Jobs and the Future of Work

In 5 years our offices could look very different. This is why

An employee works on his computer at the office of CloudFactory, a Canadian startup that based itself in Kathmandu, where it hires teams of Nepalese October 5, 2012. Not far from the world of regimented cubicles and headset-toting call centre operators, a quiet revolution is stirring in its slippers. While it's early days, proponents of so-called commercial crowdsourcing contend that a swelling army of global freelancers is already disrupting traditional outsourcing - from preparing tax statements to conducting research on pediatricians. Picture taken October 5, 2012. To match story ASIA-FREELANCE/ REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar (NEPAL) - RTR39016 Download permissions

An employee works on his computer at an office. Image: REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

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Future of Work

Picture yourself at the office in 2021, five short years from now. An app on your smartphone reserves your favorite cubbyhole—you don’t have a fixed desk.

You settle in, using a different app to set the lighting and temperature to your liking, and play your favorite background music. A colleague comes by with a question, so you wirelessly connect your laptop to a nearby whiteboard to share a presentation.

Far-fetched? Not for some corporations. Offices are evolving faster than at any time in history, and becoming more accommodating of individual choice.

Five years from now, the office could be nearly unrecognizable—particularly to today’s facility managers, according to Maureen Ehrenberg, International Director of JLL’s Global Integrated Facilities Management business.

“In this era of smart building systems, people are becoming consumers of facilities and the workplace,” says Ehrenberg. “The future facility manager will need to think like a concierge and a provider of high-performance, customizable spaces for consumers, whether they are employees, shoppers, hotel guests or healthcare patients.”

So how close is your picture of the office of the future to reality?

#1. Fact or science fiction? The sharing economy and on-demand workforce will be a part of everyday life.

Fact. Mobile working and real-time access to data and information on mobile devices is creating a new, more flexible way of working. The project-focused “gig economy” means many companies increasingly rely upon contingent workforces—in five years, you may have different coworkers every day or on different projects. Your company may tap into on-demand, pay-as-you-go offices, touchdown space, meeting rooms and drop-in business centers for use by specific project teams, or creative configurations of corporate office space to accommodate fluctuating requirements. All would be delivered only when you need it, you’d pay as you go along, and you’d share with other coworkers or even other companies.

Challenging assumptions comes with the territory when workplace strategies involve many different options. “The facility manager role increasingly includes managing workspaces within a company’s walls and beyond,” says Ehrenberg. “Already, the focus in corporate offices is moving from square footage per person to generating more revenue per person by enhancing the employee experience, providing workspace options and using space more efficiently wherever employees are working.”

#2: Fact or science fiction? Every corporate facility will have a hotel-like concierge.

Fact—sort of. You might not see a human concierge in every building or corporate office—but you might find a mobile app that provides a similar function. The growing adoption of smart building technology is presenting many more opportunities for facility managers to provide workplace services that improve the employee experience in the facility and, ideally, boost productivity.

Providing modern, flexible workplaces has become a competitive imperative for building owners. Facility managers of the future will need to borrow a page from the hospitality industry and think like concierges, responding to the needs of employees. Smart building technology supports the use of mobile apps and wired workspaces in which an employee can, for instance, reserve a desk or cubbyhole for the day, and customize lighting, temperature and even background music.

Already, many companies—including traditional professional and financial services companies—are offering a range of workspace options, from collaboration lounges to desks or work nooks or small meeting booths, to provide for different kinds of work, observes Ehrenberg. Adding work-enabling facility services is the next step.

#3: Fact or science fiction? Five years from now, we’ll be able to predict the future

Fact. Predictive analytics in building management are becoming the norm and, in five years, are likely to be commonplace. Smart building technology generates data not only relating to building operations, but also about how the space is being used. In an office setting, for instance, an analysis of wireless sensor data can show when a conference room is occupied and whether the meeting ended early or was cancelled, enabling the building to make the most efficient use of lighting and heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Facility managers and workplace strategists now can make occupancy plans based on real-time space usage, rather than on surveys or educated guesswork. Data-driven insights can spark new approaches to workplace layout, or give a facility manager the information needed to help a tenant accommodate an influx of new employees without increasing its square footage. Predictive modeling can show ways to accommodate additional workers without necessarily increasing square footage.

As facility management becomes increasingly data and analytics-focused, facility management teams today include not only building engineers, but also IT specialists, software programmers and data analysts. Such concepts as cloud service management, intelligent infrastructure, integrated systems, data analytics and 3D-simulated life cycle management are becoming an integral part of the work behind the scenes, creating more comfortable, productive and customizable experiences for employees.

Next-generation smart building systems will allow for far more connectivity, enabling new ways of working, playing and living. These advances are already emerging in properties from industrial warehouses and store to corporate workplaces and hospital rooms.

In fact, in the not-too-distant future, Ehrenberg suggests, facility managers may not even be called facility managers, but become something more client-friendly like Director of Workplace Experience or Director of Business Productivity and Enablement.

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