Column Fred Kloet: The Virtual WorkPlace

Column Fred Kloet: The Virtual WorkPlace

It is still not quite clear what the future will hold. The current twilight-zone however is sticking in our minds. Our behaviour will change. 

COVID-19 has increased both the number of employees willing to work from home as well as the amount of days per week employees would like to work from home. As a result, the physical workplace managed by the employer has lost part of its functionality. The business case for an Activity Based Working system has completely changed. An extra push was given by the 1.5-meter social distance measurements employers thought might help bringing employees back to their real estate as soon as possible. Currently more and more workplace management experts conclude a hybrid system in between the New Normal and the Old World of Work, could be the temporary solution till the vaccine arrives (January 2021).

Knowledge workers and organisations based on smart technologies are amongst the ones having become aware the most about the relevancy of a workplace environment matching individual needs and competencies. The simple fact an individual can work in a room coloured the way he/she likes, playing a lounge-type music in the background and being able to use a private bathroom, makes employees wanting to work from home more. Especially if hours of commute can be avoided. Over the past months various webinars and research reports have shown employees would like to work from home one extra day per week.

We have virtualised the workplace. This is very different from a digital, mobile, or flexible workplace. Not because the physical place has changed, or we now have a choice to work from different places. These were all solutions designed by experts for using physical space. Their concepts formed the bases for workplaces end-users would be offered. This time however the change took place in the mind of the end-user. Forced by lockdown or quarantine or concerns about job-loss or illness. In a way the workplace has become a virtual concept in the mind of end-users. Technology connects Smart Workplaces, Smart Buildings, Smart Homes and Smart Cities to facilitate staying in ‘touch’ with employees wherever they are. It is up to the individual to choose the use of various tools at the location that suits them best. Their needs and competencies act as a sort of constraint. Their brains act as the server making connections between the social and the technological infrastructure.

Some time ago Raphael Gielgen of Vitra organised a Work Hackathon and gave all participants a T-shirt with the text ‘Digital World. Analog Future?’ I think this is what is happening right now. We have taken work processes out of the physical office completely. Not just a bit via Office365 to help employees in case they are not able to come to the physical place. No, this time we have reached the tipping point of digitization and there is no turning back. Digitization of work has rooted in the minds of people. The workplace has gone virtual.

So, what do we do now with all those caves, clubs, dens, meeting places, ABW-concepts, offices, and hot-desks? We digitize them! The future workplace will be in a digital twin first. Printed and installed if necessary. In colours, shapes and materials matching individual preferences, needs and competencies. Matching required functionality and desired use. Designed by whom?

Column Fred Kloet: The Virtual WorkPlace

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