When people think of innovative workspaces, Google is always held up as the benchmark. Sleeping pods, helter-skelters, in-house pubs, astroturf on the walls – it’s the quirky elements that grab attention, but (perhaps boringly) it’s the intelligent use of space that should be receiving plaudits.
Catering to the changing needs of a multi-generational workforce means that companies are suddenly having to shake-up the working environments they offer staff.
“Five years ago office space was all about cost reduction – hot desking and ensuring resources were utilised,” says Martin Laws, a partner at Deloitte. “Now, it’s about using space creatively for collaboration and transparency. The demand for this is coming from employees – if they want to attract talent, firms have to evolve.”
The architectural parlance for this is ‘new sustainability’, essentially meaning that offices are moving away from a ‘factory’ function where employees gather to carry out transactional roles. “It’s less of a place to go and do work and more of a place to collaborate, work as a team, socialise and share knowledge,” says Laws. “There are frankly a lot of jobs that could be automated – offices and working practices are evolving to reflect this.”
Deloitte’s London Futures report released in November last year suggested that up to 30% of jobs in London could be automated in the next 20 years.
While firms are expected to seek creativity, management skills and digital know-how, foreign languages, clerical work and processing roles could fall by the way-side.
All the ping pong and foosball tables are a smokescreen for what tech companies are really doing – leading the way with innovative workspaces for their employees, which is ultimately creating a happier workforce. This is predictable for an industry required to be on the bleeding edge, but it’s equally as obvious that the financial sector is behind the curve.
In the Talent in Banking survey last year by Deloitte, a desire for a creative and dynamic working environment ranked second only behind compensation as a reason for switching jobs. What’s more surprising is the pace of change – in 2013, 59% said they wanted to work for an innovative company, but last year this figure swelled to 83%.
“The expectation of young people going into financial services is that they will still have to work really hard, but they have increasingly high expectations of what the workplace will provide,” says Laws. “They want onsite gyms and restaurants if the job demands they’re in the office at all hours. This makes sense from an employer point of view – the cost of real estate in the City has been quite flat since the 1990s.”
The demand for agile working from millennials means that financial services firms have to start catching up and accept that the culture of facetime needs to change, or simply lose talent to other industries.
In the future, Laws thinks that everywhere could be a workspace. He says: “Employers have to provide the technology – staff accept that the job isn’t nine to five, but they want to be connected to work systems at all times so they can work flexibly.”
Most financial services and professional services organisations are starting with their digital teams, where a culture of innovation and casual collaboration is already the norm. Last year, for example, investment bank UBS introduced “innovation spaces” for its tech team, whilst also funding fintech start-ups to unearth new products and talent. CIO Oliver Bussman describes this as changing the “ecosystem”.
Deloitte’s London offices are clustered around Fleet Street, but it decided to create a workspace away from this core last year for its digital-focused employees in Clerkenwell. The aim was to create agile ways of working, with spaces for collaboration and ‘concepting’ meetings, soft funky seating areas and its own in-house coffee shop. The space includes a large meeting area divided by a garage door, exposed lightbulbs and murals created by local artists. It’s also 16,500 sq. ft, but home to just 200 employees, so it’s far away from the ‘cubicle’ mentality.
“While not radical, it supports the ways in which digital experts expect to work and is a long way from the ‘grey’ reputation associated with a lot of accounting firms,” says Laws. “What’s radical about it is the use of space to allow employees to work in an agile manner and collaborate on innovative projects. It’s this – rather than the ‘astroturf on the walls’ approach – that we’re being asked to consult on more and more.”
How will companies have to adapt their workspaces to attract and retain talent in the future? Laws believes that agile working will only accelerate in the next ten years, with employees expecting to be able to connect to company systems anywhere at any time. The office itself will no longer be about housing employees in bricks and mortar, but will be central to collaboration and will provide better, shared technology that staff can’t find elsewhere.