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Digital Natives, a subset of millennials who were born during a period of widespread digital technology adoption, are beginning to enter the workforce in large numbers. This generation’s unique approach to work is driving massive change in the way employers think about the environment needed to attract and retain an engaged digital workforce.

Flexible work arrangements are consistently rated as a priority in the workplace and a strong predictor of retention for Digital Native’s. The challenge for businesses is ensuring effectiveness and engagement while implementing flexible work policies.

A well-designed digital workplace is the key to making flexibility work and organisations need consider how to designing a connected building to take full advantage of the opportunities provided by the digital workplace.

What is the Digital Workplace?

The workplace is the place we go to get work done and the digital workplace is the place we go to get work done in the digital era. A good way to think about it is less about the tools and features that enable digital work, and more about the space and experience of making this happen.

It’s a shift from thinking about the workplace as a set of walls, desks and meeting rooms that made up a physical office, to including the digital space where we work. The office is still there but the workplace is no longer constrained to the physical. The digital workplace has no walls.

When properly utilised, this leads to enormous opportunity. With this extra real estate, there are opportunities to expand the workplace, engage employees and influence culture on a larger scale than ever before.

Flexible Work is Important

The challenge of a workplace that exists everywhere, is the feeling that you are always at work. We are all connected 24/7, not just Digital Natives, and this can have some very negative impacts on quality of life if not managed correctly. Which, in turn, impacts how effective and engaged we are in a workplace.

With this push to work-life integration, over work-life balance, we need to redefine when and how we work. Flexible work is not only desirable, it is important. In terms of attracting and retaining a Digital Native workforce, clearly articulating a flexible work policy is one of the highest value actions you can take.

(From 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey)

What does this mean for connected buildings?

It’s important, at this stage, to clearly state that flexible work does not necessarily mean working from home. Flexible work is a complete redefinition of how we approach work, and what it means to be engaged in our work.

It might mean variable hours, it might mean variable location and yes, sometimes it might mean working from home. It does not mean that your employees will not want well-designed spaces to come in and get work done.

In an age of flexible work, the design of connected buildings is more important than ever before. These buildings need to accommodate a wide variety of working styles and functionality.

Start with Why

The best way to ensure that you are designing your connected building to suit your Digital Native’s needs, and thus making it a functional and appealing place to conduct work, is to start with why. Don’t start your process by listing all the tools and features you can pack in. Start by thinking about what experience your employees want when they come into the connected building.

Are they coming in to collaborate in person with their colleagues? Do they need a quiet workspace? Are there specialised features they need access to?

Without being able to answer the motivation for why your Digital Natives are coming into the physical workplace, you won’t be able to effectively design the space to suit those needs.

Some helpful tips

Whilst the design of each connected building will be unique, it helps to have a checklist of some things to consider when designing your digital workplace. Here’s a list of some things you might want to consider:

Make it easy

People are expensive, technology is (comparatively) cheap. Make use of your most valuable resource by making your digital workplace easy to use. Don’t expect people to work around massive usability issues in the digital space.

Make it interactive

Use the digital space to enhance the way you interact with the physical space. Allow control and visibility of your physical space through the digital portals. Consider the process for controlling the climate, finding a space to work, booking meeting rooms, etc.

Make it delightful

When setting up a physical office, allowance is made for break areas, colour, plants. These provide crucial functions for inspiring and engaging your employees. When setting up your digital workplace, don’t forget the metaphorical break room!

Make it collaborative

You don’t have to do this all alone. Talk to your Digital Natives, they have a great insight into engaging with the digital space. Talk to a connected building expert and learn about current capabilities. Talk to your competitors, you never know what they might have implemented. Digital workplaces should ultimately be collaborative.

Sarah Burton, Graduate User Experience Designer.

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Sarah Burton

Sarah Burton

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