologies we have been discussing for the last five to ten years are now converging. Cloud, social, video, mobile and more are part of the everyday reality for most workers. However, if you really want to know about the workplace of the future you need to look to the people not the place. The psychology of the average worker is changing, and it’s the individuals who are driving and shaping the environment of tomorrow.

The biggest shift in the modern enterprise has been the uptake and adoption of new technologies by the workforce. It’s a changing attitude being ushered in by the younger generations, including millennials, but rapidly supported by baby boomers and Generation Y. The global median age is increasing by an average of around 2.6 years every decade, so now more than ever organisations have to meet multiple employee demands. Despite the age range there are three main drivers of this push towards the future workplace; a desire for flexibility, autonomy and ease.

Flexibility

Flexibility isn’t just about hours; it’s about location and style too. In an increasingly globalised world we might be part of a team that is spread across several time zones, in order to remain efficient we might need to have early morning calls with Asia and late evening sessions with the USA. That doesn’t mean we need to work 12-hour days. The rise in remote working, improved connectivity and anywhere collaboration mean that we can dial in to calls, join video meetings and present to colleagues from anywhere; our desk, our home, a huddle room or the local park as your kids play.

Sir Cary Cooper, Professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester Business School, says that “technology is our enabler” when it comes to workspace flexibility. 76% of employees feel that technology has had an influence in the way they work in the past year and Virgin Media Business recently predicted that 60% of office-based employees will regularly work from home by 2022, thanks to technological advances in the workplace. They expect choice and flexibility over their physical workspace. Remote and flexible working enables employees to meet their needs, such as childcare and elder care, as well as the needs of the employer. Happy employees are hardworking employees and ultimately derive better value for the business. A study by Dr Cooper found that the main reasons employers gave for providing employees with flexible working opportunities included: to improve morale, staff retention and recruitment. That’s because the average turnover cost per employee is £8,200, rising to £12,000 for senior managers or directors. On the flip side of staff recruitment and retention, 41% of employees said the availability of working flexibly was important or very important when they made their decision to work for their current employer. Generation Y (people born between 1980 and 2000 and have grown up almost entirely in the digital age) will further drive this trend, with 92% identifying flexibility as a top priority when selecting a workplace.

Autonomy

The modern worker demands more control over their work place, patterns and productivity. This is also achieved through technology. Employees are seeking out employers who empower them to achieve maximum efficiency. This means creating an experience of autonomy where employees can choose the technologies that best suit them and their role, because in the workplace of the future they want to work smarter, not longer. But some employers are letting them down; a third sayp the lack of investment in appropriate mobile technology is the biggest barrier to flexible working and 23% of people say their desire to collaborate more freely is inhibited by a business culture resistant to change or new technology adoption.

The average worker expects control over the kind of mobile device they use, hence the increase in BYOD policies amongst enterprises; 54% of companies globally are allowing BYOD. They also want to be able to choose when to see their colleagues face-to-face, regardless of geographical location. “People like to see each other eyeball-to-eyeball, it’s really quite important,” says Professor Cooper. Business leaders recognise this and say that video collaboration contributes to a flexible working strategy by improving productivity of remote workers as much as 39% and two-thirds say enabling flexible working has a bigger financial impact than cutting operational costs. In fact, 56% of business leaders and managers expect video to be their most preferred collaboration tool in 2016 in order to accommodate employee demands and derive maximum productivity.

Ease

Technologies like video collaboration used to be isolated in meeting rooms, difficult to book and complicated to launch. This is no longer the case. The biggest driver of technology adoption has been ease of use. This has two parts to it.

Firstly, the user interface has been a focus of the whole technology industry. From the Apple iPhone to Skype for Business, the heavyweights are focusing on simple, intuitive software and hardware that doesn’t require a degree to operate.

The second part of ease of use is centred on integration. Users who are comfortable with Microsoft Lync don’t want to have to step outside of that comfort zone to make a video call, so the seamless integration of video into the Lync interface into their workflows is key to the raised profile of video in the enterprise. It’s also about the integration of future technologies into business processes, whether that is making it the standard for HR to interview over video, or conducting speech and language assessments over video in a medical context. One in two people say that having more access to video would increase use. More video won’t mean more work for IT either; over 80% indicate that their video conference didn’t take too long to set-up. Making it fit into their workflow easily is the key to an easy life for the IT department tasked with driving adoption.

Ultimately, the way we think and feel about work has changed drastically over the past ten years, and will continue to shift over the next ten. Geographically dispersed workforces are becoming the norm, 57% have seen an increase in the amount of work with they do with coworkers based in another location over the last three years. According to recent research, 50% of employees think they will be offered the chance to work from home in their lifetime and 79% of employees believe that business travel will be completely replaced by other forms of communication. This is reinforced by the finding that 56% of business leaders and managers expect video to be their most preferred collaboration tool by 2016. Business leaders have identified video conferencing as the next big workplace trend; 96% say it helps companies defy distance and break down cultural barriers to improve productivity. In an increasingly connected and globalised world the cultural part is significant, and those three key expectations are more prevalent than ever; flexibility, autonomy and ease.

The world is changing; visual technologies are becoming the standard thanks in large part to the changing psychology of workers. Consumerisation is nothing new, but where we are really seeing the difference now is in the rise of visual communications technologies. From Snapchat to Twitter, FaceTime to Hangouts, every social and consumer application is jumping on the real-time communications bandwagon which means that unified collaboration is becoming more and more integral to the enterprise. The workplace of the future is one where we can see each other more easily.

Ultimately the changing expectations of the worker and their impact on enterprise IT deployments can be summarised under three business pillars; workspace, experience and workflow. It’s the desire to collaborate anywhere, in natural way and with impact. Workers don’t just want unified communications they are demanding high quality mobile and cloud solutions that are woven into their business functions.