The physical workplace is changing at a phenomenal pace, as more and more companies switch from rigid centralised head offices to flexible co-working hubs, shared office spaces, and remote locations.
As Michael Affronti, VP of product at leading enterprise communications and collaboration provider Fuze, explains, all of this conspires to make work a thing you do, rather than a place you go.
within a relatively short time we have seen a change in companies that have become adaptive to flexible work
He has experienced this workplace transformation first hand, starting with his first job at Microsoft HQ in Seattle, Washington, a role he relocated to from the East coast, and an experience he describes as “awesome.”
He says: “It was a great experience. I was working on this giant campus alongside 25,000 other people, with every facility and amenity you could possibly want from retail and healthcare to sports and recreation - all at the same location.”
Fast forward to his current role at Fuze and a model that is geographically in stark contrast. He says: “My team members are based in different locations and time zones globally; however, they’re able to work on same project at the same time. This model is being adopted by a growing number of organisations and within a relatively short time we have seen a change in companies that have become adaptive to flexible work.”
This transformation is being driven by younger generations of workers, as highlighted in the new Fuze Workforce Futures report. It reveals an expectation about how work happens that is fundamentally different from previous generations, with 89 per cent of the 6,600 workers surveyed saying flexible working should be how people work and not a benefit. Almost three quarters (73 per cent) work outside of their contracted work hours, as they are more productive. More than half (54 per cent) would move to another company for more flexibility.
“It’s not a fad,” says Mr Affronti. “Having the ability to work from anywhere at anytime helps employees be more productive and, as a result, is expected of the modern workforce. Workers look at the rigid workspaces and question their effectiveness. They want the option to go to an office or work remotely.”
He explains that the need for a ‘work anywhere, anytime’ policy is being driven by technology and the millennials and generations following them that have fundamentally different ideas about how asynchronous communication works.
“Look at the difference between chatting and calling and the implications for flexible working,” he says. “When you call, you have to be there in real time. When you chat, you have the option of leaving a message to be read later. You have a greater level of comfort and flexibility around working hours and greater opportunities for multiple staff collaboration.”
Workers look at the rigid workspaces and question their effectiveness.
Moving away from the fixed, centralised brick and mortar office and embracing the dispersed or even totally virtual workforce can be cost effective for the company. The cost of a fully branded, company-run location is high, and for organisations with very distributed workforces, doesn’t make financial sense. The use of shared and co-working spaces can be a cost effective and popular alternative.
“We use co-working spaces at Fuze, and it’s a great way to provide a small group of employees with a flexible place to work, collaborate, network, and be productive, when and where they need it,” says Mr Affronti.
He is keen to point out how important managers are to the success of this new flexible workplace, and again, he is speaking from first-hand experience.
“We have a very distributed workforce at Fuze. From a digital transformation perspective, productivity is something we discuss in depth with our customers,” he says. “One simple measure is to encourage managers to always have video on during remote meetings. It triggers engagement and focus and that can make people 80 per cent more productive.”
In spite of the huge benefits of remote working; however, the physical workplace retains a crucial role in the modern flexible work environment, simply because employees still value opportunities for physical interactions.
Mr Affronti says: “When we moved our HQ office 18 months ago, we had considered a traditional suburban campus complex with key individuals asked to relocate to our Boston headquarters. Then we realised through internal surveys that most of our Boston-based employees were only coming in three or four days a week. A large number of employees based outside the city of Boston were coming to the office less frequently. They want to work flexibly and remotely, but it is still important for them to have that physical connection with their colleagues.
“The same holds true for our offices in the UK. We have a larger hub in the Reading area and a co-working space in central London near Aldgate to give employees the flexibility they are seeking.”
Over the next decade, we will see AR changing how we think about workplace collaboration
Some companies have incentivised and enhanced office visits by remote employees, by offering free lunches and other events within great recreational spaces. Fuze’s New York City office hosts a weekly lunch event for staff.
“It’s a way of bringing your entire team, product development, engineering, marketing, and sales people, together, as many are often out on the road. That weekly lunch delivers a communal experience that encourages interaction, social catch ups, relationship-building, and the sharing of new ideas,” says Mr Affronti.
Looking to the future, he sees two major areas of technology becoming key drivers of workplace transformation. First, natural language interfaces will see greater use of virtual assistant devices, like Alexa, by businesses inside conference rooms rather than traditional speakerphones, for greater voice interaction.
“People are becoming more comfortable with talking to technology in increasingly flexible environments, for example, in a taxi or inside a manufacturing plant, and people are interacting in a more meaningful way.”
Second, is augmented reality (AR). “Being shoulder to shoulder with someone is still a great way to collaborate; however, in a remote setting, technology like AR provides a richer experience to bridge to this, replicating physical interaction in a deeper way. Over the next decade, we will see AR changing how we think about workplace collaboration.
“From my own observations at Fuze, people love this flexible way of working. It suits their work style, it delivers freedom, high levels of engagement and productivity, and they are happy. It creates a great place to work with dedicated and invested workers.”