The workplace of the future and the role of technology: tech the enabler

 The recent report, The Workplace Advantage, published by The Stoddart Review, looked into how the UK can plug part of its productivity gap by re-assessing the workplace. Reporting that only one in two employees agree their workplace allows them to work productively, it is clear that there’s room for improvement. Enlightened practitioners use the workplace as part of their corporate strategy, and are already taking necessary steps to address the gap and maximise the performance lever that the workplace provides. With the latest advances in technology, a new level of understanding, new facilities and the ability to connect the workplace, many are already reaping the rewards from adopting a technology focused strategy, which puts the needs of the employees at the heart of the workplace.

With the recent revolution in flexible working, which has allowed employees to work where and when they want, ‘tech’ has already demonstrated itself as a great enabler. And yet, mobile working is not the norm as figures indicate as much as 91% still work solely from the office . However, a new-wave of technological advancement is focused on improving the wellbeing and happiness of employees while at work and increasing their productivity.

Customisation and individualisation
Modern fears around technology centre upon it creating a soulless and isolated world. Yet the adoption of increasingly sophisticated technology within the workplace is facilitating the opposite.

The adoption of solutions - utilising the much heralded Internet of Things - in offices such as The Edge in Amsterdam, enables employees to customise their workplace to suit their personal preferences and needs, allowing them to modify environmental factors such as light and temperature. With Gartner predicting that by 2018 commercial buildings will include over a billion connected things , technology is in fact enabling the workplace to become an increasingly personalised environment.

Wellness and Understanding
With the rise of wellness technology, we’re also seeing employers taking measures to create environments that result in happier and healthier employees.

By monitoring employees through biometrics, employers can understand what factors could be provoking stress. For example, Lendlease encourages its staff to wear heart-rate monitors to show when people might be in ‘fight or flight’ mode. Once this behaviour has been observed, they then undertake behavioural change methods with their staff to help them reduce stress, such as encouraging them to take micro breaks or teaching them breathing techniques.

Using seat sensors, Lendlease also measures how much time their employees spend at their desk versus walking around. A 2014 study from Stanford University found that creative thinking was improved while a person was walking or shortly thereafter. Lendlease can therefore ascertain whether or not they need to encourage their employees to move more.

Using technology that gathers quantifiable data such as seat sensors can have wider implications beyond the individual. It enables employers to understand what creates the optimum environment for employees to work happily and productively, as part of an overarching employee engagement strategy.

Promoting a culture that improves the wellbeing of the employee and placing this as a primary objective can have significantly positive impacts for a businesses’ productivity and profitability. This will also combat workplace illness that costs the economy £13.4 billion a year. With a report by ABI Research Wearable Wireless Device in Enterprise Wellness Programmes predicting that by 2018 at least 13 million workplace wearable devices will be integrated into wellness programmes , it is clear that businesses are adopting these measures to help plug this gap.

The best solutions are those that are created with the employees’ needs and interests in mind within the context of your business goals. While it may be tempting to view the future technology enabled workplace as an alien place run by robots, the strong message we are seeing through research is the opposite. In fact, the technology enabled workplace can become humane, creating an environment that is finely tuned and personalised to the needs of the individual. This is essential to create the best environments to facilitate and encourage the best out of your people and to build a productive and cohesive business.

While some may argue that the gathering of such personal data is in contention with the privacy and individualistic values of the employee, when this data is gathered with the objective of improving employee wellbeing - rather than to demand more from employees - it is hard to argue against, but the approach, consent, storage and utilisation of such information must be carefully considered before embarkation.

 Polly took on the role of Programme Director for The Stoddart Review on a voluntary basis, to lead this independent and cross industry voluntary project which was created in memory of a facilities and workplace industry giant, Christopher Stoddart, MCIOB, FBIFM, to raise awareness amongst business leaders about the importance of the workplace and real estate as a key performance driver. 

Currently, Polly is Property Management Director for Broadgate Estates and has over 30 years property management, asset management and estate management experience. This has included several senior roles at Cushman and Wakefield including EMEA Head of Research and Insight, sitting on their UK Board and leading their UK property and asset management business.

Polly is committed to changing industry perception of property management and to helping clients leverage their real estate assets to maximise competitive advantage and customer satisfaction. Through her work with Chris, and latterly with The Stoddart Review, she passionately believes that developers, investors, occupiers and the industry supporting them need to see themselves in service of effective workplaces, and is working to unlock transformation within the industry.