Three Office Trends Impacting Workplace Culture

There are three trends that are currently in play in the US an around the world which will alter the culture of the workplace.  Each on their own has an impact – but together they are going to change the face of how we work and interact with each other in the workplace.  They are (in no particular order) mobile computing, open office space, and teleworking.

Mobile computing seems benign enough on the surface.  Every business is starting to grapple with this relatively new form of computing, finding ways to reach their employees wherever they are.  After all, isn’t this just moving business applications to your smart phone or tablet?  How could this impact workplace culture?

This trend is pushing connectivity between the individual and their place of work to new levels.  What companies are subtly (and others less so) saying is that they want – no – expect the employee to be accessible and able to work 24 x 7.  The Corporate Overlords have found a way to intrude even further into the off-time of employees, tapping them around the clock through their once private mobile devices.  Putting the technology in comes with the semi-evil unspoken assumption that you are going to use those applications and tools regardless of where you are, or what time of the day it is.

Open office space is a trend that has been struggling for over a decade to find itself and has, with the recent economic downturn of the last few years, found a new lease on life.  This trend pushes for non-permanent office space, a reduction (or elimination) of offices, the use of “scheduled squatting” for office space. Employees no longer have a place to call their own, instead they get a drawer or filing cabinet.  The Overlords are happy, claiming this new office plan drives teaming.  Really?  Where people sat was the real issue with teaming in your organization?

The truth is this trend severs the connection between an employee and the physical place where they do work.  No longer are photographs or the bric-a-brac of an employee’s life found in offices because the employee has no permanent space.  Privacy is a fond memory as everyone shares wall-less cubicles.  Rather than bring people together, such space often has people at each other’s throats because of the lack of personal space.

Teleworking is another quasi-evil trend cloaked in the veil of being an employee benefit.  It used to be viewed as a perk, a rare privilege, to be allowed to work remotely.  The tightening of the economic purse strings is turning this to forced exile for some staff.  Organizations now, in an effort to cut real-estate square footage, are asking/forcing employees to work from home in record numbers.  What the Corporate Overlords have long forgotten though is that not every employee is suited to work remotely, or wants to. This trend further separates employees from their ties to an office.  The office is a place they are occasionally forced to visit, or seen as a place from which office supplies can be freely looted. What the Overlords overlook is that employees don’t just come to work for the paycheck – they come for the camaraderie – the friendships and support that are vital to their professional networks and mental health. Teleworkers end up working longer hours, take shorter lunches, and have less distractions than people in an office (even an open floor space.)

Are these trends deliberately sinister?  No.  Together this triple-threat will have long term impacts to organizations though, some of which they will struggle with in the years to come.  Loyalty to an organization will dwindle.  Employee turnover rates will slowly creep up.  The social aspects of work will be replaced with a series of electronic tethers that slowly constrict the employees.  Teaming will take on new forms.  Employee engagement will decrease because it is implied that you are expected to work around the clock and you have no seat if you do want to come in and discuss it.  Managers whose weaknesses have been covered up will be exposed as it is demonstrated that they cannot manage virtually any better than they did when they could see their staff.  Organizations will increasingly find it difficult to rally the troops around causes because the employees will not have any physical or work/social ties to the organization.

The culture of your office is changing – whether you know it or not.

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