Over the years, many talented people have sought to create the "Holy Grail" of the perfect workplace; unfortunately, it simply doesn't exist. There is no one space that will meet the needs of every worker, every day, in every task they do. Still, as we enter a promising new year, our quest will continue, and smart companies realize that "Holy Grail" may require a paradigm shift in focus from solely the physical environment to a more holistic approach. While some of these are not new, here are the top workplace trends to watch in 2014:
1. FOCUS WORK. It's no secret that the pendulum is in full swing. From the "cube farms" of the 80's, we have landed on the opposite extreme with the rise of "benching" and open office concepts in recent years. The new "Holy Grail" balances perfectly the need for collaboration and focus work. Workspaces NEED to allow a variety of spaces where workers can comfortably complete different types of tasks. Perhaps the real solution is not only creating an office space that can do all things for all people, but rather focuses on policies that encourage accountability and allow workers to choose where and how they work best.
2. ACCOUNTABILITY. While younger generations entering the workforce are pushing the envelope even further on work life balance, they are often sacrificing pay for said balance. This is causing a shift. By demand, smart companies are shifting from owning your time to owning your result. The days of "punching the clock" are drifting away. With this demand MUST come accountability. We can provide offices that offer choice in spaces to work within the office and policies for flexibility outside the office, but with that choice comes an expectation that one will get the job done. Integration of technology allowing for this freedom will be key in physical office space design.
3. ONLINE EDUCATION. As a part of the accountability trend, workers are also taking control of their own professional development. While it was once expected that a company provide employees with educational opportunities, now the greater requirement is the time to pursue these interests, which likely benefit the company as well. The sprouting up of free online education like the Kahn Academy and Coursera allow workers to "choose their own adventure" and not only learn about, but specialize in whatever interests them. Many of these sites even have mobile phone apps, so courses can be taken on the go.
4. FREELANCERS & CO-WORKING. Many people are taking the accountability trend to an extreme. In fact according to a recent Forbes article, "the Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates that by 2020 as many as 65 million Americans will be freelancers, temps, independent contractors and solopreneurs, making up 40 percent of the workforce." Another article explains, "Would you rather work with someone awesome or someone mediocre? Companies used to not have a choice, if the awesome person lived 3,000 miles away. Now they do." For individuals with marketable skill sets, this can be a great way to create work life balance on their terms, while still fulfilling needs for income and accomplishment. However, the needs of individuals to be socially connected has not changed, which supports the rise of co-working spaces over the past few years. Quantity and use of these co-working spaces will likely rise in 2014. These facilities, coupled with the rise of the independent worker, will begin to have an effect on the "traditional" view and structure of the physical office.
5. HR POLICIES. While creativity in the construction of new kinds of office has soared, training, mentoring, and teaching of basic management skills has been lacking in many -- if not most -- companies. Smart companies in 2014 will begin to focus on helping individuals become successful by not only looking at physical spaces, but also new structures that will help their employees function more efficiently. In a bold move at year end 2013, Zappos announced that it is doing away with bosses entirely. While this move may be a bit extreme for most companies, the focus is in the right place. A great space doesn't help you if your people don't know how to function within it.
6. TRANSPARENCY. The key word around green in 2014 will continue to be "transparency," as we saw at Greenbuild 2013. Despite all the technology in the world, the office space is unlikely to go away entirely, and these spaces continue to demand greener products. While the green movement seems to be shifting from "new and exciting" to "expected and status quo," many manufacturers are continuing to struggle with the availability of green ingredients in order to make their products both green AND resilient. However, transparency in the workplace isn't limited to sustainability. With the rise of social media, reputation is becoming increasingly important, which is pressuring companies not only to make good sustainability decisions, but to be better corporate citizens in general.
7. FOCUS ON HEALTH. It is no secret our healthcare system is changing or that healthcare costs are rising at an unaffordable pace. Smart companies are recognizing that preventative care is not only better for employee health, but also productivity. Encouraging healthy practices by offering preventative benefits such as on-site gym access or simply time to work out can actually reduce healthcare payouts. The word "health" should not be limited to physical health, but should also extend to the relative "mental health" of employees. Gone are the days when people were happy to work solely for ownership's profit. In the Glassdoor listing of the top companies to work for in 2014, many of the reasons cited relate to "the company cares..." In a funny spin, this Jell-O commercial beautifully illustrates why this is important.
Are there other workplace trends to note as we look at the workplace in 2014? I'd love to hear from you. Please comment or e mail me.