The Workplace of the Future

Bob O'Donnell / December 13th, 2016

To no one’s surprise, how and where we work matters to people. Not just the company you work for, but the physical environment, the culture, the people, and the tools you use to get things done.

Intuitively, that’s obvious of course, but when you start to dig into exactly what it is that people do at work, where they work and what they use, you start to see a fascinating picture of current workplaces—as well as where they’re headed.

That was exactly the intention of the latest TECHnalysis Research study—fielded to over 1,000 US employees across a range of industries during the past week—and I’m pleased to report that the results do not disappoint.

At a high level, people only spend about 46% of their average 43-hour work week in a traditional office or cubicle environment. We’ve been witnessing a shift away from those workspaces for a long time, but the move is likely to accelerate as most workers believe that the percentage will drop to just under 41% in two years.

What’s surprising, however, is that the biggest increase won’t be coming from trendy new alternative workspaces or other non-traditional worksites. Instead, it’s working at home. Toiling in your PJs (or whatever attire you choose to wear at home) is expected to jump from 11% of the total work week to 16% in two years.

Directly related is the growing importance of work time flexibility. In fact, when asked to rank the importance of a company’s tech-initiatives that keep employees happy and productive at work, the number one choice on a rating of eight alternatives was work time flexibility.

Not surprisingly, when people were asked in a separate question about the benefits of working at home, the top reason they cited was—you guessed it—work time flexibility.

Clearly, the move to mobile computing devices, more cloud-based applications, and internal IT support for enabling work from remote locations has had a large impact on employee’s expectations about how, when, and where they can work, and, well, there’s no place like home.

The move to mobile computing devices, more cloud-based applications, and internal IT support for enabling work from remote locations has had a large impact on employee’s expectations about how, when, and where they can work, and, well, there’s no place like home.

From a collaboration perspective, there have been a number of advancements around both software and hardware being used in various workplaces. As expected, usage of these various tools is mixed and interest for them can vary quite a bit by age. At a basic level, for example, email is still the top means of collaboration with both co-workers (39% of total communications) and outside contacts (34%), with phone calls second (25% and 32% respectively) and texting third (12% for both groups). Among 18-24-year old millennial workers at medium-sized companies (100-999 employees), however, social media with outside contacts was 12% of all communications versus only 6% for the total sample.

Collaborative messaging tools like Slack and Facebook’s Workplace still showed only modest usage at 4% overall, but again 18- to 24-year old millennials at medium sized-companies nearly doubled that usage at about 7.5%. More importantly, while 1/3 of total respondents said their companies offered a persistent chat tool like Slack, another 31% said they wished their companies did.

From a hardware perspective, 32% of employees said their companies had large interactive screens in their conference rooms (a la Microsoft’s Surface Hub, which the company just announced was being well received in the market) and another 31% are hoping to see something like that installed at their workplaces sometime soon.

Interestingly, the videoconferencing aspect of these and other devices also drew some distinct, age-based responses. About 25% of total respondents said they used video the vast majority of the time when making an audioconference call, but that jumped to nearly 40% for younger workers (under 44) at medium-sized companies. The group that found video more effective during meetings was actually the 35-44 group, both in medium and large-sized companies. In each case the Gen X and Gen Y’ers in that group found it more useful than both the younger and older employees.

Finally, one insight from the study highlights an IoT opportunity in today’s workplace. A technology that was widely requested was an app or service that would allow workers to individually adjust their personal work area’s temperature and airflow. While that could be challenging to achieve, there’s clearly an interest for companies willing to tackle it.

Today’s workspaces are in an interesting state of flux, with a lot of attention being placed on attracting and retaining younger workers. While data from this study clearly supports some of those efforts, the results also show that many of the more traditional methods of communication and collaboration still play a dominant role—even with younger workers. As companies move to evolve their workplaces and vendors adjust to create products and services for these new environments, it’s important to keep these basics in mind.

Bob O'Donnell

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.
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