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The future of work: Workplace innovation

Young Potentials Blog

We all know: our society is changing constantly, as is the labor market. Some jobs are being shaken by technology and automatization, labor force mobility is growing, and we will all have to work longer. That’s why both organizations and employees need to act future proof, and flexibility and management could be the crucial keys for organizational success. Those who can adapt quickly today and realize the fundamental role of management, will be successful in future unpredictable times.

As part of the Master in Human Resources Management, our students wrote 4 blogs about the future of work, in collaboration with companies.

This is Part IV: in collaboration with Nnofcare 

Workplace innovation -
by Hanne Lenaerts and Laure Delee

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The importance of workplace innovation

In this blog, we focus on workplace innovation. The way we design and set up our office is a hot topic nowadays. A recent trend within workplace innovation is activity-based working. Employees carry out a variety of tasks within one workday, such as: brainstorming with the team, calling a client, doing some research work or calculations, etc. Activity-based working paves the way for innovative workspaces in the office that are specifically designed for different tasks. To meet the needs and facilitate the activities of the employees, an office can set up e.g. a concentration room that is completely silent, a relaxing room for breaks during work, a brainstorm room with some whiteboards to be creative, a meeting room to cooperate as a team, etc. There are no assigned seats for employees. Everybody uses the rooms according to their needs and tasks.

Research shows that by working in an activity-based way, employees prove to be more productive and engaged in their work. Moreover, employees will enjoy coming to the office as it offers them pleasant working spaces and more possibilities to connect with their co-workers. Other benefits are the improvement of your employer brand and the reduction of costs.

How to put workplace innovation into practice

Open landscape offices are a trend that comes to mind when people think of new ways to innovate the workplace. A lot of companies start rearranging their offices to install landscape offices, because others do it as well. This, however, is not what workplace innovation is about. Open landscape offices often bring more disadvantages than benefits for employee productivity, given that employees are often disturbed by their colleagues in such a set-up. An important aspect of workplace innovation is that its implementation must be in line with the needs of the company and its employees, even if it does not follow the current trends.

A successful workplace innovation differs from company to company and thus offers the possibility to customize it to the needs of the company. This customization is drawn up based on certain information required from the company. It is paramount that companies verify what they want to achieve with this innovation. This will indicate where the focus should be when innovating the workplace.

“Companies shouldn't just implement the new way of working because everyone else is doing it. They have to fill in their own work places themselves. If those are separate offices, then so be it.”

- Kurt Florus, NNOF

Naturally, a company should verify what type of work their employees perform and what they need to do to do the best of their ability. Do they work a lot from home, how do they move around the office, do they answer many phone calls, can they concentrate well with surrounding noises? The answers to such essential questions about the employee's mobility and activity allow for a company to ensure that the workplace innovation is adapted to the employer’s needs. If acted on these findings, the productivity of the employees will probably increase. For example, if conference calls are the employees’ main activity, separate offices may be more appropriate for the company.

“We got a project to redesign a workplace for a company that consisted mainly of doctors who had to spend whole days in contact with other countries. An open landscape office was not appropriate in this case, because they would constantly disturb each other.”

- Kurt Florus, NNOF

There are several ways to measure the employee’s mobility and activity. The use of technology can be effective in this matter. Some companies that offer workplace innovation, like NNOF, use an app to measure the mobility and activity of all employees within a company. The results are registered by the app and afterwards used to adapt the workplace innovation to the employees’ needs.

When both the company’s objective and the employees’ mobility and activity have been established, innovation is not merely implemented for the sake of change but serves to successfully support employees in their productivity.

Success-factors and pitfalls of workplace innovation

A successful workplace innovation within a company also depends on several other factors. As already mentioned, the way a company organizes its offices is an important part of workplace innovation, because it must be adapted to what the company wants to achieve and the employee’s needs. However, the physical set-up of a workplace plays only a facilitating role. Even if the company promotes a flexible way of working via activity-based working, the employees have to use these implementations correctly to actually prove its efficiency regarding productivity. Human beings are creatures of habit. They prefer to follow their everyday routine and don’t like change. Many employees will for example still claim a certain working spot, even though the company recently has set up flexible working spaces. It is therefore important to guide the employees through this workplace innovation by explaining them the whole concept and offering them certain guidelines on this matter. After all, employees are more motivated when they are involved in the whole process and when they see that their managers are also involved.

In addition to this, companies must be aware of certain pitfalls on this matter. As already mentioned several times, noise nuisance can be harmful for the productivity and engagement of certain employees. This can be tackled by installing telephone booths or sufficient meeting rooms. Another pitfall may be a possible lack of bonding between employees. A new workplace design should not result in employees working from home more often or isolating themselves by using headphones etc. That is why employees must also have the opportunity to bond with each other. Companies can facilitate this through staff parties, team buildings, a relaxing area with coffee and a football table and so on.

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Workplace innovation in times of corona

The current COVID-19-crisis challenges companies and the labor market. Employees for whom it is possible suddenly have to work from home and all communication takes place via digital platforms. The crisis may prove two things in the near future. First, it shows that a lot of jobs can be performed at home. The number of employees that work from home might therefore increase after the crisis. Secondly, the use of digital means of communication may increase, which would make working from home easier. However, companies must ensure that working from home does not become the normal way of working. It is good for employees to come to the office, as it allows them to maintain informal contacts with their colleagues, which improves teamwork within a company.

Conclusion

This blog explained a little more about workplace innovation and how you can successfully implement it in your company. There are several organizations that specialize in this matter and provide more advice customized to your company's needs. NNOF is one of those organizations. With a team of experts in various fields, they analyze the needs of the company and its employees and put them into practice.

Discover the Master in HRM

Read the other blogs our students wrote about the future of work:

Part I: The competences of the future

Part II: Flexible employability of talent

Part III: Guaranteeing the future of work by dynamic careers