I have to admit this, I was tempted to begin this write up with dictionary definition of ‘modern workplace’, a cup of tea and a few biscuits later, I did overcome the juvenile urge. And decided to define it the way I understand it. There isn’t a scientific definition to tell the accurate comprehension from otherwise descripts of this subject, so in that sense, it is lucid and open to interpretation. No one definition is absolutely right, so if you happen to disagree with my views on it, I wouldn’t count that against you, nor will you be wrong.
Back to the definition, a modern workplace, in my view is an intelligent, intuitive and integrated ‘set up’, one that lives by the principle of liberalisation, democratisation, collaboration and creative imagination of the future and that of the current time. Let me borrow from a great CEO and modify it by adding a few of my own words (trivia, find out who said this) here to say that, “ work is no longer a place that you go to but a thing that you do, at a time, place and platform of your choice”, choice has to accommodate business realities, economic sense, and mandates of the stakeholders. We have every right to choose to live in the past and in sharp denial of present realities but ‘change’ as a constant doesn’t really need consent of the people involved; it will on its own keep transforming itself relentlessly and if you choose to not run with it, you will witness it run ahead of you for some time and then it will go past your sight. Let’s do a little study, pick up top 100 corporations of 1900 and then see how many of them exist today? And then see of those that exist today, how many continue to hold the same prominence in the marketplace? A quick 15 minutes research will tell you that no more than 8% of the organizations have survived and effectively transformed themselves in keeping with time. Let’s ask ourselves, what did they not have? Were their balance sheets not swell enough? Were they not men and women of great character and grit? Did they not dream big and build an organisation, a brand that was admired? Answer to all of these questions is a resounding YES. They were all successful companies with all the money and the might that one could wish for but yet they did not succeed the test of time and finally succumbed owing to their unapparent inability of welcoming change.
Why? With a lot of ease and in an almost unthinkable way one can, secure in the knowledge that they won’t be wrong, say that the conglomerates that went down did not innovate. But isn’t that the eventual output that one desires, sadly, in most cases, without providing for enablers that create the ground for innovation, we bake it, consider that it will happen anyway. Desire to create a plush and green garden, quality seeds, best fertilisers and state of the art irrigation supplies are all useless without the company of adequate sunlight and fertile soil. No amount of dreaming will ever sprout a flower out of a concrete marble floor. And there I say, what has been said in many books and case studies, one such book is “Rebuild by Ramya Ramamurthy’ that I would recommend you read, that before you target to innovate, you’ll need to create grounds that will foster such outcomes. Therefore the two top hindrances that I gather are below.
Lack of imagination.
Resistance to change.
Modern workplace is one such essential ingredient that makes way for free and fearless thinking, creative problem solving and solidifying sustained urge to keep transforming the ways of doing business. It is important to constantly re-imagine the tangibles of business to reinvent ways of doing it better.
The advent of technology and the ecosystem powered by ubiquitous internet has at a maddening pace changed the face of commerce. Back in the day, linear thought process prevailed, in which designated spaces and set designs ruled the way people conceived and conducted business, but that is no longer true. Physical boundaries are disappearing, templates are no longer relevant and precedents are being challenged like never before. We’re at a classic cusp of time, what was once considered a shining knight in the armour is now a heavy and ineffective piece of metal that is best not carried. A great man once said that there is a reason why we look ahead when we walk, because what is behind is going to fade, look for what is ahead of you and prepare to get there, if you want your journey to be a long and rewarding one.
We’ve tried defining a modern workplace and also established how it is an important and effective enabler. It is time to look at some the principles that we must take into account when creating the sketch for a modern workplace.
Before we get into the specifics of some of those principles, I must say these examples are a few of many tools available for deployment, you can choose whichever one you like. What is important here is to be accepting of the progressive principles of creating an obstruction free environment in which no time is wasted in waiting or finding the ‘spot’ or the ‘condition’ needed to create (deliveries/solutions/outputs/work). It is about creating an ecosystem that frees people and gets them to a state where they have everything that they need to work at all times within their comfortable reach so that they use it seamlessly to create spectacular results. It is also about eliminating all practical frictions that come in the way of productivity, making use of the best and most secure of the technology/infra that is available today.
Liberalisation: There can’t be a dispute on the fact that people make organisations and for people to deliver their best, they must be allowed to concentrate on the most important business problem by eliminating distractions of conformities. In a tier one city, an average person spends 3 hours on the road commuting ‘from and to’ work. 3 hours is 12.5% of your day! Preparations to get to work takes another 40 minutes on an average day: you dress in a certain way, get your tanks full, car cleaned, fix food to a deadline and then get onto the road. Nearly 4 hours of the day devoted to an exercise that generates no value for anyone. I’m not even counting the carbon emission and the irreversible environmental damage that we unknowingly invoke upon mother nature. 73% of all vehicular traffic is generated by work routine related commute. Imagine what would a world be like if these cars were not on the road? Better air to breathe and faster commute on events of travel. We’ve spoken about time, let us look at the cost burden on organisations to maintain and create offices? You pay for spaces which are vacant 16 hours a day. Is that an efficient system? I know some of you are saying that design of some business is such that people have to gather at a place, sure, they have to, but have you looked at ways to minimise it as much as possible? If no, then you have work to do. Studies say, that only 30% of the spaces that orgs occupy are actually needed. So if you have an org of 100 people, your real estate should have not more than 30 seats, people can in a planned manner come and meet each other in person, work together and yet have a great sense of space. 70% of your org can be on a work from home on any given day, on a rotation basis. It is a win-win situation for all stakeholders: Employee save on travel, work from comforts of their home, no one is ever getting late to work, better work-life balance, less friction among colleagues and benefits of disintegrated centre of deliveries and companies save on cost erecting and running the infra, lesser housekeeping and upkeep needs, lighter electricity load. Do not worry, there are tools available to measure which employee spent how much time on work. Apart from measuring core output, you can should you wish to even measure cursor movement even keystrokes, with ease, while passing the flexi hour benefit to employees. Surveys suggest that 87% of employees will happily elect to work an hour extra if they had to not travel.
Collaboration ( Digital and otherwise) : Wisdom of the crowd must not be lost, modern day organisations are a truly heterogeneous group, people from all kinds of socio-economic backgrounds, academic disciplines, social skills and personal beliefs come together to create solutions for customers. In 2019 a well-coloured wall comes second to stronger and snappier data connections, there is a need to smartly move investment into digital infrastructure. Hardware agnostic platforms should win your attention, you need to be able to eliminate barriers of space, formfactor, time and group to enable your staff to work, from wherever they are. To conduct a meeting, there is no need for people to look for the meeting room, they can use their excellent phones/computers/tablets to connect with you digitally, anytime anywhere, thereby bringing the lag to a virtual zero. Appearance for long has been a hindrance to productivity, practices of compensating for poor delivery with great rapport has been prevalent for a long time. People sometimes just want to be seen with the right people and at the right time and to make sure of that, waste a lot of time. In a digital workplace, all of that is eliminated, people are always connected so they reach out to one another in need and not just because they don’t have anything better to do. Because employees are not physically crossing path, they would make up for it with their superior delivery, because, remember, all of us want to come out as the best. Who wins in the process? The organization and the staff: both. Organisations spend crazy amount of money in securing hardware, to create computer surpluses. Imagine having to spend 1K dollars in getting decent computer for your staff as option one and another in which you give 500 dollars and the employee and let him put whatever extra he would like to and own a hardware of his choice to conduct your business? Your cost has gone down by half, you’ve given the employee the choice that he will love and the hardware is anyway going to become obsolete in 3 years, so why not? If the staff already has a set, give him 200 dollars and onboard him. A case for cloud is not even required to be made if data is on the cloud, it is secure and at the same time always available on a data connection. The point being, that you wrap your organisation in software and not essentially hardware or physical dimensions. Deploy real time collaboration tools ( cloud based office suits), have project management tool implemented so that governance on the work is as real time as the work itself. For every lag,wait and re-do that an inefficient infra creates the burden of additional unwelcomed and indirect cost piles up on the organisation, which you can and must avoid.
Transition from output to outcome : For aeons measurement method deployed to gauge efficiency has been largely output based, it is time that we graduate to an outcome-based system. Let me share a simple illustration, the judgement should not be based on how complex or comprehensive the backend is but on how simple and intuitive the user experience is. In the context of an MIS or a developer, length of code or syntax of formula is not a measure of hard work, but the flawless output is. We must move as far as practically possible from measuring clock hours and start considering, how the final outcome has been impacted. For instance, for a customer service agent the metric should not be how many customers did an executive handle but how many did he satisfy. I hope you get the Idea.
Well Being: Clinical researchers have proven beyond doubt that poor lifestyle practices substantially reduce cognitive capabilities, therefore it is imperative that designs are well thought of to nudge people to live better and healthier lives. Before I give you a few cases to ponder on, let me share with you that, India loses 21 billion dollars to absence from work on temporary health issues, every year, that is a lot of money!
Here are the options.
Come to office on time, work for 8 hours and get marked present.
Meet your objectives and get marked present.
Meet your objectives get marked present and walk 10K steps each day to earn coins needed for better than average appraisal?
A PMS that considers health goals around weight, waist sizes, too with KRA outputs?
When you engage with your staff on well being you create a bond far more personal than just professing how your organisation has to offer better professional future. When you encourage, your people, in a structured manner, to adopt a healthier lifestyle, you are helping them as much as you are helping yourself. There will be fewer sick leaves and even attrition will get impacted positively because employee value everything other than salary more than they are worth in the real world when handed in good faith. Quality health and accidental insurance and saving schemes not only give the employee a sense of protection but goes on to create the brand as a prefered employer. Remember you’ve only created 30% workstation, in the rest of the spaces you can create collaboration spaces, reading corner, exhibition centre, gyms and wellness spot. That infra will any day be appreciated more. The basic principle is to create hooks by offering meaningful engagement opportunities to the employees so that they see a lot of value in sticking around for long. I do not think that there is a need for me to make a case for how the cost of hiring and leakage of attrition impacts overall revenue objectives. So it makes perfect business sense to care for your employees.
I hope that with this article, I’ve given you reasons to believe in modern workspaces.