This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.
Disruptive forces in business are becoming the norm and by now, most leaders have been impacted in some way. Demographic upheavals, rapid advances in technology and a new social contract between employers and employees have converged, putting pressure on the traditional top-down hierarchical organization – one that is increasingly being replaced by more team-centric models. While much leadership attention has focused on the important work of restructuring the organization and its systems to manage this change, too few leaders have also paid attention to the equally important task of adjusting the physical structure of their workplaces.
In some organizations, there can be as many as five generations working full and part time in various locations or remotely, along with a growing number of contract or "on-demand" personnel brought in as required as part of a network of teams. Employee expectations are also changing with an increased premium on flexibility and purpose at work, particularly from younger people. These employees see themselves working for many employers throughout their careers and they value a compelling workplace as much as they do an interesting job with opportunities to grow.
Increasingly flexible workforces need increasingly flexible workspaces, too. A recent Deloitte study found that although one in four Canadians would like the option to work remotely, only 10 per cent actually prefer it. In other words, 90 per cent of people prefer to work at an office, even millennials. But that doesn't mean the office as we've known it for the better part of the last century, where every employee has a dedicated workspace that supports a traditional way of working.
Today's office needs to break down the barriers – literally and figuratively – that hinder collaboration and innovation. Focus is shifting to team-centric approaches to work, rather than traditional models where just five per cent of space is dedicated to fostering teamwork. Offices also need to adapt to a world where a substantial portion of the workforce will be engaged to address specific, often short-term needs. Bringing unique teams together for projects requires flexible workspaces to accommodate them, including that growing army of contract workers engaged for their particular expertise. And once a team-based project is over, employees need a "home base" to return to, where they can continue to learn and prepare for the next team assignment, wherever that may be.
Creating a flexible workspace can be as simple as setting up a lounge area where employees can meet informally, or putting a meeting table in a high-traffic area to encourage connections employees wouldn't otherwise make if they stayed at their dedicated workstation all day.
Over the past several years, we have been putting this thinking into practice to create the sweet spot between flexibility and engagement – where collaboration is the ideal. We are redesigning our offices across Canada to create unique destinations for our people and clients that provide increased flexibility and choice around how people work; places that encourage social interaction and collaboration to inspire greater innovation, deeper engagement and better results.
In our new Toronto office, for example, 65 per cent of the space is dedicated to teamwork. While all employees have a "locker" to keep their personal things and files, no one has dedicated desk space – including me. Instead, there are 18 different types of workspaces that allow employees to match their work environment to the task at hand.
There are no typical days. Our people are empowered to work where and how they like, enabled by design and technology. They move about the space based on what they need to accomplish that day, changing their location as many times as they need to.
They might start the day in a lounge area, responding to e-mail over coffee, then move to a desk with dual monitors to spend a few hours working on a presentation. Later they might take a private call in a phone booth, before stepping into a meeting room with a client to use wireless content sharing on a big screen. There are standing desks, collaboration spaces and treadmill desks they can take advantage of at any given time.
This approach to work is also inclusive. By removing barriers, each person has the opportunity to contribute their unique skills in a more flexible environment that adapts to the demands of their work and needs.
Our research shows that workplace values are largely compatible across generations, but where they differ is in their approaches to work itself and how work gets done. These differing approaches have changed the workplace profoundly, including how leaders think about its physical structure. Organizations that create truly flexible offices – representing the physical expression of a new era of work – will be better able to attract and retain key talent, giving them a competitive advantage and better business outcomes.
Frank Vettese is Deloitte managing partner, chief executive and chief inclusion officer in Canada.