The workplace continues to evolve, driven by both changing demographics and rapidly developing technology. As four generations come together in the office, they bring considerable diversity in experience, skills, and workstyles with them. Technology, the increasing use of data analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI) are all also driving a shift in behaviors.
The challenge for businesses is finding ways to create environments that adapt to these changes, foster efficiencies, and support the needs of employees.
“It starts with companies seeing the power of human interaction,” says Adam Clark, who leads the North American design studio at Haworth, overseeing the design of our own spaces. “We all embrace technology as a way to communicate and share ideas. But now, we're working to understand the balance of how it best fits into the broader infrastructure and behaviors within the office.”
Here are four ways you can embrace changing workplace demographics and technology:
1. Offer More Human Interaction
Companies are pulling back their telecommuting programs and putting more emphasis on face-to-face time. This is where innovative design can play an essential role in bringing workers together—across departments and teams—to spark conversations and collaborations. But employees need to feel like they have permission to be flexible in the workplace.
“If you feel like people are going to judge you for sitting in a social environment while working, you're never going to want to do it. Workers need to think of the spaces beyond their desks as extensions—sometimes much better suited extensions—for performing different types of work.”
- Adam Clark, Leader of the North American Design Studio at Haworth
“Offering a choice of spaces allows proper behaviours to happen in the proper types of settings, so ‘the desk’ does not have to do all things. In time, people will become aware of the best spaces for certain types of work. This helps increase efficiencies, collaboration, and connection to what the organization is doing as a whole—which, at times, is tough to do from a desk for eight hours a day,” Clark says.
2. Embed AI in the Office
How artificial intelligence will ultimately impact the workplace understandably generates both excitement and fear. Nearly all devices today feature some form of the high-level technology, and businesses are using a variety of AI programs to streamline processes, create efficiencies, and even save money.
Some companies are reducing employment costs by using chatbots to do everything from providing on-demand customer support to serving as personal assistants. “AI is coming, but it's not going to be quite the same as using Alexa at home,” Clark says. “We're going to see a lot more of it in the office—hopefully in a softer way. We’ll see use in interactive wayfinding, metric dashboards showing how often spaces are used, as well as teaching tools for how to use a space. From a design perspective, we are leveraging augmented reality as a way to take a look at spaces in a different way. It’s definitely helping to envision space, what it can be, and what can change.”
3. Prioritize Financial and Mental Well-Being
With the majority of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, and student loan debt soaring above $1 trillion, most workers are burdened with financial stress. Not surprisingly, it’s affecting worker job performance. Some companies are responding by helping employees pay off their student loan debt.
And it isn’t just financial woes stressing people out. Mental health issues from depression to anxiety are blamed for employee absenteeism and lack of productivity. More companies are addressing the growing need by providing 24/7 access to counseling and mental health services in the workplace.
“If you can eliminate those kinds of worries and stresses for people, they can focus better on getting their work done,” Clark says. “Companies and HR departments are recognizing that keeping employees engaged means addressing their needs in broader ways than in the past. Haworth has prioritized well-being through investments in our support system, the culture of how we work, and physical components—such offering as an upgraded workout facility, massages, and yoga classes—all of which contribute to supporting mental health.”
4. Focus on Your Entire Workforce
The workforce is continuing to age, with Baby Boomers not only living longer than previous generations, but determined to work past traditional retirement age. The downside is that younger employees see this lack of turnover as a barrier to moving up the ranks. One solution is creating a workspace where everyone is valued, regardless of position.
“Previously, in some organizations’ hierarchies, there was sort of a ‘carrot’ that went along with that new position, like getting a bigger office with better views. We're working with a lot of clients on designs that create the best spaces for everyone,” Clark says. For example, at American Water’s new headquarters, all individual workstations are the same size, have the same height-adjustable desk, and offer the same incredible exterior view.
Making the most of employees’ talents and skills continues to be a perennial priority for businesses. “It really goes back to the bottom line. Your biggest investment is your people, and space is your second biggest. If you can invest in these types of programs, you can help your people focus and do their best work,” Clark says.