Technology is redefining the workplace and removing geographical barriers to worker collaboration, providing businesses with new ways to create ideas and innovate, according to Workplace of the Future ‘evangelist’ Amy Barzdukas.
Dynamic Business spoke to Barzdukas, who is the Vice President, Global Solutions Marketing with video conferencing company Polycom, about the challenges and opportunities associated with the evolution of the workplace in Australia.
How has the concept of the workplace changed?
The way people work and collaborate is changing dramatically in Australia. Successful businesses are increasingly using technologies such as mobile devices, tablets, IP telephony and video collaboration to keep their workforce engaged and to facilitate remote communication between employees within and across functions, geographies and projects, resulting in new ways to create ideas and innovate. The age of virtual workforces and instant collaboration also means costly and underutilised office spaces and traditional desk and cubicle configurations are no longer required – this is good news for small businesses!
As hybrid workforces (workforces consisting of on-site, mobile and teleworkers) become the new norm, businesses are having to find spaces designed to help people connect and collaborate more easily. Already, millions of smaller ‘huddle rooms’ are being constructed in offices around the globe, replacing large-scale boardrooms. And in these spaces, businesses are looking to recreate an experience no different from meeting in person and where content is easily shared.
What is the Workplace of the Future? Why is it desirable?
The Workplace of the Future is focused on enhancing work experiences, workflows and workspaces, not only to increase productivity and efficiency in the business but to boost collaboration between employees and job satisfaction and, thus, customer satisfaction. It involves the blending of technologies and workspace and a shift in emphasis from “how do we wire this building?” to “how do we wire our employees?”
The Workplace of the Future is generally more flexible than the traditional workspace – both in terms of how physical space is used and expectations around where employees may be located on any given day. Relevantly, Polycom recently conducted a Workplace of the Future study across 1500 businesses (large and small) within ANZ. It found an increasing dependence on the use of global teams in business – 69% in Australia and 71% in New Zealand. It used to be important to be “in the office” to have “face time” with your colleagues and senior leaders. However, today, if I work in Sydney but my colleagues are in Singapore, Bangalore and New York, with whom would I have face time if I were in “the office?”
The benefits of shifting to the Workplace of the Future are huge. The hard costs of real estate, which traditionally have been the #2 expense line for many businesses, can be reduced, which is a blessing for those businesses just starting out. The Workplace of the Future also allows businesses to hire the best talent, with less of a focus on location. Using video collaboration technology, you can hire less expensively too. For millennials, the ability to work flexibly is a significant priority in choosing which job to take, so if you want to be able to hire new talent and stay current, offering that workplace of the future can be a key advantage in talent acquisition. A flexible workplace environment can suit other generations of workers too, so you are able to retain and recruit in equal measure.
Is transitioning to a Workplace of the Future easy?
Shifting away from a traditional office workspace can be challenging for existing employees – change is always hard. The Workplace of the Future also tends to flatten hierarchy, which can make people uncomfortable at first. In the physical office, senior executives may have the same workstation setup as newcomers, for example, and use team meeting spaces, huddle rooms, or traditional conference rooms for sensitive conversations. It can also be challenging for introverts who are innately less productive in open workplace settings. For employees who transition to working remotely, there is less “incidental” conversation and collaboration from hallway or water cooler conversations. But thoughtful approaches to change management and giving thought to how to provide for both privacy and open collaboration can make a huge difference in the physical meeting space. Providing for “virtual water cooler” time or information connections over video can also encourage more of the connections between people and teams that strengthen the dynamic.
Why is the hybrid workforce model with embracing?
A hybrid workforce – one that embraces flexible work arrangements and increasing use of contract workers or freelancers – requires an increased focus on collaboration and information sharing with less of a siloed approach. This model often suits small to medium sized business who want the flexibility of being able to bring people in “on demand” as the business requires it.
Polycom’s ANZ Workplace of the Future study found that 82% of ANZ employers believe that the labour market will change due to an increase in using contractors and freelancers, so managers need to be able to embrace new technologies that drive human connection and exchange.
How do businesses with a geographically-dispersed team maintain their cultural identity, guard against disunity?
Video collaboration is a hugely impactful tool for preventing “presence disparity.” Being able to see others makes everyone on the videoconference more engaged: if you’re a teleworker, you can’t be changing the laundry around or watching the footy like you could on an audio-only call where you are invisible. Not only does this make people pay attention, but it also helps to drive stronger team culture and unity. People work better together when nobody gets to be “anonymous.”
With a hybrid workforce, managers have to make a shift to intentional engagement with their teams because you can no longer count on hallway conversations. Instead, it’s about doing the virtual equivalent of walking around and checking in on people using technology like IM, texts, and video conferencing. Bringing people together remotely via collaboration tools like video creates connections and builds relationships.