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.