The future of the workplace

Huge thank you to Natalie Walker, TP Bennett; Alison Grant, MCM; Perry Knight, Turner & Townsend; Guru Thiru, Omobono; Tom Buckley, Core Five LLP; Sarah Bryan, HLW and Rebecca Parish, Man Bites Dog for attending and taking part in another insightful afternoon

Topics for discussion were:

1, What long-term effects, if any, will flexible working and co-working have on the workplace community?

2. Uber have drastically disrupted the temporary labour market and Air BnB have drastically disrupted the short-term letting market, what disruptive technology could change the workplace in a similar way?

3, What methodology do people use to analyse workplace types and do people go beyond the introversion and extroversion dimensions?

A number of interesting points came up during the roundtable; a summary of the most prominent topics are below.


What long-term effects, if any, will flexible working and co-working have on the workplace community?


Proximity to managers is valued by ambitious workers of the millennial generation and some forms of agile working are perceived as a disadvantage as they hinder promotion opportunities. Younger generations want face–to-face time with their managers and team so they can learn consistently and form meaningful relationships.


The assumption that the co-working style suits everyone is presumptuous; it is inevitable that it will be the wrong working scenario for certain personality types and could potentially lead to staff resentment.

An interesting consequence of co-working is the use by larger organisations who rent these spaces as an overspill to their own real estate portfolio. On the plus side, this helps organisations grow quickly, however, it can impact the management of an existing space due to the lack of a robust workplace strategy. Our millennials debated whether this trend would breed a core of people that may never make it to the mothership?


The ‘workplace’ is considered by millennials as, not only a place to realise their career ambitions, but also a fertile ground for friendships.

The potential for a lack of connectivity between people, or never meeting your boss is considered a huge disadvantage of shared spaces. Individuals may not develop as quickly as sitting with a team, as this environment typically pushes people in their roles and challenges them.

Consistently working alone can hinder development as it is harder to share information, particularly across departments.


The term co-working has connotations of a socialist’s dream – equal sense of ownership and parity of environment, however, our millennials highlight the need for strong leadership to create a dynamic and exciting culture.

Brand consistency and understanding different workstyles is even more essential when workers are operating from different locations. Sucessful collaboration is hugely aided by strong leadership, this creates a consistent culture which permeates through the workforce.

“The most successful co-working spaces are often run as communities. They usually have an ‘ex-military sergeant major ‘ type in charge that takes the time to understand what different projects people are working on, uniting the firm in interesting ways.”


Uber have drastically disrupted the temporary labour market and Air BnB have drastically disrupted the short-term letting market, what disruptive technology could change the workplace in a similar way?


“Mobile phones already are [a disruptuive technology] and have been for years, just by their existence and the fact that you could have a conversation with someone and then just pick up your phone and reply to an email. Or you could be in a meeting and someone doesn’t have their phone on silent and it just disrupts everything. Before we had that technology it was quite nice, and now phones are everywhere. If you look at people walking to work, every single person is on their phone, if you look at people in a meeting, the chances are that half are on their phone emailing. How many are actually paying attention and not making mistakes. If we didn’t have mobile phones, I reckon we would be a lot more productive.”


Then after the mobile phone came the Blackberry with emailing! Emails are the most disruptive thing of all, everyone hates emails but we all do it.

These persistent distractions can have a negative impact on our quality of thought.


Video-conferencing didn’t actually take off quite as vehemently as we all thought when it first became widely available. It became apparent that people like ‘real life’ face-to-face interactions. There is potential for this to change when 3D reality becomes more commonplace and we can just send our avatars to meetings.

A huge plus of the communication revolution is the ability to work on a global scale, despite the difficulties with the technology. Being able to collaborate with Australia on a project is amazing. Augmented Reality could be a great enabler to show off products and schemes.

Presenting virtually requires a different set of skills; connecting and building a relationship is harder, and engagement with the presentation itself also needs a different approach.


An idea for the future could be an app where you could hire a temporary desk. You would log on to co-working spaces and see what is available based on your location, similar to Air BnB. That would be especially handy for people coming into London for meetings. Having a place to leave your stuff rather than carrying it around would be useful. Definitely a lot better than sitting in a café or Starbucks searching for a plug.


What methodology do people use to analyse to workplace personality types and do you think they go beyond the extroversion and introversion dimensions?


Catering for everyone is the impossible dream. We would love to go into as much detail as possible but you know it is always wasted work because inevitably, we need to look at a smaller number of popular user types as that is the nature of the office.

The way to angle it is that you provide one work space with amenities for everyone from quiet pods to collaborative spaces. In essence a uniform space but with enough of the other spaces so people feel comfortable and are catered for. That way you are looking at the 9 personality types (if you take the Enneagram as a guide) and you have spaces for each personality.


A problem with analysing workplace user types is you will always get the seniors; you can’t cater for everyone without spending a lot of money on it. You just do it for the board and end up with four user types which you just group together. Basically, whatever data is produced, the C-suite would just say it fits their view and if it doesn’t they will go with what their view is anyway. People would typically say things that senior management would want to hear in terms of behaviour, so there is an element of control over what the people want and what the company want the people to do.

This is why a lot of clients steer away from doing pre-occupation and post-occupation surveys because they don’t want to know the employee requests. Post-occupation especially as they don’t want to know if they have failed because mistakes will be flagged. Pre-occupation is usually done but there is no value without the post-occupation.


Even after an intense round of data gathering and interviews, the research itself needs to be questioned. You can get insight from interviews and e-surveys but you can’t really understand everything, especially if you are working with 1500 plus people.

You can’t speak to every single person. Also, in a world where people are worried about how they are perceived in the office, they won’t give you an honest answer, they will give you a perceived opinion.