2017 marks the third anniversary of the ‘flexible working law’ passed by the UK government. Progressive at the time, it’s come under fire from a campaign called #WorkThatWorks, led by digital mums. It asks the government to reconsider its flexible working definition, to reflect the merits for both employees and businesses. It currently reads: ‘flexible working is a way of working that suits an employee’s needs.’

The merits of flexible working are abundantly clear for businesses. A recent Gartner report found employees to be more engaged when they have autonomy in how, when and where they can get work done. The reality, flexible and modern working methods are no longer an optional nicety for the modern enterprise, but a necessity. It’s predicted that flexible working will be the main way of working for 70 percent of organisations by 2020.

Industries today are undergoing a transformation of their workforce – to a more flexible, agile, scalable group of co-workers and contract collaborators. At the heart of this transformation is ‘digital’, critical to enabling this modern work experience, technologies are equipping office and worker alike with the elements needed to bring this hyper-productive, digital world to life.

The Office Changes Again

Almost 1.2 million people worldwide will have worked in a co-working space by the end of this year. Popularised by companies like WeWork, co-working enables businesses, start-ups and freelancers to work in a collaborative environment. Co-working spaces enable people to meet and work flexibly to be most productive.

The fact is, the traditional image of the office we know is becoming dated. Add ‘digital’ to the front of the word, and a more modern, progressive space is imagined. Digital is also affecting the construction sector, with consultancies such as Arup reporting on the potential to ‘reimagine’ the way buildings are used. The company’s report, Reimagining property in a digital world, explores the capabilities of IoT desks and smarter, more sustainable buildings.

There are three forces converging to radically shift the office we recognise today:

The Physical: The convergence of the digital and physical worlds is making new experiences possible in the places we work. Frost & Sullivan indicates business professionals spend 60 hours in meetings per month – a whopping 40 percent of their work hours. However, just half of this time is productive. It’s no wonder then, combined with a more dynamic, diverse workforce, companies are redesigning offices to include informal meeting rooms where employees can host meetings on-the-fly, or quiet zones more suitable for siloed working.

Younger Generations Step Up: By 2020, millennials will be 50 percent of the global labour market. This generation, along with Generation Z (those born in the mid-90s), have been born digital-natives. They expect the working environment to adapt to their preferred communication methods – using the same applications they use in their personal lives – in a work setting.

Adaptive Technology: The rapid deployment of cloud-based applications has enabled new, more effective ways of working. Video conferencing is having a real impact, making it affordable for companies to scale collaborative technologies, and ensure that colleagues can still communicate. It’s predicted there are 30 to 40 million huddle rooms worldwide, yet only 3.6 percent of them are enabled with video conferencing technologies. The use of these smaller rooms is set to rise exponentially, and collaboration solutions are being developed specifically to accommodate for these changes to office design.

When looking to redesign the office there are four steps to consider:

1. Get Employee Buy-In

Ask employees how they want to communicate, what technology makes them more productive, and what will make life easier while at work. These are important questions to ask if you’re thinking about ways of digitally enabling your workforce. While there may be many pushing for new ways of working and new technologies, there will be many who resist, and you need to bring all of them with you when making a change. Skanska, a construction company, turned to its employees to find out what their needs and expectations were for collaboration before upgrading their internal communications hub and deploying new technology. The company surveyed 2,200 employees and conducted 100 personal interviews – using the information to create a video platform that could connect teams, share global knowledge and build company culture.

2. Browse Technologies Available

People need technology that works – and will be after equivalents of the apps they use to talk to their far-flung relatives at the weekend, readily available on smartphones. Equally, technology needs to deliver a high-fidelity experience to be useful for the office. Look at technologies that can integrate with platforms like Skype for Business (like our own ConferenceCam range), which deliver an enterprise-grade experience and a familiar user experience. Technology should serve people, and it can only do so if it is working with other elements in a space to support what they are doing. New technology deployed should be intuitive, and work seamlessly with the employee experience – allowing people to have meaningful interactions, whether they are sat next to each other or half the world away.

3. Consider How Processes Will Work

Gartner predicts that by 2020, organisations that choose to implement flexible working policies, or a ‘choose your own workstyle’ culture, will boost employee retention rates by more than 10 percent. Companies realise the advantages of flexible working, and are implementing different perks. When doing this, it’s important to make sure processes are in place where people can easily connect to colleagues working remotely, and know where they are. It has to be easy for people to interact so that they can come up with better ideas. Make decisions faster and solve problems more quickly. You need to think about how you map ALL your business systems and processes to a more flexible working environment.

4. Zones

When redesigning the office, think about the different zones that employees need in order to be productive. For example, there should be quiet rooms, zones for concentrated solo work, and collaboration spaces where employees can connect on-the-fly, not forgetting the more formal meeting spaces and the boardroom.

Final Thoughts

Today’s businesses can be run from anywhere, so you don’t need to be sat at an office desk to be productive. The digital office will encompass a more flexible working environment, including remote working practices. Over the next ten years we will continue to see a move to different types of communication spaces such as small ‘huddle’ rooms, or break out spaces, where employees can host meetings on-the-fly. In the context of this, it’s important businesses pause to reflect on where they are as a business on this journey, and figure out their path to the digital workspace of the future.