Work is changing and our work-spaces must follow
As the modern economy grows more technologically interconnected, a new phenomenon has emerged: a growing number of people who feel isolated and disconnected.
Technology connects us, but it also divides us. The ‘always on’ generation is particularly sensitive to the moments of exclusion, not least as ‘always on’ ignores the benefits of the unspoken inference of body language in face-to-face interaction.
This is not just a challenge in our personal lives, it’s also a particular challenge in the workplace. Over recent years, organisations have embraced hot-desking, remote working, mobility as a means of improving productivity – as well as saving on expensive real estate costs. But has this gone too far? Have we lost the connection with our co-workers? Can we properly collaborate if we’re all in different spaces – and has multi-tasking won over focus in online meetings?
Future workspaces present an opportunity to look at how we want to interact with our colleagues in the future and reverse the divergence between connectivity and connectedness. The question is, what sort of workspace will best support the future of work?
Quality of connection matters
Through modern technology and digital ways of working, we are now more connected than ever before. However, there is a growing awareness that the quality of human connection in society and in the workplace is declining, and loneliness and isolation are on the rise. In its Global Risks Report 2019, the World Economic Forum cited technology as a major cause of loneliness, social isolation and diminishing empathy with wide-ranging implications for society.
This is probably particularly relevant in the context of work. We are in an unprecedented era of technology-driven change. In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, business needs are changing rapidly as organisations look at how they can thrive in the digital economy. They require greater agility and flexibility from people, systems and processes to deal with the everyday unknowns. Diverse teams need to form rapidly, perform effectively, and dissolve periodically. Physical and virtual working needs to combine seamlessly. E-mail, instant messaging and global video connectivity have enhanced productivity, but they have also created an ‘always-on’ culture and diminished in-person interaction – and ironically diminished time to think, due to information overload!
Work is no longer a location
This has also led to a change in the way that businesses use physical space. The rise of e-commerce, social media, online working and automation have created economic opportunity, but also diminished the opportunities for physical commerce and social interaction upon which our communities have historically been built. We’ve all seen the impact this has had on the high street, where empty premises too often define what used to be the centre of the town.
So, work is increasingly an activity, not a location. And if that’s the case, we need to consider if ‘the office’ needs to exist at all – or certainly the office as it exists today. What do organisations need to consider to create a workspace that supports productivity – and attracts the best talent? For the workspace is increasingly a key factor in job choice. Given how much time we all spend at work, no one wants to have to spend that time in an uncomfortable location, which is difficult to get to and hampers their ability to live the rest of their life.
Don’t compromise productivity for gimmicks
Over the past few decades, we’ve already seen transformation of office space – from the city centre to the out of town business park to save on real estate; from owned-offices to open plan, and hotelling; from the dull but functional location to pool and table tennis, collaboration spaces, free food, slides and sleep pods. But open-plan is noisy, and people like to be able to ‘own’ their space. Slides are a gimmick, not a benefit. And the out of town business park is not necessarily where diverse talent wants to be.
So, the first thing organisations need to think about is who they want to work for them – and what do they need? Diverse talent is a goal for just about every organisation today, to enable diversity of thought, create innovation, and drive business success. And diverse talent has different needs. Flexibility is key to the workplace of the future.
Flexibility also means flexible hours, mobility and trust. Why start meetings at 9am, which necessitates a 2-hour journey through rush hour, when you could start half an hour later, or hold the meeting virtually instead? Why insist on having the whole team in the office when the work can be just as easily done at home? But you also need to create the opportunities to bring the team together face to face. As said previously, people are social animals. An in-person meet up is still the best way to get to know someone, and it can do wonders for productivity.
In the future of work do we still need an office environment with four walls, or can you harness people power from wherever they are? It would seem we need a bit of both. We need a workspace of the future that can enable collaboration, support those who want to be there, enable easy connectivity for those who don’t, offer quiet spaces alongside interaction hubs, and also offer services to make it easy for employees to work there. And that’s not a traditional office.
Connectivity vs. connectedness
The challenge is, if you dissolve the office, what does this mean for society as a whole? ‘The office’ is at the centre of societal construction today – roads lead there, people travel there, service industries from food to parking to dry cleaning grow around it. And what will happen to business parks, city centres, transport infrastructures, support services, in the city of the future? Again, people are social animals and, until technology arrives at the point where face to face interaction is indistinguishable from interaction via technology, business will potentially be less rich.
Recognising this divergence between connectivity and connectedness creates the potential to change this very dynamic, by developing inclusive, human-shaped workspaces and experiences that re-connect people. Holistic thinking about activating community spaces, new models of ownership and use, applications of technology, and unifying people with a greater common purpose could yield new concepts of the future workspace.
The future workspace will be dynamic, agile and interesting. But it will also be built to meet my needs – and yours. Only then will business be able to get the best from its people.
By Antony Tompkins, Managing Partner Global Integrated Solutions at Verizon
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.