The Changing Workplace Ecosystem

The current COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed the world. It’s still hard to think that a strain of a virus brought everyone to a halt and made us reevaluate our lives. This 1.5 year long journey is far from over and a lot needs to be done to defeat the pandemic.

In this time, many things moved online- shopping (almost completely), schools, colleges and even medicine (to a certain extent). We can also add most organisations to this mix- almost all employees have been working from home due to the lockdowns imposed. 

This is a radical shift for companies as employees have been working out of large offices, since forever. These are usually designed with a myriad of facilities to make people comfortable. Working from home has not been a preferred option for most companies, but has shown to be effective in its own way. 

These changing circumstances have forced a re-evaluation of multiple factors:

  • What is the definition of a workspace?

  • Is work from home the new normal?

  • What is the most optimal way to work, keeping everyone’s needs in mind?

These questions can be answered by taking a look at the concept of workplace ecosystems, which reimagines the concept of ‘office space’ and takes a futuristic approach towards work. Let’s dive in to try and understand this better, shall we?

Workplace as an Ecosystem

Workplace ecosystems look at a workplace through interconnected relationships. The office space, the people, the culture and the technology, link with each other to form the required ecosystem. Each one of these elements has equal importance, and must not be neglected.

The pandemic has shown the need to look at workplaces this way. For many of us, the place of work has shifted, and doesn’t show signs of going back to the way it was. Working from home definitely has its advantages, and has proven that the workplace need not be fixed for employees to be productive. It also means that workplaces need to become more adaptable going forward, so that employees have the best experience. While coworking spaces have proven to be game-changing, it only drives home the fact that some work can be done from anywhere.

The facets of a workplace ecosystem can be explained as follows: 

  • People and interpersonal relationships are important. For many of us, the workplace helps to build networks, interact with different kinds of people and work in a team setting to get work done. We are after all social animals, and want to feel connected. Working from home has made it difficult to get face time with your co-workers, but companies are looking to engage employees better, to make up for the physical distance. With more people in remote settings, efforts need to be made to include everyone in the company’s journey.

  • An organisation’s culture is super important. Combine culture with processes and policies and you get the basic framework. If too rigid and not employee friendly, it makes for an unpleasant experience. In an ecosystem, all processes and policies must align with the company’s values and ethics, and focus on the employee’s safety and well-being. Mental health issues and burnouts have become common with the pandemic, and workplace cultures must support their employees, not fatigue them more. Harvard Business Review’s piece can get you started towards creating the right culture.

  • Another factor that many organisations have started looking at seriously, is sustainability. With drastic changes in climate becoming normal, the time has come to evaluate how our actions are impacting our environment and the consequences of these actions. Sustainability can be incorporated into the culture of an organisation through its mission statements, values and engaging employees on the firm’s sustainability efforts. Read South Pole’s piece for more detail. 

  • Finally, technology. One of the main reasons that we managed to work during this pandemic. Imagine what you’d do without your emails, Zoom calls and Slack messages- it’ll be similar to being on a deserted island! Going forward, technology will help us work smarter, automate repetitive tasks and make better decisions.. While there are questions on how much tech is too much, it’s safe to say that technological advances are going to soon become the norm.

So, we can safely say that a workplace ecosystem should be inclusive to all, flexible to change, foster better connectivity, enable learning and growth, be sustainable and embrace technological advances. This might seem very difficult at the moment, but this can be a major selling point for your company and help you stand out to potential employees and customers. With people spending more and more time at work, it’s absolutely necessary to experience the best of the workplace!

Working from Home: The New Normal?

As discussed earlier, working from home has radically changed the way we work. While it was a necessity during the pandemic, many organisations are now contemplating if this is the way forward. The experience has been a mixed bag, which has been really successful for some and equally stressful for others. 

A report by the commercial real estate firm, Cushman and Wakefield has looked at this changing workplace in detail- the successes, challenges and the future, and the role played by the pandemic. The report collates the data from a set of surveys, focus groups and interviews. We have listed out a couple of their key findings below. 

The three main findings from the collected data are that employees can be productive anywhere. Flexibility and choice to work from anywhere is accelerating, and the new normal will be a total workplace ecosystem. It’s what we already told you!

73 percent of the workforce believe their company should embrace some level of working from home. This is definitely the future.

90 percent of employees said they felt they were trusted to work remotely. Prior to the pandemic, remote workers were more engaged and had a better experience than office going workers.

75 percent of those who responded said they are collaborating effectively with colleagues in the current environment. Technology has been a major factor in improving collaboration, along with increased focus.

Only a little more than half of the survey respondents feel connected to their colleagues, which leads to a negative link to company culture, personal and professional development. While a high level of trust and confidence in the company was seen, a personal connection to the culture is not present. 

Looking at the different age groups of the responders, 70 percent of Gen Z employees said they had inadequate workspace. This is mostly due to living in a shared space or with parents. 

Almost 70 percent of Millennials and Gen X employees reported struggling with caregiver duties. 

Baby Boomers were reported to be coping and adapting the best to working from home, reporting fewer challenges.The Changing Workplace Ecosystem

This report predicts the future of workplaces- it will no longer be a single location, but an ecosystem with a variety of locations and experiences to support convenience, functionality and wellbeing. It does look like working from home is becoming the new normal, at least for workplaces that can support their employees and keep them engaged!

What is the Way Forward?

Many companies are looking to answer this question, especially with the pandemic showing no signs of ending soon. While this might differ from industry to industry, we can’t ignore the changes that have taken place and go back to pre-pandemic times. Companies have a responsibility to choose the best option for all, not the most convenient one.

A question that came up in the report from the previous section- who should return to work as restrictions ease? Cushman & Wakefield believes companies should understand their employees’ challenges and consider how best to support them, to make this call. 

Here are a few aspects to keep in mind while making this decision:

  • Personal interactions- The pandemic has made this extremely difficult. Somehow, Zoom calls and meetups can’t replace the feeling of talking face-to-face with colleagues, sharing the latest gossip, walking down for a cup of tea and having a good time at those office parties! Companies need to keep their employees active and engaged. One way to do this can be by scheduling virtual events, teams taking mini breaks together and using the time to maybe catch up with one episode on Netflix. 🙂 Do you think that might work? 

  • Getting work done– Many people are working out of shared spaces, which can affect their concentration. There is an automatic work environment fostering focus that is created when we go to offices. This is not always possible while at home as families and chores can demand attention. To ensure that your focus is not lost, start by scheduling your work around unavoidable duties and create a checklist of your tasks that you can check off at the end of the day.

  • Drawing the line between work and personal life- Working from home has made it very difficult to transition between work life and personal life. It’s easy to mush both together and end up feeling drained, overwhelmed and eventually burnt out. Feelings of anxiety, loss of interest in everything and mental health issues have only increased, and many people are heading towards a burnout.

It’s essential here to keep both aspects different and separate. Some of us had rituals that helped us get started at work, so let’s try incorporating something like that now. Once you’re done with work, try taking a short walk, go for a run or listen to something soothing, so that you can disconnect successfully. Companies must ensure that employees log off from work at a reasonable time, not expect employees to be available at all times, and try to replicate login and logout practices, similar to offices.

  • Create opportunities and remove redundancies- We all remember those dreadful regular meetings that we had to partake in to see the progress of work and get feedback. They have become even more painful in this situation as it takes up valuable time.With everyone at home, we can reduce it to one monthly group meeting. Instead of making it only about work, let’s take this opportunity to know more about your peers and their lives outside work – What they do for fun now, what new hobbies they have taken up etc. Creating an informal connection outside the grapevine of the company can help you gain new ideas, create meaningful connections, open up opportunities or simply have fun!

In addition, companies can set up new learning opportunities, help their employees branch out and upskill themselves. The whole world is at your fingertips, and this is the best time for you to learn something new!

While making this very important decision, remember to keep your employees’ well-being, safety and growth in mind! Your workplace ecosystem should help them connect, collaborate, create and thrive. The ecosystem should be creating spaces that support the goals of productivity, personal and professional fulfilment, as well as vision and purpose. There are some interesting ecosystems developing that embrace the ideas of work, live and play- you can check out Aurecon Group’s piece on workplace ecosystems for more context!

We really hope this article has helped guide you in the right direction towards creating an effective work ecosystem. We hope to meet you in the future! 

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