Workspace for future generations: a state of mind?

For the next generation of workers, the workspace will be a state of mind rather than a particular location. Raised in a digital world, workspaces for them will be defined by agility and flexibility. They will have no concept of being desk-bound or even time-structured. So what might their workspaces look like?

Until relatively recently, many office workers were used to having a permanent and assigned job, with a bit of flexibility around working arrangements. It didn’t matter if the task required concentration or inspiration. The physical space you worked in would look pretty much like any other. You had a desk, a landline telephone and a PC on a desk.

With the rise and proliferation of digital tools such as mobile phones, laptops and cloud services, all that changed. Digital tools gave workers greater mobility and an ability to share information with the enterprise, and each other, from anywhere at any time. Mobility became normalized.

It is a shift that has continued with an upward trajectory and something that was discussed by leading industry figures at the recent Orange Hello! World 2021 event. Work has become a more mobile activity: for many, work is now something you do rather than a place you go. The changing dynamic has given talented workers more power than they previously had in the employee/employer relationship. Employers are beginning to realize that if you do not give your workers what they want and expect, they will have no problem going to work for someone else. Delivering a great employee experience has become vital.

According to Puja Athale, Senior Partner Development Manager, Microsoft, speaking at Hello! World, “The world has changed. Today’s digital workplace reflects user perspectives and modern workstyles, and user preferences are reflected in the modern technologies workers expect. The pandemic has created a major change in how we work, and moving forward, hybrid work will be a big thing for many companies.”

New generations, new expectations

Just as the world had gotten used to the idea of millennials in the workplace, they were supplanted by Generation Z, who have different expectations. Generation Z employees care most about work-life balance and personal well-being in their jobs, more so than they do income and brand reputation.

The next demographic to enter the workforce will be Generation Alpha, mainly comprised of the children of millennials born from 2010 onwards. Their view of work will likely differ again from Generation Z before them.

What might that look like? They will almost certainly build on Generation Z’s prioritizing work-life balance and will reflect the importance of employee experience even further. The pandemic created a major change in how we work, with hybrid work models, e-commerce, digital communication channels, collaboration tools, and AI and automation all growing in usage in all kinds of job roles. And they are all trends that will stick and grow.

Digitally transforming the workspace

Remote work is here to stay, and enterprise business leaders need to accept and embrace it. And the digital transformation journeys that enterprises have been on? This needs to be urgently applied to workspaces to meet the expectations of the next generation of workers.

To provide future generations with a workspace that meets their demands, you could focus on three main trends: first, prioritize a user-centric approach to workspace provision. Second, focus on how to enable the delivery of apps anywhere and anytime. And third, human and machine convergence and how automation can be used to augment the workspace. Josh Olson, Global Head of Experience Solutions at VMware, speaking at Hello! World commented, “Number one is you must put the human in the center, design around humans, and have cross-functional teams in place to deliver the environment. That’s how you deliver an employee experience.”

This user-centric approach will extend its reach throughout the whole enterprise. Gone are the days of workers being given the same corporate devices, a desk, and just being told to get on with the job. The future workspace must be flexible by design and able to accommodate next-generation workers. They expect to be able to deliver results with their tools of choice, rather than spending eight hours a day stuck at a desk in front of a keyboard and monitor.

"Number one is you must put the human in the center, design around humans, and have cross-functional teams in place to deliver the environment. That’s how you deliver an employee experience."

Measuring employee experience

If employee experience is going to be your guiding light, you will need to measure it, because you can’t improve what you do not measure. And further to that, with flexibility being central to this future employee experience, enterprises will need to secure similar flexibility from partners and suppliers. The as-a-service model ensures flexibility and agility for enterprises and the ability to source all the latest digital technologies without the need for massive up-front CAPEX investment.

It may also mean that providers will need to make a shift in how they supply products and services to customers. And that will mean a move away from service level agreements (SLAs) towards experience level agreements (XLAs).

Emerging technologies, such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and wearables, have the potential to change the employee experience dramatically. But they also make meeting user expectations more challenging than ever. Employees will want a frictionless, personalized workspace in the future, and it is a high bar for employers to deliver against.

Securing workspaces with zero trust

As with all things that involve any degree of remote working, security is vital, so resilience by design is essential. It is key that you remember not to rush too headlong towards digital transformation and risky shortcuts that can compromise security.

As more people worked from home, companies had to think carefully about how to deliver apps securely. It’s a question that will continue to run through the provision of the workspace for future generations, and zero trust is the most advisable approach.

Zero-trust security takes a rigorous approach to security that is based on working in the era of cloud-based access and mobile work. Zero trust means it doesn’t matter whether your workers are in the office or remote, you can apply the same levels of security and vigilance across your whole IT estate.

Be prepared

The new generation of workers will be different, and as an employer, it is important that you are prepared for that. Chris Van Werkhoven, CTO Login Consultants, speaking to Orange at Hello! World said, “COVID-19 accelerated how employees view their tools, but that view had already been in place pre-COVID. COVID just shone a real light on it. And only companies that have the ability and will to change will be those that survive.”

You will need to pre-empt the next generation of workers’ expectations if you want to be at the head of the recruitment queue for talent. Expect this new paradigm to see future workers wanting to be able to choose and change jobs according to their needs. You will need to take that into account when planning your future workspaces: VR and AR and all kinds of other digital tools will be pre-requisites, and you may even need to interview candidates in the metaverse. Get ready.

Read more about how Orange can help you equip your digital workspace for the future and prepare for the next generation of the workforce.