Everyday patterns in the workplace have changed in past few years, even though this development has long gone unnoticed. Frequent changes in assigned tasks are displacing routine activities. Project work now accounts for 35% of all the working hours spent in offices. Half of all companies now continuously put together new teams consisting of employees from different departments, consultants, and external service partners.
“Share and win”—a slogan that is familiar to users of social networks—seems to have a deeper meaning in this context. Knowledge, resources, and conviction are the elements being shared. How far this process has progressed, how much the daily routine of office workers has changed, and how communication processes and the working environment will develop as a consequence of the new routine are currently being studied by the Trendbüro (trend office) in Hamburg on behalf of the Association of Office, Seating, and Object Furniture (bso) in Wiesbaden.
Communication following the example of social networks
The first analysis by the trend researchers already shows how important “sharing” will be for the economy of the future. For a long time now, individual companies have been joining forces, acting as training partners to develop products and offer services together.
“Nowadays, the shortage of trained staff, the aging of the workforce, customers’ readiness for dialogue, and the need for interdisciplinary input are driving an additional openness to external options as well as more intensive internal networking,” explains Birgit Gebhardt, director of the Trendbüro. Gebhardt is referring to the currently observable acceleration of this development.
A major impetus for this process is likely to originate from the coming employee generation’s familiarity with new forms of communication. For these employees, the sharing of information is just as normal as cooperation based on shared values. Their most important tools are social networks, where they can find like minded people or experts who can answer their questions, share knowledge and opinions, make appointments, and document their activities. For some time now, more companies have been realizing that these functions are both practical and political.
A good third of all employers in the German-speaking region seem to be motivated by similar considerations. The results of a telephone survey of approximately 600 companies in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland conducted as part of the “New Work Order” study show that 35.8% of all companies are currently gathering experience with Web 2.0 applications and social software for internal communication and project work. Blogs, forums, activity streams, social networks, and company wikis are being used. The initial experiences have been positive, suggesting that these activities will be expanded.
The role of the work location
Nonetheless, companies who participated in the telephone survey or were interviewed individually have no intention of withdrawing into the virtual world. As digital communication platforms enjoy more and more popularity, 29.3% of the companies surveyed have set up new areas devoted specifically to project work alongside traditional offices and conference rooms. A total of 37% of these companies have already installed multiple Web 2.0 instruments on their internal networks—a percentage that is well above the general average.
In addition, this group assigns a much higher value to an attractive working environment when compared to companies that have not yet taken on the challenge of the new communication tools. Quite plainly, it appears that the effects social platforms have on the workplace are similar to those they have on private individuals. Virtual communication doesn’t replace personal meetings for most users. Instead, it is much more often employed to enhance, prepare, and, in the best case, make personal interaction more efficient.
Hendrik Hund, chairman of the office furniture association bso adds, “We’ll continue to need conventional office workplaces in the near future. However, these will be increasingly supplemented with specific work areas that will look very different from company to company,” he says. Hund believes companies in certain sectors have an obligation to support their customers with individualized consulting services.
The results of this multistage study, which is titled New Work Order, will be presented at ORGATEC in Cologne, Germany, on October 24, 2012. Following the presentations, audience members will have the opportunity to discuss the future of work with Hund and other guest speakers; all will be encouraged to share their experiences—very much in the spirit of the new working culture.