Is it any surprise that the U.S. has more than 10 billion square feet of office space—much of it used to accommodate nearly 149 million workers?
In recent years, however, technology and space have morphed to support the demands of an ever-changing workforce. The new digital workplace accommodates regular full-time office employees, telecommuters who work in the office on occasion and contingent workers—contractors and freelancers who share specialized skills with businesses to keep them moving forward.
Many businesses are not well equipped to handle contingent workers, lacking the technical set up for an unpredictable workforce, the network capabilities to accommodate high volumes, or the layout to encourage these workers to socialize and collaborate with their full time partners.
Many contingent workers end up working in conference rooms or temporarily empty office spaces that keep them far away from others they are collaborating with. Some are asked to work in noisy or disruptive spaces, which can interrupt their working and make them less productive.
How can organizations better shape the workplace to accommodate the new modern-day, co-working employee?
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Step 1: Create an IT Strategy to Support All Workers
In a 2014 Gartner report, analysts Leslie Fiering and Tim Zimmerman recommend IT leaders become students of broad workplace trends including demographic changes, talent management programs, globalization efforts, and changing roles and responsibilities. Understanding these trends will help inform IT leaders about technology strategies needed to keep pace with an ever-changing workforce.
Their recommendations are especially important for the contingent, co-working labor force as these individuals collaborate with more frequency. By 2020 there will be 40 million independent contractors and freelancers in the United States.
To maximize productivity, organizations must create co-working friendly environments with easy access to Wi-Fi connectivity, hotel cubicles with phone lines and network printers, and other amenities.
Step 2: Design Space That Fosters Collaboration
The modern workforce is in constant motion. Thanks to mobile technologies, on any given day you may have employees in the field, employees telecommuting from home, working from coffee shops and hotel lobbies, and using co-working spaces.
“Some of the most talented workers are independent because they can afford to be,” says Don Ball, co-founder of CoCo, a Minneapolis-based collaborative workspace.
“They charge top dollar and get to choose where they want to work. Therefore, it's important to give them what they need, starting with a space that's worth coming to.
That means functionality like high bandwidth, hard and soft meeting spaces and comfortable work situations for different work modes. But right behind functionality is a need to socialize and collaborate. This socializing may look like downtime, but it serves a critical role. Independents have to have a deep network in order to turn up new opportunities and uncover new resources and business ideas.”
Today’s leading workspace designers say office environments must allow employees to:
- Socialize: easily connect with co-workers and form relationships.
- Collaborate: meet formally and informally to get work done in groups.
- Learn: absorb new corporate cultures, work procedures and grow as individuals and leaders.
- Focus on work: concentrate and do career-best work—wherever that may be.
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Step 3: Let Your Workspace Stand Out Among the Rest
Your workspace can set the tone for productivity and excellence. For example, when Google experienced its rapid growth, it focused on creating a culture of innovation in order to attract and keep top-notch talent.
With this in mind, if you’re redesigning your existing workspace, consider adopting more open areas for collaboration and create a few “work pods” that allow workgroups to connect for informal meetings. Let your workspace serve as an extension of your organization’s brand and culture.
The modern, mobile workforce is critical to organizational success. In addition, the workspace accommodations you make as an employer can lift you above the competition—fostering an increase in loyalty and productivity among full-time employees as well as the contingent workers who support your business objectives.
Ultimately, the office environment you create is a strategic tool for growth. How you maximize workspace and drive efficiencies will likely determine your success in the years to come.