Workforce Flexibility Is Driving Workspace Change

U.S. firms are out in front on creating activity-based offices, according to recent survey.

By Martin Brooker

“On-site Tuesday and Wednesday, but telecommuting from home the rest of the week.”

“Collaboration with the entire team happens twice a month. Other times it’s small groups or one-on-one meetings that I come into the office for.”

“I’m in our Manhattan office on Mondays, but usually split the other weekdays between our two suburban locations.”

What used to be an employee exception is rapidly becoming commonplace for every firm’s workforce. Flexibility rules.

Nearly all 500 workplace leaders participating in a recent Condeco survey regarding the “modern workplace” welcome and support flexible working practices and believe it represents a growing trend. Embracing flexible workforce schedules appears to be strongest in the United States where two-thirds or more of Americans surveyed think flexible working has a positive effect on communication, collaboration and productivity. Nearly two-thirds believe it also has a positive effect on office costs.

Photo: Condeco

It should come as no surprise then that only six percent of U.S.-based companies don’t offer flexible working options of some manner to all or part of their staff; and, that only four percent of U.S. staff don’t work remotely at some point in their current positions.

Is all this flexibility leading to changes in what workspace is needed and how it is used? Absolutely. Firms are migrating to activity-based workspace instead of fixed desk offices to give staff a choice of work areas depending on their needs that day or for a particular project. Agile office usage delivers a better employee experience while usually lowering a firm’s required real estate footprint.

Again looking globally, two-thirds of multinational companies plan to adopt a shared workspace strategy by 2020¹. Given that we are already nearly through 2018, it’s time to look at why this is a growing wave for workforces and how it is affecting today’s and future workspaces.

Why Workforce Flexibility And Mobility Is Rising

To begin, flexible schedules may accommodate dropping off or picking up children from daycare, school, or other activities or to reduce commuting times. Others may opt for a flexible schedule to be a caregiver for a parent, relative, or friend. The employee works a full, on-site schedule but start and end times can vary dramatically.

Add to this, the increase in the number of employees who work from home and are only in the office occasionally. This component of a company’s workforce may come in regularly for a few days each week or only to attend a meeting.

Then there are employees whose job requires mobility — expanding far beyond traditional groups such as the sales force or those in supply chain management. This includes managed services teams, environmental engineers, personnel recruiters, researchers. They are on the road much of the time between company offices and visiting customers, suppliers, colleges, emerging markets, and more, and only work on-site at their “home” office a day here and there — often for only a few hours daily.

In 40% of firms surveyed 50% or more of their employees worked flexibly. Again, these percentages are highest in the United States, followed closely by Australia. Of survey respondents, 96% of individuals who have the option to work from anywhere use the opportunity.

Base: 500 online surveys (Condeco Software, February 2018)

This need or desire for flexibility and mobility is fueling workforce acceptance of a shared workspace strategy; whether in the form of fewer, but shared desks, more open work areas such as lounges, library-like tables and chairs, or using conference and other other meeting rooms when on-site. Managing the use of these shared environments has become much easier with smart phone technology. Employees can usually find the space that’s best for them, from either a location or collaboration standpoint; and are able to easily book it at anytime from anywhere, as well as cancel the request should their needs/schedule change. These can all be accomplished through the use of mobile apps.

Adjusting a company’s workspace to more activity-based, shared work areas can simplify collaboration with colleagues by reserving a meeting room near one team on one day and a desk close to a certain individual on another. In addition to saving a company the cost of valuable office space, the workforce finds it is saving time and increasing productivity. Hence, the employee experience improves when there is freedom of choice among workspaces.

Why It’s Easier Than Ever To Transition To A Shared Space Environment

Helping to accelerate adoption of activity-based, shared space strategies is the relative ease at which such work environments can be created. Here we see three big contributors to this important change.

  1. Advanced Technology Applications. Open architecture and cloud-based desk or room booking systems make it simpler to set up and integrate with a company’s existing software and systems. It’s also more affordable than ever. Bluetooth, Beacon, and RFID technologies make this feasible to implement for companies of every size. And, with a smartphone in the hands of every employee, implementation becomes more intuitive than interruptive.
  2. Professional Support Teams. If help is needed at a large headquarters location or across a multi-office or multi-country transition to shared workspace, today’s providers of desk and meeting room booking software and systems may also provide professional service teams on-site. This can significantly simplify and speed adoption. The implementation professionals can quickly correct any confusion or minimize frustration for employees adjusting to a shared desk plan, new meeting room scheduling system, or finding open work areas.
  3. Best Practices. The third big factor making the transition to a shared workspace strategy easier is in what we have learned and the valuable insights gained over past decades. This has led to best practices for the introduction and implementation of desk sharing and technology-aided meeting room management. If one pays attention to these best practices, the changeover can be expedited and smooth.

While not all encompassing, here are just a few key points I’ve gleaned from my own global experience as well as from recent articles²:

  • Introduce shared space strategies as part of a broader goal — such as initiatives for greater productivity and collaboration or enabling more flexibility for work-life balance. Getting employees onboard early is critical. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
  • Get organized before you make the transition — This means cleaning out spaces and files and creating policies for keeping workspaces clean from both clutter and a personal hygiene perspective. This makes it easy for employees to move in and out of spaces.
  • Plan for peak demand — This does not mean you should have enough desks or meeting rooms for the absolute highest capacity, but you need to have both a plan and other spaces in mind that can be quickly converted to a work area during your busiest days.
  • Accommodate short visits — Not everyone will need a desk or another work area for an entire day or week. Just a few hours at a time will be all that is required for many individuals.

You Don’t Have To Wait Until 2020

While two-thirds of multinational companies plan to adopt a shared desk strategy by 2020, there is no reason why companies wanting greater agility and profitability have to wait until then. Leading providers of desk and meeting room scheduling systems can help companies optimize office space according their employees’ activities and realize the benefits right away.

The growth of workforce flexibility and mobility along with the application of advanced technologies mean that activity-based workspaces will not only deliver coveted cost savings, but also help attract employees; employees who can collaborate easily increase productivity and deliver the new insights and innovations that help keep companies competitive — perhaps even, ahead of the rest.

Brooker is chief sales officer for Condeco, a provider of software and hardware products designed to maximize the efficiency and enhance the productivity of workspaces. He has more than 25 years of experience in the IT hardware, software, and services industry, including managing global enterprise relationships. Brooker’s experience includes international executive management positions, and he has led teams across EMEA, ASIAPAC and the Americas at organizations such as Computacenter Plc, MCI, and Macrovision (Rovi Corp.)

¹ Hot Desk to Success: 4 Essentials to Make Your Hot-Desking Office Work by Ryan Alleman
² Office “Hoteling”: Is it a Good Idea? by CPM One Source