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Podcast Length Icon 37:07 16 Jan 2021

What is the future of the workplace?

In this episode, our guest is Workplace and Activity-Based Working expert Fred Kloet, the Director of Smart Workplace International. Listen in to learn about Digital Twins, what organisations have done to get through the pandemic and what the future of the office looks like.

What follows are snippets from our conversation with Fred - edited for length and clarity - make sure that you listen to the entire conversation for the great insight. To know more about the work of Fred please visit Smart WorkPlace International.

Agnes Uhereczky: What would you say were some of the biggest trends that impacted workplaces and how and where people get their work done before the COVID-19 pandemic?

Fred Kloet: Yes, indeed it is a strange period. Before the pandemic, we were writing our annual market research report, called Guide 2020. So, we wrote some of the things down that we thought were going to happen this year. It's like you already instigated a little bit in your introduction that some of these things accelerated this year (2020). One of these things was and still is, the creation of digital twins. What is a digital twin? A digital twin is the virtual representation of a physical thing such as a building or a car. And, you can virtualize these things into a digital twin. For this, you need transdisciplinary information management. More and more HR, IT, Facility Management (FM), real estate etc. were already connecting their information and data to help people work and make workplaces and work processes more digital. So, this was already happening. With the working from home initiatives that are now taking place everywhere, this is coming into an acceleration of course.

The second one is the quality of work-life. We saw that there was much more attention to the human-centred work environments, to social things, and influencing and engagement. Because people are now more on their own and have to deliver their surroundings, and have to create their workplaces at home or anywhere else, they can focus much more on the quality of their workplace which is connected to the work-life much more than before. So, this is also another trend that was already taking place and has sped up by the pandemic.

There is a third one, which is still developing. We are now 8 months into the pandemic and what you see is that people are changing their behaviour, people are changing the way they look at their organisations, at their role, and what work they are doing. This social and environmental impact of the organisation, work etc. is changing a lot at the moment. We saw before the pandemic that a word like purpose already was more on the agenda but its now, after 6-8 months in this pandemic, becoming more and more influential as people are becoming more and more the purpose of what they are doing. I think these three elements are very much alive and will be kicking at the end of this pandemic because I think, once we have a vaccine - based on our research, we think that the vaccine will be there in January, based on that vaccine, that period which is 10 months - end-users, people that do the core business will have changed their behaviour. Everybody is speaking about the return to the office, I think, it is not about the return to the office, it will be about a different mindset, and we have to wait how the end-users will behave when the vaccine is there.

Agnes Uhereczky: In your experience what were organisations doing before the pandemic? Could you give us some examples for our listeners that were focused around this issue on trying to create more human-centred workplaces?

Fred Kloet: Before the pandemic - and whether the pandemic was there, or is there or not, doesn't matter - we were all in the first phases of digitalisation meaning that everybody was trying to get grips on how to use all these tools that help us to analyze performance, benchmarks, behaviour, how to influence processes and people with the focus on the quality of work-life but more the organisational side of the work-life. And now we are much more forced to look into the life sides of work-life. And also with the same perspective of data. So you see a lot of surveys that have taken place, a lot of research that has been done, which showed that the majority of people now are willing to work an extra day from home per week. So, people that were already working one day from home are now willing to work two days from home. People who never worked from home are now willing to work one day from home. So we see a change in the influence of individuals making their quality of work-life. This is so good because this is what we need and want. That people have their own choices and have the availability and opportunity to make their own choices instead of the organisation choosing for them. And I know that this is always a combination of the two, of course, you need to find this community where you can exchange and come together in this 80-20 mix but it's like the clock. It's like everything now is on the individual side and when it goes back and the vaccine is there, these two sides come together and we will have a very mature discussion about this combination of quality of work-life within the organisation, and the quality of work-life in combination with the organisation.

Agnes Uhereczky: How do you see this evolution of the physical space of offices?

Fred Kloet: What we see in our research that we do is that working from home is sticking in people's minds. What we discovered is that in a way the workplace has become a virtual concept in the minds of end-users. Before end-users, people that work in offices, were very much focused on a physical place, the physical space and environment. Now, with all these new tools with which they work, or, rather they were forced to work with, they have in some way without being active, or knowing it, or fully embracing it, they are working in a different state. Their mind of the virtual workplaces is already there. This means that they have changed their habits. They changed their behaviour. There is no turning back because once you worked for 8 months in changing your behaviour, different ways of working, so, not new ways of working, but different ways of working, there comes a new way of making choices where to work.

There will be three variations. There will be either working from home to do your tasks. Or, there will be coworking places where you go and meet your colleagues or colleagues from other organisations. Or, you will go to a headquarter where specific tasks will take place that needs engagement and people to meet each other more formally. And, making choices between these three worlds, so, your private work-life, your coworking place, or your headquarter place, that's where we need to facilitate the people on how to make choices on these options. So, before we had the concept called activity-based working. If we look at this activity-based working it's very easy to split up this whole concept and direct people to one of those three options when, for example, you use an application to do that and allow them to make choices, and based on the choices you can direct them and the people they meet given the subject they are handling. So, I hope that explains a little bit about how we can help people with their new behaviour.