Workplace Transformation and the Changing Nature of Work
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Workplace Transformation and the Changing Nature of Work

This article is written by Audra Lee

Business offices have changed over the centuries as management theory, materials and technology have evolved. The pace of this change is increasing, and the nature of the change now includes where and how people work together. This article explores some of the drivers that are changing the nature of work and concludes with some thoughts on how you can better enable positive workplace transformation.

Offices have changed over the last hundred years with changes in technology such as typewriters and computers and the advent of cubicles. Underlying all of this was a concept from the industrial age that the notion of “going to work” was about arriving at a specific location and working on a specific task either as an individual or with the same group of people. Managers worked from the philosophy of managing by seeing, and they valued employees as implementers of work, not as instigators of ideas.

Drivers of the Changing Nature of Work

With the increasing growth of technology and globalisation of organisations, the information age is causing a transformation in work with a need to adapt to where and how employees work. The following are a few key drivers we see that are shaping how people work today.

Globalisation

Today, globalisation is a business reality. The increase in technology has enabled organisations to connect teams/businesses across the globe and as a result, we are seeing an increasing number of distributed teams working cross-culturally. In our recent survey of 30 MNCs in Asia, 75% reported an increase in use of virtual teams over the last two years, while 69% reported an increase in having employees report to a leader outside of their own country. This has changed dramatically from ten years ago when it was more common for only senior leaders to report out of country. With these changes come both benefits and challenges.

On the positive side, working with diverse teams provides more powerful insight into issues/challenges as people gain new and different perspectives. The challenge is that leaders and employees must work effectively cross-culturally and from a distance to gain these insights.

Equipping leaders with the knowledge and skills of how to lead and manage teams from a distance is important. In addition, leaders must shift their mind-set from “managing by seeing” to “managing by results.”

Technology

Technologies such as mobility, cloud computing, web conferencing and telepresence have driven connectivity across the globe. Employees can work in different locations or on the road and still collaborate.

Obtaining and sharing knowledge 24/7 is becoming easier and faster and this is accelerating as mobile and Internet devices are becoming more accessible in emerging markets and from more remote locations. Allowing people to work remotely increases the opportunity to utilise people capability without requiring people to move.

Workforce Expectations

The notion of “going to work” is changing from going to a specific location to having more flexibility in choosing where and when to work. Studies show that, on average, generation X and Y prefer to have the freedom to define and tackle issues on their own. They value work/life balance more than other generations. Organisations need to consider this in how they design the workplace if they hope to attract, motivate and retain talent.

A body of research also suggests that having the opportunity to organise work demands around the natural body rhythm may produce positive results in tasks such as resolving conflicts and thinking creatively.

Re-Design of the Workplace

These drivers are driving changes in the workplace. In addition, organisations are trying to optimise costs by reducing unneeded office space (due to employees being out of the office much of the time). They also often want to increase collaboration by including collaboration space.

The “office” is becoming a collaboration hub where employees can meet face-to-face and spend time connecting with each other. Individual work is increasingly occurring in shared space, or outside the office altogether.

Workplace transformation has clear benefits. Research and practice show that a properly redesigned space enabled with the right change management can improve employee collaboration, attract talent, improve employee productivity and innovation, increase well-being and reduce CO2 emissions.

Transforming Your Employees

Changing the workplace itself is relatively easy. Changing the behaviours and mind-set needed to work effectively and realise the benefits of workplace changes is challenging. Below are some key enablers that can help drive positive workplace transformation:

  • Engage with employees throughout the transformation. Many transformations fail to achieve desired goals because employees are not engaged at the right time, on the right topics
  • Ensure your workspace design:
    • Is designed to drive desired outcomes for the business
    • Uses technology tools and social media to enable the workplace changes and drive engagement/collaboration
    • Provides choices, where possible, on where and when to work
  • Have managers at all levels role model the new ways of working. Without gaining their support properly, your efforts will likely fail
  • Build capabilities
    • Leaders need to be equipped with skills to lead at a distance/cross-culturally if you allow more mobile work on the part of employees
    • Employees need to understand how to work and collaborate virtually
  • Align processes/practices to your new way of working (e.g., performance management process to manage results; reward initiatives to drive the right behaviours)

Remember that the nature of work is changing, and this is impacting where and how people work together. Managers need to better understand how to lead in this environment, and employees need to better understand how to collaborate and work effectively.

Any company can change their office décor and layout. To achieve tangible benefits, companies need to properly engage and enable their employees to be successful in the new world of work.



© 2012 Organisation Solutions Pte Ltd.
About the Author: Audra previously served as a Director at Organisation Solutions, a global consultancy specialising in organisational design, development and change solutions worldwide. Audra has more than 15 years of experience in the areas of Human Resources, Learning and Development, OD and Occupational Psychology. She has worked in the areas of culture change, organizational development, facilitation, talent management and leadership development.


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Dr. Dennis A. White 5 months ago
I thought you might be interested in an essay I wrote about the changing nature of work entitled, “An Open Letter to Young People on the Topic of STEMS and CAMELS.” You can access the essay on my LinkedIn profile page under “Posts”, or directly at https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-dennis-a-white-5431471. I believe that the time you spend reading this essay will prove to be both professionally enriching and thought provoking.
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