How intelligent is your workplace?  (Image Credit: Mimi Thian on Unsplash)The NTT 2020 Intelligent Workplace Report is out (registration required). The focus is on what the workplace will look like as we move on from the COVID office diaspora. Unlike many other reports on the subject, this one was conducted through 1,350 x 20-minute interviews, not anonymous questionnaires. It gives the report some presence, although, at 61 pages, it might seem just a little long.

Alex Bennett, Vice President, Intelligent Workplace, NTT Ltd (Image Credit: LinkedIn)
Alex Bennett, Vice President, Intelligent Workplace, NTT Ltd

In the forward, Alex Bennett, Vice President, Intelligent Workplace, NTT Ltd said: “To attract and retain talent and ensure long-term success, organizations need to rethink their workplace strategies from several angles – employee wellbeing, intelligent technology and digitization,  spaces that support activity-based working, and sustainability – to create environments that shape superior employee experiences which ultimately enable productivity and profitability.”

The future is employee enablement

According to the report: “86.6% of organizations say the future workplace will be designed around employee enablement.” It sounds obvious, but is it? Look at most workplaces, and they are rarely designed around the employee. The focus is on what the company wants, often based on office designs that have been around for decades.

Some organisations have bucked the trend. They have created pseudo university campus environments for their staff. These are designed to provide a relaxed environment with the belief that it reduces stress and provides a more friendly environment.

However, given the cost of office space, these are expensive to build and equip. In addition, for many organisations, it doesn’t fit with the expectations of management as to what an office is about.

But things are changing. While COVID has hit many organisations hard, it has broken some barriers in how organisations see workspaces. While the pandemic has created a forced Work From Home (WFH) environment, it has also proven that it can work. Companies that would have refused staff the opportunity for home working are now embracing it.

Ten things we have learned about employee experience (EX)

What is it that employees want? The Intelligent Workplace report came up with ten trends:

  1. Remote/flexible working policy
  2. Digital enablement
  3. Home-office workplace support
  4. Workplace wellness
  5. Improved workplace environmental factors
  6. Employee empowerment
  7. Opportunities to learn and grow
  8. Flexible benefit program
  9. Management techniques being adapted
  10. Workplace and employee analytics

Organisations are already being forced to face and address some of these. For example, the need to design an effective remote/flexible working policy. This has to be matched with home-office workplace support that not just addresses business needs but also mental health. With the home being the workplace, it means that companies must decide what workplace wellness means.

A longstanding challenge, and one that comes up here, is opportunities to learn and grow. Organisations have moved to use online training, often in an employees’ own time. But effective training needs to understand how individuals learn. That means properly designed training programmes using a wide range of techniques, and opportunities to benefit from completing the training.

In that same vein is mentoring. It is not enough to just complete a training course when looking for promotion. Many roles require wider skills, skills that are best taught through mentoring. It is an area where individual managers at some companies do well, but very few companies do it well as an organisation.

How will these EX trends be implemented?

Through people and institutional change. The report identified six workplace typologies who bring change to an organisation. The survey shows that each type brings different skills to address the trends above. What is required is a mix of these people to change business and deliver the EX that people want.

What is interesting is that those interviewed gave their expectation as to the importance of each role. They also said where their organisations were in bringing in these new roles. The first number against the typology is what respondents believe is necessary. The second is where they are in achieving that goal.

  1. People treasurer: 25.6% / 11.9% – Employee experience and employee wellbeing are the primary considerations for workplace strategy.
  2. Collaborative champion: 23.6% / 19.2% – Expert in building a culture and using technology to enable collaboration among employees, partners, and customers.
  3. Disruptive game-changer: 16.8% / 28.6% – Visionary and innovative, they design new business models to redefine the future, and are quick to realign strategy, and ensure agility is embedded into their organizational culture.
  4. Value-seeker: 12.2% / 10.9% – The efficiency of organization and workplace is the focus.
  5. Corporate bedrock: 13.3% / 20.7% – Resilient with well-defined processes; focus on managing risk and compliance, and long-term survival.
  6. Architectural maestro: 8.6% / 21.6% – Optimal physical and digital workplace design is the primary focus, often driven by a creative culture.

As can be seen, many companies have all of these typologies already inside their organisation. The challenge is making sure they are effective, supported and given the power to effect change. It requires support from the main board, and that means effective support, not just lip service. Without change, many companies will struggle to create effective change.

Effecting change is complicated

Organisations are still trying to decide what they need in terms of future offices. Most accept that they will still need offices as a place to meet customers. How they are staffed, how big they are and where they will be, is much less clear. According to this report: “34.4% of C-suite executives say they’re looking to reduce office space.” Surprisingly, it goes on to say: “just under one in four (24.0%) say they’ll increase space.”

Office space costs. Utilities, rent, technology, amenities such as kitchens, air conditioning and heating in addition to physical security are not cheap. Businesses have already reduced some of the big-ticket costs. Datacentres are being moved into cloud computing while staff are encouraged to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in terms of laptops, tablets and phones.

The question is, will moving to WFH bring another round of significant cost reduction for businesses? There will be some need to pay staff expenses such as power and heating as well as broadband. In the UK, HMRC has set a figure of £6 per week per employee for expenses. Whether that will compensate staff effectively is yet to be seen.

But change, whether that is around office space or home working will take a significant investment to get right. Cybersecurity is one area that will need to improve to prevent regulatory challenges. It also means better training of staff to keep data safe and secure.

The report shows that in addition to workplace strategy, location and technology, people and culture will also need to be considered carefully.

Where is this all leading?

Business strategy - overall objectives (Image Credit: NTT Ltd)
Business strategy – overall objectives

As organisations spread out and adapt to a less centralised workplace, the business will need to redefine what outcomes it expects. As can be seen from the image below, businesses have a long list of outcomes to work towards. Interesting, NTT has mapped some of the typologies identified earlier to these outcomes.

What stands out from this image is that EX is far from being the top priority of businesses. In fact, it comes in the lower half of the table. It once again shows how difficult it will be for businesses to become EX friendly. Even more worrying is the low priority given to mitigating business and tech risk. If businesses are to embrace WFH, then they must, without question, face up to the risk inherent in their systems and processes.

Enterprise Times: What does this mean

As should be expected from a report of this size (61 pages) there is a lot to mull over. The fact that the information was gathered not from questionnaires but from 1,350 x 20-minute interviews gives the report substance. To ensure it wasn’t skewed to one particular market, respondents were drawn from 19 countries. This included USA 150, France 100, Germany 100, Singapore 100, India 100 and Australia 100. Respondents were either C-suite, director/head of, or manager/specialist.

There are apparent disconnects inside the report. The role of the typologists and how they will be used is one. The gap between EX and business objectives is another. What this report does is add substantially to the conversation about the future of the workplace. It also shows that getting to a single solution won’t happen quickly, and for many businesses, it won’t happen easily.


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