Looking for your assigned cubicle and desktop PC? You might as well ask where they keep the quills and inkwells. New ways of working are driving radical changes in today’s business environments, from where people sit — or stand, or recline — to the tools they use and the ways they collaborate. In fact, Forrester Research characterized 29 percent of the global workforce as anytime/anywhere information workers — those who use three or more devices, work from multiple locations, and use many apps.
The new generation of talent expects the ability to flow work freely across a diverse mix of spaces and devices to unlock new levels of productivity and inspiration. To meet that demand, here are five ways your next workspace will be unlike anywhere you’ve ever worked before — and why you’ll love it:
Goodbye, cubes — hello, couches
Nothing says you’ve arrived like the nameplate on your cube wall. There’s just one problem: When people stay rooted in one place, their thinking can, too. Instead of sitting in the same chair, working the same way no matter what they’re doing, millennials want the freedom to move from space to space as their needs and preferences shift. Some 37 percent of information workers surveyed by Forrester do their job from multiple locations. You might start your day at a stand-up desk, then switch to a couch in a lounge area to brainstorm with co-workers. Need to focus for a few hours? Try a designated quiet room. Want a little more stimulation to get your creativity flowing? Spend some time in a recreation room or cafe setting. To get that big project over the finish line, gather the team in a bullpen-style area, where they can feed off each other’s energy and determination.
If you feel like working in a traditional cubicle, there will still be a few of those around, but they won’t have personal nameplates. Instead, you’ll book them for a morning or a day the same way you would reserve a conference room for a meeting. Gen Y isn’t as hung up on ownership as their predecessors; they get rides through Uber and Zipcar, beds through Airbnb, and music through Spotify and Pandora. The sharing economy gives them the flexibility they crave in their personal lives, and it’s the way they prefer to work, too. (For the boss, the shift to shared workspaces and common areas makes for much more efficient utilization of valuable real estate. How often do you get to reduce costs and improve job satisfaction at the same time?)
More chance encounters
As assigned seating gives way to anywhere/anytime work, our office neighborhoods are becoming more fluid and diverse by the day. Instead of having marketing sit with marketing, sales with sales, and IT down on the third floor, people will find themselves amid a constantly-shifting mix of co-workers over the course of the week. On a pragmatic level, that kind of cross-pollination can help solve a wide range of daily problems: A support person asking an engineer to clarify a technical issue; a salesperson giving immediate customer feedback to a product manager. More profoundly, as people communicate across roles and departments, they gain a deeper understanding of how the business works as a whole, discover new ways of thinking and keep each other from sinking into ruts. As MIT’s legendary Building 20 showed, fortuitous meetings across disciplines can spark world-changing innovations. In the next-generation workspace, that kind of thing comes with the territory.
Everything is mobile
Remember when laptops seemed like the height of mobility? Many of today’s on-the-go workers can’t be bothered with anything bulkier than a tablet. But mobile devices are only the beginning. And 53 percent of those anytime/anywhere workers surveyed by Forrester use multiple devices for work. True mobility means being able to move your work across devices as easily as you change locations — starting a presentation on a thin client at home, tweaking it on a tablet at the office, rehearsing it on a smartphone in a cab, showing it on a wide-screen Apple TV monitor or smart TV in a conference room. Nothing — apps or data — is ever tied to a single device. Instead, a single login lets you access everything your work involves on any device, with seamless session roaming so you can pick up exactly where you left off, no matter what you use.
As devices morph from containers for apps and data to access points for centrally managed assets, our options for form factors expand tremendously. Many desktops are now equipped with nothing more than an HDMI monitor, keyboard and mouse with a dock for the tablet, smartphone or Android stick of your choice. It’s only a matter of time before wearables like Google Glass come into the picture, as well. Of course, being able to access apps and data on a given device doesn’t necessarily equate to a great experience. Technology providers and IT departments are already scrambling to make sure that any app — Windows, Mac, native mobile, SaaS, legacy — can be a pleasure to use on any device people choose.
BYOD goes without saying
For many types of employees, the idea of a standard, IT-issued computer will soon seem as odd as a company uniform. According to Forrester, at least a quarter of a billion global information workers already practice bring-your-own-device policies in some form. And as BYOD programs continue to spread quickly across businesses of all kinds, they’ll soon become the norm, not the exception. Details like cost sharing, support and maintenance may vary from company to company, but the core premise will be universal: You can show up at work with whatever you feel like using — laptop, tablet, smartphone, or the next big thing — and expect it to work seamlessly. The company may still choose to provide its own endpoint hardware for call centers, task workers and other specialized groups, and may even provide options for employees who would rather skip the consumer marketplace — but now these will be the special cases in a BYOD world.
Automation for a friction-free work experience
It takes a separate, single-purpose keycard to get into your building. To enter data into a system, you have to punch keys letter by letter. To arrange a meeting, you have to launch Outlook, send around a meeting maker and book a conference room. If you need to find a colleague, you have to call or text and ask where they are. Luckily, we won’t have to put up with this kind of thing much longer. From voice recognition to geo-sensing, new technologies are erasing cumbersome interfaces and allowing people to interact more naturally with their environments. Imagine walking into a conference room and just speaking the names of the people you need to meet and a general timeframe for the meeting, and having the rest happen — comparing calendars, sending alerts, reserving space — automatically. Being authenticated by your Fitbit as you approach the office door so it swings open to greet you. Knowing where people are without having to track them down. Imagine how much more you could get done without all that aggravation.
Add it all up, and the next-generation workspace is shaping up to be very different from our parents’ offices. But none of this is Jetsons stuff — it’s all right around the corner, and much of it is already here. What we do with it is up to us.