Tag: workplace

The office of 2021

The coronavirus pandemic will have long-term effects on offices around the world, as the habits and routines developed over a century of work have seemingly vanished overnight.

“While the office has an important future, the 2021 version is likely to be markedly different: materials, layouts and even how we interact with it will all evolve,” says Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, one of South Africa’s largest workplace design specialists.

The office as a whole

Keeping the office as germ-free as possible will require material changes. Surfaces like unfinished wood, soft stone, and stainless steel can be breeding grounds for germs and bacteria and are on their way out.

“Offices might turn to furniture made of antimicrobial synthetic materials, plus metals like copper and brass for door handles and other high-touch surfaces.

Other touchpoints, like keypads and control panels for lighting, climate control, and AV systems, will likely be replaced with apps on employees’ phones,” Trim says.

Ultraviolet lights installed in ducts could purify air before it’s blown out onto the office floor. Architects might even make tweaks like curving the place where the floor meets the wall. This can eliminate corners that collect filth and germs, a practice that some hospitals have been using for decades.

Larger-scale changes may also be coming.

Says Trim: “With more employees working remotely, some desk space could be converted into more thoughtfully designed open spaces. And companies will certainly seek out offices with more access to outdoor space both as a means of social distancing and a way of making them more inviting to employees whose alternative is to stay home.”

From here on, the office will be purposely designed to be more than just a workplace, It will be a community place, a cultural place, a place of learning.

The workstation

For the sake of cleanliness, companies might have to reconsider the long-held tradition of assigned desks. Forcing employees to remove their belongings at the end of each day will allow for more effective cleanings that can’t happen when desks are covered with clutter.

“An alternative to that approach is to keep the dedicated work station but implement a ‘clean desk policy’: Each employee gets a cubby or locker in which to store things at the end of each workday, and desk surfaces are cleaned each night. The employee is then the only one in that space. There won’t be this introduction of another person sitting in that chair or touching those surfaces,” Trim said.

Adding more separation between workstations–something being done out of necessity in the short term, might become a long-term trend meant to give employees more privacy.

The remote-friendly workplace

“We’ve long advocated for choice in the office: you can sit in a lounge space or small huddle room or the outdoor patio, depending on what allows you to do your best work.”

Many more companies will update their office spaces so that the choice of workspace is not just a nice to have someday but it’s rather a must have soon. These changes will also be a major factor in businesses being able to attract and retain top talent.When we only come into the office a few days the quality at the office has to be exceptional. “It’s no longer about having just a gorgeous front entrance. It is now about giving your team the best facilities and environs for a great sense of purpose and that are better by degrees than what they can get at home, “ Trim concludes.

Using emojis can be legally binding

Think that the use of a specific emoji colour is fine? Think that a black smiley used by a white person is acceptable? Think that sending an image of an eggplant is perfectly normal? The courts in countries like the USA and France say no, and it’s very likely that these rulings are soon going to make their way into South African courts and organisations. According to Nicol Myburgh Head: CRS Technologies HCM Business Unit, emojis can be used as evidence against employees and companies in a court of law.

“The inappropriate use of an emoji is going to make an appearance in this country very soon,” he predicts. “People must become far more circumspect in their use of emojis and images when engaging in communication with fellow employees, otherwise they run the risk of being accused of discrimination or harassment, among other things.”

If a white person uses a black smiley in their communication with a fellow employee, that could be perceived very negatively, no matter what thought process may have been behind its use. For some, this could be seen as ‘blackface’ or as a form of discrimination, and it could cause immense distress among employees.

“Of course, any use of an emoji requires context,” says Myburgh. “Labour law looks at the balance of probabilities. Was the emoji used in a negative context or was it part of the flow of conversation? Did it have a racial intent or was it meant to be a way of connecting with someone? If a person, according to the balance of probability, has a reputation for making racial statements, then this use case could be used as proof to take them to a tribunal.”

The same applies to the use of apparently innocuous emojis such as the eggplant. Yes, that could just be a vegetable, but it could also be innuendo and sexual harassment and the same rules apply. Different people see things in different ways and this is influenced by age, gender, culture and situation. For Myburgh, the best way to avoid being caught in the emoji trap is to keep them out of the workplace entirely.

“If you want to avoid a court case or office in-fighting, just don’t use emojis,” he adds. “Of course, that isn’t going to happen; this is neither practical nor realistic so instead adopt the same strategy as you would with verbal conversations – be aware, be careful and be respectful.”

Another example of how emojis could potentially impact on a company or a career is in their interpretation as a tacit agreement. The thumbs up emoji, for example, could be used to make an argument that verbal or visual confirmation was given to something.

“You may be just saying ‘noted’ but the reader may see the thumbs up and think, ‘wow, I got the job’,” concludes Myburgh. “The rule of thumb in any office environment or communication is to stay away from emojis that could have harmful or offensive connotations, such as eggplants, tacos, hearts, kisses, thumbs up, rude gestures or certain types of animals. That way you can avoid unnecessary conflict and an extremely unpleasant court case.”

 

Five ways to promote a healthy workplace

Employees lose one to two hours, and often more, of productivity each day in work environments unsupportive of daily health – but there are easy, cost effective steps that can be taken to remedy the problem.

Linda Trim, director at workplace design specialists Giant Leap, says: ”Air quality, lighting and temperature are the top factors for positive influence on wellness.

“Other priorities include personal control of the workspace and more privacy from noise and people distractions. Given the importance of a healthy work environment to productivity and retention – 7 out of 10 employees are likely to stay at a job that enhances wellness – all businesses should invest some time in making the most of their space.”

Here are five ways to promote a healthy workplace:

1. Personalise your workspace

You may not always be able to renovate and install new furniture, but you can probably always make decorative and design improvements. “Hanging pictures, keeping fresh flowers or live plants at desks make a big difference,” says Trim. She also suggested improved, more people-friendly office layouts and positioning people so they have the most appealing views possible.

2. Create privacy in open layouts

Fewer offices with doors in lieu of more shared layouts saves money, so they’re here to stay. But you can still maintain your privacy in an open workplace. Says Trim: “Taking advantage of privacy rooms and hanging a Do Not Disturb sign when you need to focus or using common spaces away from your desk make a big difference to a sense of control. If you do have private spaces you can use, know where these are and how to reserve them.”

3. Bring in support tools

It would be ideal if every office provided the air quality, lighting, temperature and other factors we want, but opinions notoriously vary on what’s optimal. If you need more air or light, consider a desk fan or desk lamp. The fan can help for temperature that’s too warm. Keep a jacket or scarf on hand if temperatures are too cold.

4. Build good health habits into your daily schedule

Leaving your open workspace for a privacy room for even a few minutes each day is one example of a habit you can build into your schedule. “In addition, take your lunch break,” Trim advises. It’s good for networking too. Walk the floor for exercise and for a broader perspective on your work. “Drink water throughout the day.”

5. Invest your bonus productivity hour and build a virtuous cycle

According to the Future Workplace Wellness Study conducted by View, a US company that creates smart buildings, 67% of employees are more productive in workplaces that promote a healthy environment, and gains could mean one hour or more of increased productivity each day.

“Once you incorporate improvements to your workspace and gain that time back, invest it in your career,” Trim advises.

“Write a list of career enhancing activities and tick it off. Examples could include catching up on industry news, attending a webinar to update your skills, spending time with colleagues outside your immediate area – or even a wellness option like walking outside.”

What office workers get up to each week

By Zoya Gervis for New York Post

A study examining the intricacies of workplace communication found the average office worker has 17 meetings, gatherings with colleagues and conferences with clients each week.

How was your evening? Did you see “Big Little Lies”? Questions like these might sound familiar, as the average office worker endures 21 bouts of awkward colleague small talk per week.

And to power through it all, they’ll consume 19 coffees or other beverages from Monday to Friday.

A study, conducted by OnePoll in conjunction with GoTo by LogMeIn, examined the working habits and behaviours of 2 000 employed people in the US, UK, France, Germany, India and Australia — and it discovered that in a typical day, the average office worker will look at 10 non-work related sites.

From four small talk interactions, four coffees and three meetings, employed workers have busy days.

And it appears that work isn’t always at the forefront of the average office worker’s mind. In fact, the office workers studied will visit a non-work-related website more than 50 times per week and be on their phone for non-work reasons a further 56 times.

That sees workers take more than 100 non-working mini-breaks throughout the week.

The research progressed to examine the tools and efficiencies of their current work-setup. The average worker juggles five different work programs a day and uses a further four collaboration tools. At any one time they will have six different tabs open on their computer.

Results showed that more than half (56 percent) felt their workplace had ineffective or lacking communication policies.

And as many as 64 percent say they waste time switching between all the tools they need to use to do their job.

Other barriers to productive office communication and productivity proved to be phones — with over half (55 percent) revealing phones to be the leading cause of their work distractions.

A further 46 percent cited their inability to focus on the job on loud conversations while another 44 percent said their personal emails were to blame for their lack of productivity.

News alerts (35 percent) and noisy construction near the office (32 percent) also made it into the top five office distractions.

When it comes to office communication, 64 percent of those studied revealed they waste time switching between different tools and programs they need to use daily.

As a result, 56 percent admit that their communication among colleagues is ineffective and could use some help.

“These days workers are inundated with a vast number of tools that are supposed to make work easier. However, without the right technology the number of tools can quickly become overwhelming,” said Mark Strassman, SVP and General Manager, Unified Communications and Collaboration at LogMeIn.

The many barriers and inefficiencies might be why over a third (38 percent) have suffered an embarrassing workplace miscommunication.

The most common miscommunication blunder in the workplace was found to be sending an email to the wrong person.

Other notable work-related miscommunications included making a spelling mistake (46 percent), having a grammar mistake (39 percent) or not speaking up in a meeting (34 percent).

In fact, one respondent had accidentally sent a text message sent for her boyfriend to her assistant manager, while another mistakenly sent personal information to a co-worker.

Strassman continued, “Businesses need to set their employees up for success by giving them easy to use, reliable collaboration tools that help rather than hinder. Ultimately the tools need to facilitate great collaboration by simply getting out of the way so employees can work how, where and when they want.”

In a week, the average office worker will experience:

  • 21.15 bouts of small talk
  • 18.6 cups of coffee/drinks
  • 17.05 meetings
  • 25.85 email refreshes

In the race to attract and retain the best talent, dramatically improving the workplace experience to make it a ‘super experience’ is now on the radar of every organisation.

Linda Trim, director at workplace design specialists Giant Leap, said that as new technologies and design practices raise the bar in what can be achieved, South Africa, as in the rest of the world, is now entering the era of the ‘super-experience’ at work.

A ‘super-experience’ is a heightened experience that creates excitement, is original and impactful and which goes beyond the typical and more mundane ‘user experience’ which people experience at traditional workplaces.

Said Trim: “Super experiences make you feel excited or that you’ve achieved something; they can stimulate curiosity, create a sense of purpose or instil a sense of belonging to a company. They can be unusual and unexpected – or reassuring and morale boosting. They can be small and intimate or executed on a grand scale.”

There are many examples of the ‘super-experience’ at some of the world’s best known companies. These include office buildings such as Amazon’s biophilic glass orbs at its Seattle headquarters which bring people closer to nature creating the sense they are working in a rainforest.

The Airbnb headquarters in San Francisco famously created 16 “neighbourhoods” in the office, each comprising desk spaces, large communal tables, standing desks, phone rooms and personal storage lockers. In South Africa, Giant Leap created state of the art training rooms for new employees at Flight Centre so people got to experience a ‘super-experience’ from day one at the company.

Data and media company Bloomberg’s new base in London is based in two buildings joined by bridges and located between the Bank of England and St Paul’s Cathedral in London’s famous Square Mile. It features a giant 210 metre ramp at its heart that aims to encourage collaboration between workers, offers and a pantry with free snacks and views over London.

NASA’s scientists have formed a ‘Space Orchestra’ which plays around the world.

“Employee experience wasn’t really on the workplace map a few years ago but many businesses are now scrambling to create experiences inside and beyond office buildings that support innovation, wellbeing, productivity and learning.
“And as part of a newly thriving ‘experience economy’, new job titles are emerging in organisations such as CEXO (Chief Experience Officer),” Trim notes.

She added that to create a ‘super experience’, companies should take a people-first approach, offering a flexible portfolio of experiences, and keeping an open mind on bringing in new technologies.

“The era of the super-experience will depend on new lighting, AV, soundscaping and sensor technologies in the workplace along with digital apps. The property sector will also require new skills, knowledge and ideas from theatre, arts, hospitality, retail and behavioural science if it is to make super-experience more of an occurrence in the workplace,” Trim concludes.

During the last decade, the workplace has undergone dramatic change: but it pales in comparison to how new organisational structures will impact the work environment as we move towards 2020.

Isla Galloway-Gaul, MD of Inspiration Office, says: “Our ways of working have changed as many societies become wealthier, as consumers demand new types of products and services and as we constantly seek to increase productivity.”

She notes that there are four megatrends, which will have a profound impact on how we work:

The rise of mobile knowledge workers

A knowledge worker uses research skills to define a problem, identify possible solutions, communicate this information and then works on one or several of these possible solutions. “The rise of knowledge workers sets new requirements for office design. Knowledge work is flexible, and knowledge workers are far more likely than other types of workers to work from home and be more mobile.

“The design of the work environment must be adapted to specific work needs as well as suit personal preferences, “ Galloway-Gaul notes.

Burst of new technology

For more than 30 years, IT and mobile advancements have had a profound influence on how we work and it’s likely this exponential advance will continue.
A few emerging technologies are already so advanced that it is possible to gauge their future influence. For example the Internet of Things, a connected network of physical devices, can connect and exchange data, resulting in efficiency improvements, economic benefits, and reduced human efforts. Real time speech recognition and translation will support easier communications between different language speakers and big data will allow companies to recognise patterns and make better decisions.

From Generation X to Generation Y

Generation X describes people born from the early 60s to the early 80s, many of whom hold now senior and work-influential positions in society today. Generation Y, often referred to as millennials, represent the generation that followed Generation X.

Says Galloway-Gaul: “Looking ahead to understand how our ways of working will change, it is necessary to understand what Generation Y need from their workplace, what their characteristics are like and how differently they see the world.” For example millennials tend to be more family-centric which means they are willing to trade higher pay for a better work-life balance. They are also the most tech-savvy generation which makes remote work possible, even desirable. They are achievement orientated and seek frequent new challenges.

Globalisation and the pressure to perform

Globalisation affects how we work in at least two ways. “Firstly, there is a now a larger, global talent pool available which means talent is more geographically dispersed and culturally diverse.

“As we head towards 2020, people will increasingly work with co-workers they have never met before,” Galloway-Gaul says.

Secondly, globalisation increases the pressure to perform. Previously companies could produce goods and have a secure home market with limited competition. “Now many products are sold at similar or more cost effective prices with the same or better service, and innovation is copied by competitors within weeks. This puts the question of whether work or services should be outsourced to other countries on the strategic agenda of any corporation,” Galloway-Gaul concludes.

So far the effects of artificial intelligence (AI) have been slow to reveal themselves in businesses in South Africa but the scale of the oncoming change is starting to become apparent overseas.

Isla Galloway-Gaul, MD of Inspiration Office, says: “AI’s influence is growing in the workplace and will bring substantial change to South African offices in the next few years as machine learning, task automation and robotics are increasingly used in business.”

The ability of computers to learn, rather than be programmed, puts a wide range of complex roles within reach of automation for the first time.

Bots and virtual assistants

As machine-learning trained systems gain the ability to understand speech and language, so the prospect of automated chatbots is becoming a reality.

One example is UK electronics retailer Dixons Carphone, which used the Microsoft Bot Framework and Microsoft Cognitive Services to create a conversational bot.

Google demonstrated the potential of chatbots last year with its demo of its Duplex system. Duplex rang up businesses such as a restaurant and a hairdressers booking an appointment while sounding and behaving enough like a human.

“Household names are also muscling into the area of creating a virtual assistant for the enterprise space like Amazon’s Alexa for Business. With many AI-assisted technologies, the aim of using chatbots and virtual assistants appears to be either making existing employees more effective or replacing manual roles,“ noted Galloway-Gaul.

Workplace sensor technology and analytics

Huge amounts of data can now be collected from inexpensive sensors applied to smart decisions. For example, South African workplace sensing technology company MakeSense allows businesses to accurately assess just howmuch of their workplaces they actually use, likely saving a lot of money in the process.

It works by placing small sensors around the office which analyses peoples’ movement.

“Workspace occupancy sensing technology helps businesses understand how desks, meeting rooms and break out spaces are used in extraordinary detail. For example on average 40% of people don’t turn up to meetings so many meetings room are probably too big and are wasted space and cost.”

Machine vision in the workplace

Machine vision is an area of AI that could allow the automation of many manual roles that until recently would have been considered too complex for a computer system to handle.

A case is point is Amazon Go, a grocery store where shoppers just pick up what they want and walk out of the shop with their goods. The system works by using cameras dotted throughout the store to track what each shopper picks up. The shopper is charged when they leave, via an Amazon app on their smartphone.

Robots in the workplace

Robots are nothing new in the workplace, having been a fixture in car manufacturing plants for decades.

“But what’s different today is that robots are beginning to be used for less repetitive and predictable tasks. Robots can increasingly cope with a greater deal of uncertainty in their environment, broadening the tasks they can take on and opening the possibility of working more closely alongside humans.” Galloway-Gaul noted. Amazon again is leading the way in using robots to improve efficiency inside its warehouses. Its knee-high warehouse robots carry products to human pickers who select items to be sent out.

Robotic process automation

Back office tasks like data entry, accounting, human resources and supply-chain management are full of repetitive and semi-predictable tasks.

Increasingly, robotic process automation (RPA) software is used to capture the rules that govern how people process transactions, manipulate data and send data to and from computer systems, in an attempt to then use those rules to build an automated platform that can perform those roles.

“Change is therefore coming to all workspaces all around the world; the trick will be getting AI to help business grow and work well with humans,” Galloway-Gaul concludes.

Top tips for workplace happiness

Many people think that if only they worked for a cooler company, had a different job or made more money they would then be happy at work.

But Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says that we should look to ourselves first for work happiness.

“The fundamental responsibility for being happy at work rests with the individual. You can be happier at work by following some simple ideas.”

These are her top tips:

1. Choose to be happy at work

Happiness is mostly a choice according to just about every expert. So you can choose to be happy at work. It sounds simple, but it’s often difficult to put into action.

“Think positively about your work. Dwell on the aspects that you enjoy. Find coworkers you like and spend your time with them. Your choices at work largely define your experience,” said Trim.

2. Only make commitments you can keep

One of the biggest causes of work stress and unhappiness is failing to keep commitments. Many employees spend more time making excuses for unkept commitments and worrying about the consequences than they do performing the tasks promised.

Create a system of organisation and planning that enables you to assess your ability to complete a requested commitment. “Don’t volunteer if you don’t have time. If your workload exceeds your available time and energy, make a comprehensive plan to ask for help and resources,” Trim advised.

3. Take charge of your personal & professional development

Said Trim:”You are the person with the most to gain from continuing to develop professionally so take charge of your own growth.” Ask for specific and meaningful help from your boss, but stick to your plans and goals.

4. Make sure you know what is happening at work

People often complain that they don’t receive enough information about what’s happening with their company, projects or coworkers. They wait for their boss to fill them up with knowledge. But the knowledge rarely comes. Why? “Because the boss is busy doing their job and doesn’t know what you don’t know. Seek out the information you need to work effectively. Develop an information network and use it,” Trim advised.

5. Ask for feedback often

Many people complain that their boss never gives me any feedback, so they never know how they are doing. “The truth is, “ said Trim, “you probably know exactly how you’re doing especially if you feel positive about your performance.” If you’re not positive about your work, think about improving and making a greater effort.
And then ask for feedback and and an assessment of your work.

6. Don’t be a neg-head

Choosing to be happy at work means avoiding negative conversations, gossip, and unhappy people as much as possible. No matter how positive you feel, negative people have a profound impact on your psyche. Don’t let the neg-heads bring you down.

7. Make friends

“One the best ways to be much happier at work is to have a best friend at work, “ said Trim. Enjoying your coworkers are good predictors of a positive and happy work experience. Take time to get to know them.

8. If all fails, searching for a new job will make you happy

If none of these ideas makes you happy at work, it’s time to re-evaluate your your job.
Most work environments don’t change all that much. But unhappy employees tend to grow even more disgruntled. “You can secretly smile while you spend all of your non-work time searching for a job, “ Trim concludes.

The future of work in a digital world

By Cathy Smith, MD at SAP Africa

The digital age, and the new technologies it’s brought with it – blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, augmented reality and virtual reality – is seen by many as a threat to our way of life as we know it. What if my job gets automated? How will I stay relevant? How do we adapt to the need for new skills to manage customer expectations and the flood of data that’s washing over us?

The bad news is that the nature of work has already changed irrevocably. Everything that can be automated, will be. We already live in an age of “robot restaurants”, where you order on a touch screen, and machines cook and serve your food. Did you notice the difference? AmazonGo is providing shopping without checkout lines. In the US alone, there are an estimated 3.4 million drivers that could be replaced by self-driving vehicles in 10 years, including truck drivers, taxi drivers and bus drivers.

We’re not immune from this phenomenon in Africa. In fact, the World Economic Forum (WEF) predicts that 41% of all work activities in South Africa are susceptible to automation, compared to 44% in Ethiopia, 46% in Nigeria and 52% in Kenya. This doesn’t mean millions of jobs on the continent will be automated overnight, but it’s a clear indicator of the future direction we’re taking.

The good news is that we don’t need to panic. What’s important for us in South Africa, and the continent, is to realise that there is plenty of work that only humans can do. This is particularly relevant to the African context, as the working-age population rises to 600 million in 2030 from 370 million in 2010. We have a groundswell of young people who need jobs – and the digital age has the ability to provide them, if we start working now.

Make no mistake, there’s no doubt that this so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution” is going to disrupt many occupations. This is perfectly natural: every Industrial Revolution has made some jobs redundant. At the same time, these Revolutions have created vast new opportunities that have taken us forward exponentially.

Between 2012 and 2017, for example, it’s estimated that the demand for data analysts globally grew by 372%, and the demand for data visualisation skills by more than 2000%. As businesses, this means we have to not only create new jobs in areas like data science and analytics, but reskill our existing workforces to deal with the digital revolution and its new demands.

So, while bus drivers and data clerks are looking over their shoulders nervously right now, we’re seeing a vast range of new jobs being created in fields such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), data analysis, computer science and engineering.

This is a challenge for Sub-Saharan Africa, where our levels of STEM education are still not where they should be. That doesn’t mean there are no opportunities to be had. In the region, for example, we have a real opportunity to create a new generation of home-grown African digital creators, designers and makers, not just “digital deliverers”. People who understand African nuances and stories, and who not only speak local languages, but are fluent in digital.

This ability to bridge the digital and physical worlds, as it were, will be the new gold for Africa. We need more business operations data analysts, who combine deep knowledge of their industry with the latest analytical tools to adapt business strategies. There will also be more demand for user interface experts, who can facilitate seamless human-machine interaction.

Of course, in the longer term, we in Africa are going to have to make some fundamental decisions about how we educate people if we’re going to be a part of this brave new world. Governments, big business and civil society will all have roles to play in creating more future-ready education systems, including expanded access to early-childhood education, more skilled teachers, investments in digital fluency and ICT literacy skills, and providing robust technical and vocational education and training (TVET). This will take significant intent not only from a policy point of view, but also the financial means to fund this.

None of this will happen overnight. So what can we, as individuals and businesspeople, do in the meantime? A good start would be to realise that the old models of learning and work are broken. Jenny Dearborn, SAP’s Global Head of Learning, talks about how the old approach to learning and work was generally a three-stage life that consisted largely of learn-work-retire.

Today, we live in what Ms Dearborn calls the multi-stage life, which includes numerous phases of learn-work-change-learn-work. And where before, the learning was often by rote, because information was finite, learning now is all about critical thinking, complex problem-solving, creativity and innovation and even the ability to un-learn what you have learned before.

Helping instill this culture of lifelong learning, including the provision of adult training and upskilling infrastructure, is something that all companies can do, starting now. The research is clear: even if jobs are stable or growing, they are going through major changes to their skills profile. WEF’s Future of Jobs analysis found that, in South Africa alone, 39% of core skills required across all occupations will be different by 2020 compared to what was needed to perform those roles in 2015.

This is a huge wake-up call to companies to invest meaningfully in on-the-job training to keep their people – and themselves – relevant in this new digital age. There’s no doubt that more learning will need to take place in the workplace, and greater private sector involvement is needed. As employers, we have to start working closely with should therefore offer schools, universities and even non-formal education to provide learning opportunities to our workers.

We can also drive a far stronger focus on the so-called “soft skills”, which is often used as a slightly dismissive term in the workplace. The core skills needed in today’s workplace are active listening, speaking, and critical thinking. A quick look at the WEF’s “21st Century Skills Required For The Future Of Work” chart bears this out: as much as we need literacy, numeracy and IT skills to make sense of the modern world of work, we also need innately human skills like communication and collaboration. The good news is that not only can these be taught – but they can be taught within the work environment.

It sounds almost counter-intuitive, but to be successful in the Digital Age, businesses are going to have to go back to what has always made them strong: their people. Everyone can buy AI, build data warehouses, and automate every process in sight. The companies that will stand out will be those that that focus on the things that can’t be duplicated by AI or machine learning – uniquely human skills.

I have no doubt that the future will not be humans OR robots: it will be humans AND robots, working side by side. For us, as business people and children of the African continent, we’re on the brink of a major opportunity. We just have to grasp it.

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 that 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, which is why she refers her followers and business owners to read them all here on how they can make their workplace much more efficient, thus not just improving the internal working of the business but also helping it grow on the whole.

With 80% of the average company’s costs tied to its talent, which is increasingly globally mobile, here are the top 5 workplace changes South African companies will need to adopt in the next 2 years to keep pace with international trends:

1. 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, “ Trim notes.

“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.

2. 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 startups.

“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.

3. 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.

Says Trim: “Engagement and productivity can have a direct impact on the bottom line. 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.”

4. Create a workplace that makes people healthier
Low productivity due to poor health damages companies profitability. In the U.S. 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 hottest topics in workplace design, “ said 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,” Trim adds.

5. 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,” said 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 that far away. It is critical for South African companies to make space and location decisions that create engaging and productive experiences for employees,” Trim concludes.

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My Office News Ⓒ 2017 - Designed by A Collective


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