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 Australian - The Deal - - News - Story by: Anne Lim

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

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