Why workplaces are becoming more human

The workplace is predicted to become more human over the next ten years as an emphasis on creating memorable experiences transforms how and where people work. With 7,000 workers worldwide telling us so in our new, global study: Workplace, powered by Human Experience, this is one prediction we can safely make against a backdrop of widespread uncertainty.

Our international research shows that both employers and employees see human experience as the main factor in determining the shape of their work environment for the foreseeable future.

Google, with its Chief Happiness Officer and creative offices, and Virgin, with its staff consultations on office design, are pioneers in putting people at the center of workplace design—and many others will take similar steps.

After decades of being a secondary issue, why is human experience becoming a seemingly sudden focus?

Managers are increasingly aware that they get the best results from workers who are inspired by their work environment and their organization. At the same time, the new generation of employees is also demanding and searching for organizations whose ethos they believe in and work environments where they feel at home.

The need to elevate the role of your employees

Our research highlights the three main zones that you need to address to provide the best experience for your workers: Engagement, Empowerment and Fulfillment. Engagement is usually the area that most organizations focus on, as it demonstrates the reasons why employees should be committed to their employers. However, it’s important to know that winning at Engagement often involves offering more Empowerment and Fulfillment to your staff.

The rise of automation and robotics is one of the major drivers of change. As Calum Chance says in his book “The Economic Singularity”: “Paradoxically, the more efficient an automated system becomes, the more critical the contribution of human operators.”

There’s no doubt that artificial intelligence (AI) and other forms of robotics will replace some jobs. But, for AI to work well, the role of humans has to be elevated in businesses. And to do that, we must give our workers the space to innovate and communicate through workplace experience.

The ecosystem of the workplace

The workplace is not very different to the natural world. In a sense, it is its own ecosystem. In the natural world, the broader the range of resources and variables that feed into a particular habitat, the wider the spectrum of outcomes at the other end. Likewise,  in a well-organized workplace, it can lead to a bigger spread of ideas, products and strategies for the organizations involved.

To engage and empower your people, you should first focus on how you are managing their real estate. For example, our survey shows that employees are turning away from the traditional workplace. Instead, they are moving toward activity-based working which involves sharing and being part of the community at work. From our report, we’re seeing that significant proportions of them want to escape their desks (37 percent), find places to recharge their energy (40 percent) and drop into spaces designed to aid concentration (47 percent). Your people are your biggest assets—and if that is what they want, then this should be an approach to consider at your workplace.

But, just as every employee is different, so is every workplace. For this reason, we have designed a diagnostic tool, to help you journey around human experience and identify areas that could be improved to make your workplace more human and effective in driving engagement, empowerment and fulfillment.

Reflecting your values through workplace design

How do you drive engagement, empowerment and fulfillment? Engagement is typically fostered through strong leadership—for example, it can be done by providing an environment which is fair, has financial security and addresses employee needs.

Meanwhile, empowerment and fulfillment are fostered through the workplace. You can empower your workers by involving them in the design of their workplace and giving them access to a range of environments that allows them to decide how best they prefer to do their tasks. Fulfillment, on the other hand, is achieved when your people know that their needs are acknowledged in workplace design.

In our study, nearly nine out of 10 (87 percent) respondents were enthusiastic about the heavier emphasis being placed on human experience. These individuals sought the appointment of a Chief Happiness Officer, the custodian of engagement, empowerment and fulfillment, as a desirable move. Human experience is no longer a good-to-have. It is how you set yourself apart from your competitors.

Say goodbye to traditional workplaces

Most people who have been in the workplace for a couple of decades or more would have had the traditional environment experience, which often comprises rigid structures that employees had to slot themselves into. While that approach is being overhauled, a long way to go is still needed.

Get ahead. Place experience at the center of the workplace design to help your employees achieve a true work-life balance. How can you begin on this journey? Here are two suggestions to start you off. One, pilot new physical environments in selected sites and measure the results to see how it impacts the bottom line. Two, consider merging the human resource and real estate teams to ensure that your people are at the top and center of the strategic agenda.

The most resilient employers will—like the most resilient species in a natural ecosystem—be the most adaptable.Workplaces becoming more human means being more complex, and complexity is part of the survival blueprint for the future of work.