This article was originally published on Comfy’s blog. Comfy is a leading provider of smart building solutions working with Fortune 1000 companies and leaders in commercial real estate to create exceptional workplace experiences.
The future of work is already here. The way people collaborate, what employees expect from their workplace, and what business leaders expect from the office have shifted dramatically in just a few short years.
2017 saw the emergence and growing use of the term “workplace experience.” Much like a quality hotel creates a stellar guest experience or a successful app delivers an intuitive user experience, workplace teams around the world are aspiring to create an engaging and frictionless workplace experience. From room temperature to tech tools, it is becoming increasingly important for workplace teams to create an experience that anticipates employee needs and enables them to do their best work.
It’s an exciting time for us at Comfy, because we’re experiencing firsthand the subtle, but significant shift in the way corporate real estate leaders and workplace strategists discuss the ideal workplace — and the role technology will play in shaping the workplace experience.
Here are our top eight predictions for what’s ahead in 2018 for the workplace experience and how these market trends will impact corporate real estate and workplace teams.
1. Connected workplaces will become the new status quo.
Last year we said the smart office would start to catch up with the smart home. This year, we’re doubling-down on that prediction. As the connected home becomes more commonplace, more and more employees will continue to expect the same level of “connectedness” everywhere they go — including at work.
For example, Amazon reported record holiday sales last month and some analysts estimate that more than 15 million Alexa-powered Echo devices have been sold since late 2014. This wildfire adoption of smart home systems and intuitive conveniences fuels higher expectations from those same people who come to work and find their workplace — well, lacking in convenience and connectedness. This dynamic has forced workplace service teams to embrace ways for people to easily interact with their physical and digital environments.
The development of smart home systems is also revolutionary from a technical standpoint because the companies behind them have successfully managed to untangle a disconnected web of platforms and programming protocols. This paves the way to actualize developments beyond the home, opening new avenues for our phones and other personal devices to control many aspects of our physical surroundings, save energy, and increase comfort in the office. We can expect to see more companies rethinking how they approach the digital workplace, and investing in innovative technologies to move the needle.
2. Flexible workplaces will continue to pose challenges (and opportunities).
The growth of the “gig economy” and the expanded use of agile talent and independent contractors means that flexible work arrangements are on the rise. Increasingly, job candidates don’t just want, but expect, the option to work from home, work part-time, or have access to flexible scheduling. In fact, 61% of workers expect to be able to choose agile work opportunities by 2019, and work flexibility is a criteria for most “top employers” lists.
What does this mean for workplace services teams? Agile work schedules create a complex landscape. (How in the world do you create a space that is flexible enough to accommodate 50 people one day and 200 the next day?) At the same time, those companies who figure this out will be unlocking vast productivity potential in their employees by meeting them where they are. This could impact the company bottom line far more than managing occupancy per sf ever could. Leading corporate real estate teams that embraced agile and flexible workplaces are already reaping the benefits of increased morale, productivity, and employee engagement. We expect the rest of the industry to follow suit in 2018.
3. The “millennial problem” is not just about millennials anymore.
It’s easy to scapegoat millennials and their “demanding” expectations, but let’s be honest: the workforce is changing in a much bigger way. As Adrienne Rowe, Global Director of Workplace Strategy at Merck summarized in a recent Facility Executive article, “Generations can be a useful conversation starter in many cases, but these definitions are less useful for much of the practical work of real estate….most individuals have the same essential priorities. They want places to collaborate, focus and socialize with colleagues.” Fixating on generational definitions gets in the way of commonality. If you scan “Top Employers of 2018” and “Best Places to Work” lists across all industries, you’ll notice that employees, of all generations, are happiest when their employers give them the flexibility and respect to determine where, when, and how they work. It’s clear that everyone desires flexibility and autonomy from their workplace.
In addition to talent attraction and retention, greater choice and control over the workplace is correlated with better employee performance and greater profitability. By treating the “millennial problem” as a broader desire for a better workplace experience, workplace strategists can reap benefits for all employees — and the company bottom line.
4. The physical and digital workplace will continue to converge.
What does it mean for the physical and digital workplace to converge? And why should you care? As employees become increasingly reliant on enterprise solutions to collaborate and communicate, the way they interact with the physical workplace must become tech-savvy as well. In order to deliver a truly seamless workplace experience, companies will need internal leaders and external experts who understand both physical infrastructure and digital workplace solutions.
As an example, in the past, managing HVAC in a building was very manual and physical and fell squarely in the realm of facilities teams. Digital buildings controls emerged in the 1980s, but they were completely inaccessible to individuals working in a space. Workplace experience apps, like Comfy, are the first to bridge the gap between physical infrastructure and a digital experience for occupants. (We are still the only solution offering intelligent, immediate, and localized control of temperature via an employee-facing mobile app.) Today, we’re leading the charge in applying our strengths in both buildings controls integration and consumer app design to other aspects of the physical infrastructure, such as lighting and room booking, so that people can directly connect with their physical environment.
5. AI will become less scary, and more friendly.
As smart home and intelligent digital assistants become more commonplace, we’ll start seeing a fundamental shift in the way intelligent technology is viewed. Fears of AI taking over jobs have proved to be largely unfounded, with a recent Accenture study concluding that AI will actually create entirely new categories of human jobs.
We expect AI to become more widely accepted and embraced as a positive way to augment the human experience and a vehicle to create seamless interactions between people and their physical environment. AI’s ability to automate workflows and crunch large datasets are a means to free up “mindspace,” allowing the human brain to think less about mundane tasks and focus more on strategic thinking. Intelligent workplace solutions, like Comfy, were once met with a great deal of skepticism and fear from facilities teams, but we’ve proven that we can provide significant operational benefits by virtually eliminating hot/cold calls, continuously adjusting to people’s learned preferences, and providing greater visibility into previously undetected mechanical issues.
6. Employee feedback will become increasingly real-time, in context, and meaningful.
Historically, employees spend, on average, fewer than 10 minutes each year providing feedback via employer surveys. HR and workplace teams are recognizing limitations like this in conventional workplace surveys and increasingly leveraging new technologies, like biometric badges and workplace apps, to build a more meaningful picture of how the physical workplace can impact employee engagement. At the same time, people are becoming more and more willing to share personal information in exchange for a more personalized experience. For example, it has become standard practice to rate your experience after a rideshare or online shopping experience. We expect these driving forces — the demand for more meaningful employee feedback, new tech, and growing acceptance — to create an environment that is ripe for more real-time and in-context feedback. At Comfy, we’re especially excited about this because we know that this type of “in the moment” employee feedback is key to delivering a better workplace experience.
7. Data streams will become less siloed and more integrated (and actionable).
Corporate real estate leaders are catching up with other industries and increasingly turning to data analytics to help drive decisions around space utilization, workplace design, and building operations. However, making sense of datasets from disparate building systems and workplace management tools has been challenging. According to JLL’s Global Corporate Real Estate Trends 2015, 52% of corporate real estate leaders believe a lack of effective data and analytics hinders their ability to bring value to their businesses, and a 2016 Deloitte report found that 67% of corporate real estate teams don’t completely trust the data around utilization metrics.
We’re excited that as workplaces become more connected, data streams will come together in compelling ways. For example, let’s consider lighting. Placing a sensor in a lighting fixture can provide basic information on when lights are turned on or off in a room. However, advances in IoT make it possible for individual lighting fixtures to become IP addressable and create a complex wireless network of thousands of sensors throughout the entire building. If this data is combined with conference room booking data, HVAC data, and space planning software, real estate and facilities teams are able to create a more robust picture of space utilization and identify opportunities for improving operational efficiency.
8. Companies will be adopting leaner, more integrated solutions for the workplace.
While corporate real estate teams look to integrate data, employees look to integrate tools. In the last year, the market has exploded with workplace apps. Companies are starting to catch up with consumer tech and are providing mobile technology solutions to their modern workforce. The problem is that many of these enterprise solutions only provide a single point of value. It’s not uncommon for employees in one office to have an app for putting in facilities work orders, another one for workplace services teams to communicate with employees, one for booking space, one for conference calls, one for calendars—and all from different vendors.
We believe 2018 will be dominated by companies looking to simplify their workplace management tech stack. Corporate real estate leaders will need to adopt consolidated workplace solutions that integrate smoothly with multiple systems and provide value for the organization in a single, user-friendly interface.