The new demand for informality and flexibility is transforming the workspace
Today’s workers demand greater informality and flexibility, blurring their work and home lives
THE millennial mindset is changing the way we conduct our business lives almost beyond recognition, according to trend forecasting agency the Future Laboratory. The Londonbased company has coined the term bleisure – the mixing of business and leisure – to describe the way mobile phones and information communication technology are breaking down the traditional nine-to-five workday.
“Gen Y is probably one of the most entrepreneurial generations we’ve ever seen,” says Chris Sanderson, co-founder and chief executive of the Future Laboratory, which draws data from researchers based all over the world. “They come to your business and think they can run it in five minutes and they don’t want to stay very long because they want to go and set up their own business. At the same time they’re a hugely optimistic and very challenging generation because they’re demanding changes in the workplace, changes in the way we do things.”
These 21st-century workers demand greater informality, flexibility and the blurring of work and home lives, he says. Future Laboratory research shows the work-at-home workforce is growing, along with informal meeting spaces, co-working local hubs and growth of work communities. “I think open-plan offices are with us for a while yet because of that feeling of being more egalitarian and feeling more federated – it’s easy to get up and talk to people and network,” Sanderson said during a trip to Sydney. “And of course we’re seeing continued growth of spaces where we have an ease of conversation, the informal meeting, where people can stop and chat. You don’t have to book a formal meeting space; you can just say to somebody ‘Let’s just go down and get a coffee and have a chat’.”
The realisation has finally hit human resources and leadership teams in large organisations that the person working from home is not slacking or having a sneaky day off. “Most research shows that, in fact, the home worker is often way more productive than the office worker because they’re respectful of the fact that they’ve saved on a commute, they are at home and that gives them certain privileges but they use their time more productively. The research is showing that, when it’s put in place, it works. British Telecom is a very good example of a company that continues to increase its work-at-home workforce because it saves them up to £10,000 a year in desk space. Obviously most people who are working from home are online, so it’s very easy to monitor their activity and they are able to record real increases in productivity.”
Sanderson also sees long-term changes in the way we engage with and commute to the office as a result of rising costs of fuel and increased population in our urban conurbations. “The traditional notion of an office space we all flock to will break down. Some of us may work from localised hubs where you may have five or 10 or 15 different companies all sharing a local building. It could be that you’re operating from somewhere far closer to home because everything you need is there and there’s really very little contact you need with an office team, so you just come in once a week for meetings.”
The rise in co-working or “bleisure” spaces is also spreading to hotels. “As bizarre as it may sound, you may start to see hotels going back to the idea of renting rooms by the hour, and not for illicit purposes,” Sanderson says. “Indeed, even the idea of hotel rooms that don’t have beds in them because there are moments when I don’t want to meet in a cafe or a restaurant because the information I’m talking about may be quite sensitive, so the business meeting category in hotels and leisure spaces will continue to grow.” Hotels will also continue to reinvent the business centre with big shared benches in open buzzy spaces. “It goes back to the coffee shop, when Starbucks and others started to offer free WiFi and encouraged us to linger with our laptops over a coffee,” he notes.
Google has been a pioneer in harnessing the trend to bleisure in the design and use of office space, he says. “If you look at any of the Google offices, there’s a massive investment on their part in terms of creating fun and engaging work spaces. Let’s be honest, it’s also because Google is very good at getting people to sometimes work there 24 hours a day. It is not uncommon to find people sleeping overnight in the Google office. But as well as the provision of free drinks, snacks, caffeine — things to keep you working — there is also anything from the ping-pong table, swimming pool, to the outside deck, the movie theatre, comfy chairs, the fantastic library. They work very hard to provide a fantastic environment that hits the right buttons for their workforce.”
Sanderson sees this trend as a reinvention of the workplace communities of last century such as working men’s clubs, canteens, and dance halls. “As unions and trade organisations that were at the heart of our working lives started to fall off, we saw the slow disintegration of work communities. But I think maybe new generations of workers are finding new ways to knit themselves together,” he says. “Intranets have played a massive role in that.”
Chris Sanderson, right, predicts a rise in shared meeting spaces where people can discuss work issues in an informal environment, not only cafes and restaurants but also hotel rooms