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5 ways to transform your workplace for the digital age

Enterprises face the challenge of creating workplaces that keep their employees motivated and engaged, which in turn should lead to higher productivity.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer caused an uproar three years ago when she killed the tech company’s popular work-from-home policy, arguing that employees would be more collaborative and creative if they clocked into a Yahoo facility every day. Google also subscribes to this philosophy.

Mobile and virtual work are major trends that have disrupted the organizational structures of many industries. Initially, many companies moved toward more flexible working arrangements by allowing employees to work remotely and introducing "hot desking" to cut space needs and overhead.

Now, Yahoo and Google are bucking these trends. Their challenge is to create workplaces that keep their employees motivated and engaged. In theory, this should lead to higher productivity. Here are five key points to consider when transforming your workplace for the digital age.

1. Start with a blank sheet of paper

What would your company look like if you could start over using today's technologies? What physical space would you need, and what would it look like?

You may be able to identify immediate changes to enhance your workplace. For example, many employees don't need to work at a specific desk all day. And many offices are open-plan, which can be distracting. So why not designate certain meeting rooms as silent work spaces when they're not in use?

Another idea: Promote collaboration by creating pods of desks rather than arranging them in straight lines. 

2. Focus on flexibility

Although virtual work is here to stay, it remains true that connecting face to face can foster collaboration, innovation, productivity, and engagement. The key is managing office space efficiently. Employee requirements shift constantly from the physical to the virtual, so the office itself needs to become agile.

Versatile spaces for collaboration, concentration, and socializing are common features at many companies. Google is going one step further in its new London office by creating pod-style meeting rooms called "Jacks" that can be "hacked" and rearranged so that the size, look, and feel of the rooms suits the needs of the moment. Each pod has a built-in video conferencing system to enable easy interaction with virtual colleagues. 

3. Mine data

Until recently it's been difficult to quantify how office environments impact worker productivity. Technology is now available to capture the movement of people in their work spaces and produce interaction dynamics that allow the performance of the office itself to be measured. 

Companies such as Vega offer wireless sensors for each desk and meeting room table that track occupancy, highlighting when spaces are free and available for other purposes. In London, the Space Syntax Laboratory uses an application called Depthmap to produce office heat maps that guide work-space design. The data can help companies position departments in relation to each other and identify layouts that maximize interaction and promote "water cooler moments."

4. Keep your connections open

When video connectivity was unpredictable and bandwidth costs were high, it made sense to open communication lines between offices only during meetings. But with video calling now inexpensive and commonplace, there's an opportunity to open video connections far more frequently.

Take Dr. Martens, for example. Last year the shoe retailer implemented StarLeaf video conferencing and calling throughout its business operations, streamlining communications from the boardroom through to its retail outlets. Equipping all of its 21 U.K. stores with a StarLeaf Breeze client running on a PC allows store managers to attend weekly team meetings, which keeps them up to date on retail shifts and gives them flexibility to react faster to emerging trends.

One of our clients—a hospice for cancer patients—is evaluating telemedicine tools that allow patients and their caregivers to interact virtually with staff. If successful, this initiative could enable a large reduction in physical ward space requirements. Instead of moving to the hospice, patients could stay at home or visit nearby “pop up” centers to receive care.

Some of the latest collaboration tools incorporate video conferencing as part of their packages, such as the recently launched Facebook Workplace and Microsoft Teams, which integrates Skype. Using the video capabilities of these tools, why not encourage employees to keep video connections running on their desktops while they sit quietly working? Occasional social interactions via video with others working remotely can help boost the feeling of togetherness and keep remote employees connected. 

5. Understand the pitfalls of the 24/7 workplace

The work anywhere, anytime culture has pitfalls as well as benefits. Not all companies understand how the demands of our always-on culture can negatively affect employees. However, U.S. insurance giant Aetna has tried to address this issue by paying its employees to sleep. Workers wear Fitbit trackers, and those who can prove they get seven hours of sleep for 20 or more nights in a row receive $25 a night.

The French government is currently seeking to pass a law that includes the "right to disconnect." The law would require employers to protect the rest periods and private lives of employees by regulating their use of digital tools. This requirement has already been implemented in several sectors of the French economy, notably IT.

Digital workplaces: Lessons for leaders

  • Virtual work is here to stay. It must be an integral part of the whole workplace design.
  • Companies can personalize both physical and virtual workplaces to promote mobility, flexibility, and collaboration. 
  • To protect the welfare of their employees, companies should regulate always-on work cultures.

Related link:

3 Key Milestones to Building a Smarter, Digital Workplace

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.