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16 November 2017

Why technology is not just a ‘driver’ of change in the workplace, but also an ‘enabler’

The work environment is subject to various changes. As I described in the first blog in this series, the group of millennials is becoming steadily larger in the workplace. According to various surveys, when considering their work environment their expectations and needs differ from those of other generations. In my second blog, you also read that the geographical region where someone lives and works colours these expectations. This challenges the facility manager to keep offering the best possible work environment. In this third and final blog of my series on the changing work environment, I’m going to consider the importance of a workplace strategy and how to achieve it.

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The workplace as a weapon in the ‘War for Talent’

Creating the best possible work environment starts with the value that is attached to the workplace. Where until recently the workplace used to be regarded as a tactical resource – as a collection of spaces, furniture and technological tools that were all necessary for employees to be able to perform their work – now organisations are becoming increasingly aware that the workplace can be deployed more strategically than had ever been imagined. Consider just the labour market scarcities for instance: an attractive workplace can help in winning the ‘War for Talent’. The workplace is thus being regarded increasingly as an important operational tool that enables organisations to achieve their objectives.

The best talents in the best work environment

The strategic relevance of the workplace is described strikingly in the book Work on the Move 2 by the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) Foundation. According to its authors, the right workplace strategy has the potential to contribute directly to an organisation’s future right to exist. I gather from the authors’ train of thought that organisations that do not draw up a workplace strategy will lag strategically behind those organisations that do. It’s possibly the case too, that the organisations with the best work environments are also those that attract and retain the best talents. Creating the best possible work environment thus appears to be not just a significant precondition for satisfied employees, but could also be a determinant in the organisation’s lifespan.

The larger real estate consultancies like JLL, CBRE and Colliers also appear to agree. They augment their service provision with strategic workplace advice. This shows that in the real estate world as well, the workplace occupies a significant position. It can thus be determined from the 'Future of Work’ survey by JLL that the workplace can serve as a significant driver and facilitator for being successful as an organisation. The workplace acquires a more important role in achieving future success, as part of an integral strategy that stretches further than FM.

A lesson in the theory of evolution

This integral view of the workplace is important in order to become and to remain successful. Those who can adapt best will survive. Darwin said that back in the nineteenth century, but the theory still applies. According to the Digital Disruption in the Workplace presentation from the Cushman & Wakefield (C&W) consultancy, it’s hugely important that organisations are flexible enough to be able to adapt to change. C&W believes that the way they deal with these changes determines their ability to create a progressive work environment, to retain a competitive advantage, and to be successful in the future.

With this integral view, there is a consideration of the structure within the organisation, the business culture and the employees. The final pillar missing here is the technology, which I wrote about in an earlier blog about changes in the workplace. Technology has a role not only as a ‘driver’ for change, but can also be the ‘enabler’ in bringing together the pillars above. Through the further automation of processes, the deployment of new techniques like the ‘Internet of Things’ and the application of business intelligence in seeking connections in large volumes of data, it becomes entirely possible to interconnect the facility, HR, IT and real estate domains. This with the objective of supporting the organisation’s strategy and objectives to the fullest. That’s because drawing up a workplace strategy is actually a shared responsibility. It needs to be teamwork between real estate, facility, HR and IT managers. This is an absolute necessity if an organisation is to be flexible enough to facilitate a work environment that meets the needs of its employees, irrespective of their age and irrespective of where they come from.

Geert-Jan Blom
Business Consultant Planon Netherlands

This blog is the last in a trilogy: Part 1 considered the optimal Workplace Experience for millennials, while Part 2 described the need for FM to consider the differences between geographic regions in terms of the expectations and needs with regard to the working environment.