Why Workplaces Are Becoming More Human

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Workplace Design

The workplace is going to become more human over the next ten years as an emphasis on creating a memorable experiences transforms how and where people work. Against a backdrop of widespread uncertainty, this is one prediction that we can safely make because 7,000 workers worldwide told us so in our new, global study: Workplace, powered by Human Experience.

Our international research shows that both employers and employees see human experience as the main factor in determining the shape of their work environment for the foreseeable future.

Google, with its Chief Happiness Officer and creative offices, and Virgin, with its staff consultations on office design, are pioneers in putting people at the centre of workplace design – and many others will take similar steps.

So why a seemingly sudden focus on human experience, after decades in which it was a secondary issue? Managers are increasingly aware that they get the best from people who are inspired by their work environment and their organisation. At the same time, a new generation of employees are more demanding – searching for organisations whose ethos they believe in and work environments in which they feel at home.

Our research highlights the three main zones that employers need to address – Engagement, Empowerment and Fulfillment. Engagement is usually the area that organisations concentrate on most – demonstrating the reasons why employees should be committed to them. But winning Engagement often also comes through offering more Empowerment and Fulfillment to staff.

The rise of automation and robotics is one of the major drivers of change. As Calum Chance says in his book ‘The Economic Singularity’: “Paradoxically, the more efficient an automated system becomes, the more critical the contribution of human operators.”

It is a given that AI and other forms of robotics will replace some jobs. But, for AI to work well, the role of humans will be elevated in businesses. And organisations will need to give their workers the space to innovate and communicate through workplace experience.

The ecosystem of the workplace

We can liken the workplace to the natural world. The workplace is, in a sense, its own ecosystem. In the plant and animal world, the broader the range of resources and variables that feed into a particular habitat, the wider the spectrum of outcomes at the other end. This usually means that a larger number of species is sustained; in a well-organised workplace, it can lead to a bigger spread of ideas, products and strategies for the organisations involved.

Employers want to help their people communicate and to feel more engaged and empowered. They can achieve this through the management of their real estate. Our survey Shows that workers are turning away from the traditional workplace towards activity based working that  sharing and being part of community at work. Significant proportions of them want to escape their desks (37 per cent), find places to recharge their energy (40 per cent) and drop into spaces designed to aid concentration (47 per cent).

But, just as every employee is different, so every workplace is different. For this reason, we have designed a diagnostic tool, to help each organisation where they are on their journey around human experience and identify which areas it needs to concentrate on to make its workplace more human and more effective to drive engagement, empowerment and fulfillment.

Reflecting company values through workplace design

Engagement is typically fostered through strong leadership. Most organizations strive to be fair, provide financial security and address employee needs. Empowerment and Fulfillment have stronger real estate implications. Empowered workers are often be involved in designing their own physical surroundings and have access to a range of environments. Fulfilled workers know that their needs are acknowledged in workplace design. Nearly nine out of ten (87 per cent) of our respondents were enthusiastic about more emphasis being placed on these issues: they see the appointment of a Chief Happiness Officer, the custodian of engagement, empowerment and fulfillment, as a desirable move.

Most people who have been in the workplace for a couple of decades or more will have experience of the traditional environment – rigid structures, which employees had to slot themselves into. While that approach is being overhauled, there is still a long way to go.

Companies that place experience at the centre of workplace design, to help employees achieve a true life-work blend, will reap the rewards. We believe that the most resilient employers will – like the most resilient species in a natural ecosystem – be those that are the most adaptable. They will start to pilot new physical environments in selected local sites, also measuring the results to see how they affect the bottom line. They will consider merging their HR and Real Estate teams in order to ensure that people are at the centre of their agendas. I will be writing about these issues, and many more, in the months to come.

Becoming more human means becoming more complex. And complexity is part of the survival blueprint for the future of work.

Marie Puybaraud

Author: Marie Puybaraud

Global head of research at JLL, Dr. Marie Puybaraud is a recognised thought leader on workplace innovation, with a significant track record of research on CRE/FM and Workplace industry futures, workplace strategies, technologies, generational issues at work.

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