The Future of Work

A Long Term View

Looking at the long-term future of work here are some thoughts and predictions.

8 Issues

Firstly, 8 issues that I think are intractable issues that will impact in different ways on work and workplaces. I’ve taken a bit more of a wholistic view with these because they all have an influence on how we work. I’ll then look at how these issues could be resolved and redefine how we work.

  • Work is being redefined by creativity and collaboration, not routine stuff. This will mean we need to redefine the workplace to support these activities. Banks of desks won’t be needed. Connecting, creative and collaboration spaces will be needed
  • Virtual connectivity will become more efficient because technology just keeps getting better
  • Diversity-opportunities and contributions from people from diverse circumstances and backgrounds will increase
  • Mental health will become even more of an issue. People need people

https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/clinical/mental-health-issues-increasing-among-australians

  • Housing will become more and more unaffordable for new talent. This will either push talent out of cities or push them into much denser living accommodations.

Affordability i.e. income/price ratio has grown from something like 2 in the 70’s to over 9 now in Sydney. So, accommodation to house talent is just getting more and more unaffordable.

  • Climate change will become more and more pressing. Transportation accounts for 29% of greenhouse gases. Private transportation accounts for about 17% of total emissions. 39% of emissions are from construction
  • Transportation to and from work will become more and more difficult. Most congestion is caused by single occupancy cars. Capacity will always drive demand and demand will exceed capacity, so this is an intractable problem.  Over 60% of people travel to work by car alone in Sydney according to ABS.

Refer https://chartingtransport.com/tag/car-occupancy/

  • Liveable cities/neighbourhoods. People are demanding -i.e. less pollution, less noise, easier, safer access, open streets, place making and more connectivity.

How can we address these issues?

These are my suggestions:

  • Work redefined by creativity and collaboration

Banks of desks won’t be needed. Connecting, creative, mentoring and collaboration spaces will be needed.

  • Virtual connectivity

We will need to figure out how to blend the physical and virtual in a much more immersive and inclusive way

  • Diversity

Flexible working will open opportunities for a much more diverse and inclusive workforce.

WFH or WNH (working near home) will be imbedded in work culture

  • Mental Health

To address mental health, we need to provide opportunities for connections. The office as a meeting and connection place will increase in importance

  • Climate Change, Housing Affordability, Transportation, Liveable Cities/Neighbourhoods

These issues combine to become a really big issue that need an integrated approach.

Solutions need to include smaller transit-oriented communities where people can either walk or bike to work. Work needs to be distributed i.e. not hub and spoke, but distributed matrix based on transit-oriented communities to create a network of community-based hubs.

Head offices, if and when needed should be much smaller and only house core functions, everything else goes to the distributed matrix or co-located coworking spaces.We need to reimagine our cities to enable these outcomes and make them more liveable with denser “20-minute neighbourhoods” with less reliance on cars (electric cars will not solve congestion or other liveability issues)

How design can support Mental Health in the Workplace-Part 2

This post that explores the role of Transparency and Community has in creating a workplace that supports mental health.

Transparency

A few years ago, we did a study of workplace patterns of a major Australian legal firm and found that a small but significant percentage of lawyers had minimal or no contact with their colleagues in a typical work day. They could hide out in their offices all day and avoid human contact. No wonder research shows that lawyers have one of the highest rates of depression amongst office workers. 1.

One of the strategies to address this problem for this law firm was creating a more transparent workplace. i.e. being able to see and be seen in the workplace through architectural elements like:

  • Minimising solid partitioning-even though there were offices they had lots of glass, so colleague could see colleague
  • Breaking bread together-encouraging people not to eat at their desks (including dinner!) by providing a great place to eat. Interesting stat form our study-something like 39% of the lawyers ate dinner at their desk at least once a week.
  • Atriums and connecting stairs-being able to see all parts of the business and visually connecting practice groups. This is a physical reminder that each lawyer is part of a larger community.

Community

Cultures that have a strong sense of community have some of the longest living people in the world.  How do we create a workplace community in the age of flexible and mobile working?We can do this virtually but how about physically? Community is all about communication and developing a common culture. 

We can help enable community by creating opportunities for connections. Some examples are creating pathways that have ‘bump factor‘-places where people naturally bump into each other and can start conversations. I’ve already mentioned the importance of placemaking in Part 1. A hub centred around food and drink is another great way to help create communities. Some organisations facilitate special interest communities by creating spaces for music, gardening and even bee keeping.

With thoughtful planning we can incorporate these planning principles into a workplace design to create connections and foster communities and create a workplace that has a positive impact on mental health.

References

RUOK? Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace-Part 1

RUOK is a great initiative to address mental health in the workplace. But it does raise the question-what part does workplace design play in wellbeing and how can it be used to improve mental health? In this two-part post I’ll explore ways to create workplaces that address a really important issue where mental health has increasingly become a focus of wellness in the workplace.

Here are 3 ways:

  • Placemaking
  • Transparency
  • Community

This post explores the role of Placemaking

Placemaking

RUOK says that communication with people positively impacts their mental state. We all need a place to meet people and communicate. We can take lessons from some ancient societies to create great places that encourage people to meet and talk. In almost every Italian town at around sunset the central piazza and village comes alive for the passeggiata. It becomes a place to catch up with friends talk, eat, drink, to see and be seen. We are instinctively drawn to these types of spaces.

Typically, they have the following attributes:

  • They are centrally located with all roads/paths leading to them. In a way you can’t avoid a great place. They are destinations
  • They are defined spaces-they are not open ended
  • They have food and drink offerings
  • People know that they can catch up with friends without making an appointment. Accidental meetings happen here
  • They are pedestrian only zones
  • People conduct business in them

We really can incorporate these planning principles into a workplace design and create a great place to meet and talk. A central hub or heart space needs have these basic attributes to be successful. They are central to creating a community that supports its members and impacts positively on mental health.

We spend so much of our life at work it makes sense that workplace design should be one of the tools that an organisation uses to support employee’s mental health.

Why building motorways is a bad idea

Sydney’s population will grow by another 1 million people in the next 10 years. What’s the best way to transport all these extra people and make Sydney are better place to live? Lots of people think that we just need to build more roads to “bust congestion”. But are more roads and motorways the best solution? Here are 11 reasons building more motorways is a bad idea.

Roads are not good value for the money

My rough calculation based on NSW Govt information regarding costs of the Western Harbour Tunnel and the Sydney Metro and capacity for each shows that Capital cost per person per day transported for the tunnel is about $31/day vs the metro $9/day. Its roughly cost 3 times as much to transport people via a motorway tunnel than a metro. The difference could be much better used for education and health or to build a metro.

Cars are a really inefficient mode of transport

Here’s a diagram showing capacities of various forms of transport with cars the least efficient and metro trains the most. Energy usage is even worse, with cars using over 10 times as much energy as trains. Compared to biking 75 times as much. We are investing billions in the least efficient way to “bust congestion”.

48 | Corridor capacity of different modes of transportation (people/hr on a 3.5 mile-wide lane). Source: Modifi ed from Breithaupt, 2010 . 

Building new roads won’t bust congestion

The Katy Freeway in the Houston metro area is the widest freeway in North America at 26 lanes. It was expanded to alleviate severe traffic congestion, but it actually got worse.

It’s counter intuitive but adding new roadway capacity also creates new demand for those lanes or roads, maintaining a similar rate of congestion, if not worsening it. Economists call this phenomenon induced demand: When you provide more of something, or provide it for a cheaper price, people are more likely to use it.

So, building more roads won’t necessarily bust congestion-it might make it worse.

Car exhaust is really bad for you

14% of deadly pm2.5 particulates in the air come from urban traffic. The closer you are to a road the higher this is. 7% of nitrous oxide pollutants come from urban traffic. It’s even worse if you’re driving in it.

Cars are bad for our oceans

28% of microplastics in our oceans come from car tires. More cars mean more microplastic pollution.

Roads take up way too much space already

We pave over a lot of our urban environment for roads. 41% of urban Sacramento (similarly car dependent to Sydney) is used for roads and car parks vs vegetation 30%. We should be giving common spaces back to communities rather than taking it away.  

Roads are hot and contribute to Global Warming

The urban heat island effect where cities are typically 1-3 deg hotter than the surrounding countryside is partly due to the heat absorbing properties of black asphalt roads. The heat island effect increases summertime peak energy demand, air conditioning costs and water demand.

Roads are Noisy

Roads are noisy, and noise is bad for your health. Continuous exposure to it effects our heart and mental health. Our governments do very do very little or the absolute minimum to reduce the effects of traffic noise on neighborhoods surrounding motorways .

Roads are deadly

1146 people were killed and a staggering 32,300 were injured on roads on roads Australia in 2019. Since 1925, 190,000 people have been killed on the roads in Australia. By comparison over 100,000 Australians have been killed in all wars. In Australia’s worst day in war 1,279 Australian troops died during the battle of Passchendaele-about the same as one year on the roads.

Roads divide communities

Busy road essentially divide communities with a dangerous, noisy and polluting barrier to community connections. They make people go out of their way or difficult to cross them. They reduce or eliminate the physical connections that create communities.

They create unpleasant places

People actually love car-free environments and travel great distances to be in them. Think of your favorite tourist destination and it’s probably car free. Now think of the worst place you have ever stood in and it might be somewhere like a highway underpass or next to a busy motorway.

Some cities are starting to remove freeways to make their cities more liveable. San Francisco successfully removed the Embarcadero Freeway. The result was a triumph for downtown San Francisco, which now has kilometers of public space, walking and bike paths, plus new transit routes where the double-decker freeway once was. Other successful removals include The Alaskan Way, Seattle, Rio Madrid, Madrid and Harbour Drive Portland.

Around the world cities are questioning the place of cars and the costs of providing space and infrastructure to accommodate them. Paris in undertaking a major transformation now to eliminate or drastically reduce cars in the city. Why? Because it will make a better place to live.

And for those that think electric cars will solve all our problems-how many of the above issues will they solved by electric cars, even assuming they are charged with fully renewable energy?

We really have to reduce our dependence on cars to make our cities more livable. Isn’t it about time we had a sensible debate about the costs and benefits of more motorways for Sydney?

Visit thewaroncars.org for more information on alternatives to cars

Sources:https://bigthink.com/design-for-good/la-is-painting-its-streets-white-to-cool-down-the-city

https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2018/09/citylab-university-induced-demand/569455/

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/09/tires-unseen-plastic-polluter/

https://www.budgetdirect.com.au/car-insurance/research/car-accident-statistics.html

https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/featurearticlesbytitle/00753BC276CCB154CA2570FF000075A8?OpenDocument

https://soe.environment.gov.au/theme/climate/topic/emission-sources

httpps://laqm.defra.gov.uk/public-health/pm25.html

https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2018/09/citylab-university-induced-demand/569455/

Click to access The_Fundamental_Law_of_Road_Congestion_Evidence_from_US_Cities.pdf

https://heatisland.lbl.gov/publications/analyzing-land-cover-urban

https://chartingtransport.com/2011/08/20/whats-happening-with-car-occupancy/https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2014/03/6-freeway-demolitions-that-changed-their-cities-forever/

Growing without growing-how to right size your workplace

New technology means that you can grow your business without growing your headcount. Here’s four ways to make sure you right size your workplace:

Here’s how:

  • Measure how your existing space is being used
  • Develop a core and flexible space strategy
  • Plan for change

A common theme that we’ve come across lately when planning new workplaces is “growing without growing”. This means growing business profitability and revenue without growing staff numbers or even reducing staff. This is happening across all business sectors in Australia.

Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation means that routine tasks are no longer undertaken by people. Customers accept and embrace doing work that was previously undertaken an organisation. Most of us now accept the reality that to get almost anything done there is an on-line form or a virtual assistant to deal with. Routine tasks have been offshored for a long time now and its only going to increase.

Traditionally workplace strategists and designers asked the question how much will staff numbers grow and how do we plan for growth? Now the question is how do you plan for a workplace that will be area static or even shrink? Combined with the increase in flexible working arrangement, mobile working and economic uncertainty the difference between what you have now and what you need in the future can be significant.

How do you plan for this uncertainty when you are about to renew your lease or relocate to new premises? Here are three things to consider:

Measure how your existing space is being used

An observation study undertaken over a minimum of 2 weeks can show how people are using the workplace vs employed in an enterprise. Combined with a workstyle survey the data can provide a good indication of how many workspaces are required.

Core and Flexible space strategy

Determine what your minimum viable space requirement (core space) is and utilise co-working or flexible space for the rest.

Plan for change

Planning for change can mean flexible lease terms where you structure your lease terms incrementally take up, hand back or sublet space on a regular basis.

The real lesson is don’t just count the number of staff and multiply it by an area per person. You will almost surely get it wrong. A good Workplace Strategy that right sizes your space requirement can save you from paying for space you don’t need.

For more information about how right-size your workplace go to www.5projects.com.au or call me on 0404697318

Why you definitely shouldn’t design your workplace for Digital Natives

You want to design your new workplace to attract the best talent to help grow your business, right? Forget about the Millennials what about the Digital Natives-GenZ!

Here are 4 reasons why this is a mistake:

Here’s why:

  • Workforce demographics are changing
  • Job Tenure is decreasing
  • Experience matters
  • The Digital Native is a Myth
  1. Workforce demographics are changing

By 2023 the retirement age in Australia will be 67 years old. The 55-64 age group continues to increase as a proportion of the workforce. From 2008 onwards, this category becomes bigger than the 15-19-year-old category.

Our workforce is aging, and we have 5 generations working together, something we have never had before. We have to accommodate all generations if we are embracing diversity inclusiveness in our workplaces.

  • Job Tenure is decreasing

Gen Z will probably change jobs before soon-the average tenure in a job is now 3 years and 4 months-2. For the over 65’s its 10.3 years. The Gen Z that you are designing your workplace will probably be gone by the time you have designed and delivered your new workplace

  • Experience matters

The most valuable workers have experience and tenure-that’s why they earn more.

Everyone wants to feel part of a young vibrant organisation, so there’s good reasons to design a workplace that appeals to Gen Z but the most productive workers, the people that have experience, that know the culture and really add value shouldn’t be ignored. Counter-intuitively the more complex your job description the more you will benefit from activity-based working 3.

  • The Digital Native is a Myth

And finally, the Digital Native your read about in workplace blogs and opinion pieces doesn’t exist. The theory goes that anyone born after 1984 has been immersed in digital technologies all there lives and are completely different from previous generation. They have sophisticated digital and technology skills and learning preferences that need the traditional learning or working environment just doesn’t work for. Non-Gen Z’s just assumed they know what they were doing and were using technology creatively. Well it turns out they are not. They are more consumers of technology rather than creators. For example, Income and educational level is a much better indicator of web savviness than age.  This https://www.gwern.net/docs/psychology/2017-kirschner.pdf is a great paper about this topic and is well worth reading.

So, the message is don’t chase the latest trend, learn from the evidence.  Think about who your most valuable workers are and plan a workplace that really supports their productivity.

For more information about how evidence based design strategies creates great workplaces go to www.5projects.com.au or call me on 0404697318

  1. https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp1718/Quick_Guides/LabourForce
  2. https://www.thebalancecareers.com/how-long-should-an-employee-stay-at-a-job-2059796
  3. Leesman survey https://www.leesmanindex.com/abw-report/

Update-new partnership with Presynct

I’m delighted to announce a new partnership with Lisa Copland and Presynct. Lisa is based in Brisbane and provides strategic change management, workplace insight and people centred design expertise at all stages of a project.

Lisa has worked internationally with renowned architectural and consulting firms and has led major and technology change projects with clients including Chevron and QLD Government.  Look at www.presynct.com.au for more details.