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Offices aren’t ready to meet the needs of the future workforce

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Despite perceptions of the massive shift in office space design and layout, change isn’t happening nearly as quickly as many think, according to The Steelcase Global Report: Engagement and the Global Workplace.

To begin with technology updates aren’t happening as fast as expected.

Despite the high global adoption of mobile devices for personal use, the vast majority of study participants reported that their organisations provide twice as much fixed technology versus mobile options for work.

Most workers report that they are equipped with land-line telephones (86%) and desktop computers (80%). Far fewer employees have laptops (39%), mobile phones (40%) or tablet computers (13%) available to them at work.

As a result, staff who need access to digital information for their work may feel tied to their desks and less likely to engage with colleagues who aren’t physically nearby.

Given the changes in how people work, organisations will want to consider how their workplace and technology strategies align.

The fabulous and fun offices of technology giants like Google may create the perception that today’s workplaces are open, informal and collaborative. In some places this is true.

But the reality for employees around the world is that most people work in traditional office environments, with an emphasis on hierarchy and desk-based individual work.

Workplace design and work experiences vary widely, even between neighboring countries, yet nearly two thirds of employees say they work in either individual or shared private offices, according to the report.

Entirely open offices represent a significant portion—nearly one-fourth of the workplace landscape—but they certainly are not the norm.

ALSO READ: Your employees’ most infuriating office problems

Creating informal spaces, and options for different work styles and situations are important but designers and architects need to be careful not to go too far into start-up cliches and ignore substantive chances that can make a difference, Chris Congdon, the Steelcase global research director told CNBC.

“Sometimes office design goes too far, and it’s pandering to people. It’s all flash and no substance. We saw time and time again, people want to do meaningful work, and feel like they’re learning from their colleagues and making a difference,” she said.

They don’t want to play ping-pong all day. People can tell when they’re being pandered to. That’s where the balance lies. It’s can’t be the traditional, sit at your desk factory model. But the other end of the spectrum, the idea of riding a slide all day to get to the next floor, doesn’t make sense, either.” Congdon added.  

The report also finds that high workplace satisfaction positively correlates with high employee engagement and employees who have greater control over their work experiences, including abundant access to private spaces, are some of the most highly engaged in the world.

Yet, only 13% of global workers are highly engaged and highly satisfied with their workplace. The inverse is true as well: 11 % of employees are highly dissatisfied with their offices and are also highly disengaged.

Another distinguishing characteristic of engaged employees is that they have a greater degree of control over where and how they work, including access to privacy when they need it.

They are empowered, both by organisational decisions and the spaces made available to them within their workplace, to make choices about where and how they work.

This means they can manage their need for privacy so they can concentrate easily and work with teams without disruptions.

Image: Shutterstock

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