​Is it time to rethink our workspaces and workplace culture?

How digital transformation is driving innovation, collaboration and creativity

Picture: f3nd1 (Flickr)

Picture: f3nd1 (Flickr)

On a recent visit to the ANZ region, I had the good fortune of meeting with local businesses. We discussed digital transformation, innovation and the sweeping changes that companies of all sizes are seeing inside their own workplaces. Changes driven by the globalisation of commerce and enabled by the rapid acceleration of technology.

In Australia and New Zealand, the pressing need for transformational change is an issue shared by many companies and rapid changes are taking place to create more flexible working environments. This is not surprising, when you consider that a major focus of the Australian government and its Innovation Agenda is identifying new ways to accelerate economic growth, being largely driven by advances in technology.

With this influx of technology and connectivity, it’s undeniable that workplaces are moving from the traditional idea of what most of us know as ‘the office’ and this is accelerating worldwide.

Redesigning the traditional office

There used to be a time when a person’s career path or seniority could be tracked by their progression from cubicle to private office. However, the way we work today is different – organisations are creating more open, more natural and agile workplaces. They are finding that people are more empowered by working how, where and when they want – so the focus of workplace design becomes to serve and connect these people, rather than merely to contain them.

Workplace transformation includes fragmentation of the typical design and layout templates of offices, cubicles and conference rooms into a vigorous diversity of working environments. There are individual workplaces, where we don’t need to have anyone physically nearby and there are group workplaces, where having more people right next to us is part of the experience. In either case, we can be collaborating with other people in multiple locations from a choice of devices.

Each kind of workspace has its advantages, but one of the challenges added by open-office and open-group settings is that extraneous noise and distractions increase as partitions are lost and the spaces are opened up.It’s for this reason that workplace innovations are needed that prioritise the user’s experience and this can mean developing new technologies to restore a worker’s quieter and more productive personal environment even when they’re sitting in a busy open area.

The rise of small group collaboration

In conjunction with the shift from private cubicle or office space, we’ve also seen a number of collaboration innovations come to market, such as powerful personal and small-group video solutions and noise cancelling technologies – which are especially valuable in isolating personal interactions and collaborations from the often-distracting places they occur.

For many decades, groups have gathered in a conference room, most often with a long table running down the middle of a rectangular space and people seated along both sides – often, with the boss or supervisor looming at the end of the table in the “power seat.” This has become a kind of standard for many videoconference rooms because the camera is often mounted directly opposite that power seat so it sees the boss best. Unfortunately, this staging is not conducive to group collaboration - when participants sit in lines, it’s harder for each of them to hear or see anyone but their direct neighbours.

Today, conference rooms are getting smaller, as companies take advantage of distributed workplaces and link together smaller groups by taking advantage of interactive collaboration technology; including voice, visual imaging and data. Over the next few years, advanced audio, video and collaboration products and services will make their way into millions of these smaller meeting rooms (known as huddle rooms) and into open collaboration environments, making these spaces valuable hubs for collaboration.

Providing flexibility in the workplace

I believe that when a workforce is provided the flexibility to work how and where they feel most effective, it brings creativity and natural communication back into focus. Whether it’s from an armchair, or from a standing desk, an agile and flexible workplace becomes about creating the right environment for individuals and teams to work together in order to deliver results.

As an early adopter of collaboration technologies, Ron McClay, Chief Information Officer at The Australian Human Right’s Commission is one example of todays digital transformation journey in action.

McClay said: “Asking our people to shift away from familiar technologies and work practices was challenging – not everyone likes change. Putting in place a carefully planned change management program to support our own journey was key. Our workplace culture is evolving in line with our new technology. Faster decision-making, enabling people to work and collaborate from anywhere and at any time has facilitated greater productivity and these are just some of the benefits we are seeing.”

Big ideas from small spaces

I’ve often been quoted as saying that there’s a big advantage in starting small – in fact, the company I co-founded first established roots in a San Francisco basement back in 1990!

What we’ve demonstrated, as have many others, is that big ideas can grow from small spaces merely by providing the flexibility and tools for people to connect, share, and come together as teams. As office configurations evolve to meet specific needs, perhaps the desire for that pointless old corner office will fade. After all, no space is too small for great ideas and teamwork to happen!

Jeff Rodman is Co-Founder and Chief Evangelist, Polycom, Inc.

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