The workspace of the future – How mobile working is changing the corporate culture

In the office by 9 in the morning and on the way home again at 5 in the evening – in many places, this classic work schedule is already a relic of the past. For a while now, many people have been working more flexibly, from home or even on the go, instead of exclusively in the company office. What are the existing office models for the working environment of the future? To what extent is mobile working going to play a role and what does that look like in concrete terms? Let us take a closer look at current trends to try to change the management and give what employees will need for the “workplace of the future.”

Mobile working: Work-life balance and potential for savings

The majority of today’s employees would like a more flexible model for organizing work. As the classic single-earner model is becoming increasingly rare, working people are struggling to reconcile professional life and family life. At the same time, our increasingly connected world – key word digitalization – makes it easier than ever to work from anywhere. Physical presence in the workplace is no longer a strict requirement.  It is also beneficial for companies when all employees no longer work in the office at the same time, it’s a great opportunity for savings.

Companies are responding to new technological possibilities and evolving employee needs by developing different models of work organization. But what will mobile working and the workplace of the future actually look like?

Desk sharing – Sharing a table, forgoing the individual workspace

The desk sharing trend, made popular in Silicon Valley, is slowly catching on. This means a company’s employees no longer have a designated desk. Instead, managers and employees theoretically work in an open-plan office, wherever they happen to find a spot in the morning. Of course this requires office furniture that be can ergonomically adjusted – height-adjustable desks, for example. Personal documents are no longer kept in desk drawers, but instead are filed in wheeled containers that are brought over to the corresponding workspace.

The idea behind desk sharing: The lack of walls in an open-plan office is conducive to more exchange and better communication. Hierarchies become flatter and coworkers naturally sit in team groups. However, despite all the calls for change and the transitions to Facebook-style working environments, desk sharing is not popular among today’s employees.

So far, the concept of working in an open-plan office seems unappealing to a clear majority. They worry about excessive noise or distractions caused by inconsiderate coworkers. However, approaches have already been developed to address the skepticism surrounding the desk sharing concept and to render it more enticing. The “Brody Work Lounge”, for instance, allows employees to sit at swiveling tables bordered by three walls. A red light indicates to coworkers that the table is occupied and that the user does not want to be disturbed. This allows employees to alternate back and forth between flexible, exchange-intensive teamwork and individual work requiring deep concentration.

Home office – More freedom, but perhaps more frustration

For many working people, the home office is preferable to desk sharing. Nearly 60% of those questioned in a study could imagine spending half of their working hours in the comfort of their own home. This model does indeed include many advantages: doctor’s appointments can be made without having to take time off, the child care and grocery shopping are easier to organize, making family life easier to manage. It also allows periods of time with a lighter workload to be used more constructively.

However, large companies like IBM, Microsoft, and Coca-Cola have had mixed experiences with working from home. On one hand, this modern style of work organization promotes autonomy and a better work-life balance. On the other hand, certain pitfalls lurk in the blurred lines between working life and professional life. Procrastination, or putting off assignments, distraction by social media and household chores are only a few of the arguments against the use of a home office.

Researchers have reservations for yet another reason: Working from a home office often negatively impacts careers. Employees who primarily work from home often receive poorer performance evaluations and are less frequently promoted. Even their raises are on average smaller than those of their coworkers at the company. The reason: Employees who work predominantly from home simply are not on their managers’ radar when it comes time for a promotion or to fill a position.

It may also be attributed to the assumption, still prevalent in many places, that a day at the home office is in reality a day off. Yet that is by no means the case. On average, home workers are actually spending more time on company work than their coworkers – whether they are also more productive with this time is disputable.

Auxiliary models have been developed to compensate for the drawbacks that accompany home offices. One of these solutions is coworking spaces. While users do not have a set workspace, they do have the opportunity to meet up with other people and to motivate each other. The Hoffice concept represents a similar approach. The idea is that working people open up their homes to others, who then to a certain extent spend the work day at their neighbor’s place. Home sweet home is transformed into a coworking space.

What companies need to support mobile working

In order to ensure that mobile working can be successfully incorporated into a company, the following requirements must be fulfilled:

  • (Technical) Infrastructure: Employees must have access to hardware and software, as well as rapid support when problems arise
  • Both management and employees must have (or acquire) a good command of technology and tools, such as sharing platforms
  • Internal disposition – Teams and their superiors must be open to home offices, desk sharing, etc.
  • Clearly defined work flows, working hours, objectives, and results

A new mindset required – for employees and management. The emerging trend is to allow spaces in company headquarters to increasingly serve as sites for social interaction. They provide the setting for team meetings or client meetings. According to surveys, managers expect that in the future, employees will not only decide where they work, but also when they work. Increasingly, salaries will not be tied to fixed working hours and instead will be based on concrete performance and success.

This new, flexible model of work organization will only be able to exploit its most significant advantages when participants bring these approaches to life. In other words, modern co-working, whether conducted in a “workplace of the future” or by video chat, requires everyone to be interconnected and on the same page.

This also affects the role of management. Instead of taking a rather authoritarian approach to employee relations, interaction between employees and superiors are more of an exchange. Frequent, targeted, and constructive feedback plays a major role. Leadership qualities in the modern working environment are less exemplified by control, and more by trust and fostering autonomy.

If the immensely popular and sometimes downright necessary mobile working model is to be successful, coworkers too need to develop a new, more cooperation-oriented mindset toward their interactions with one another. According to a simple axiom: work isn’t somewhere you go, it´s something you do.

Learn more: Professional vs private life: an unbalanced balance