Why the robotic workplace will always have humans at its core

Polly Plunket-Checkemian
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Design that is disconnected from the needs of your employees is guaranteed to deliver sub-optimal outcomes (Source: Getty)

Raising productivity levels is essential to delivering stronger economic growth.

But in an age where anything and everything seems to have already been tried and tested, it can feel like a productivity increase requires bottomless funds paired with Herculean efforts. Not so. We think part of the solution is looking at where and how we work.

The Stoddart Review’s report looks into the productivity, profitability and competitive advantage companies could gain by focusing on their physical workspace. And that advantage is no small win: companies stand to contribute an added £70bn to the UK economy by thinking about how they use the space around them. After salaries, property is the second largest cost of any organisation. So it’s all the more shocking that while businesses review the effectiveness of their employees once a year, the infrastructure hosting their efforts and, indeed, supporting them daily is typically only truly reviewed when a lease event arises, sometimes as seldom as once a decade.

Tech future

The Stoddart Review foresees – and celebrates – a move towards the tech-enabled workplace, “the smart office”. Though the office of tomorrow features heart rate monitors and motion sensors, it is a far cry from the frightening robot controlled space we intuitively fear.

The end goal of the tech enabled workplace is to support good health, reduce stress, and increase worker satisfaction; all factors that have proven effects on both productivity and engagement. So far, technological advancements have allowed for flexible working hours and non-specific work locations. We have also witnessed digitalisation and automation on a grand scale. Advancements in technology will now focus on data collection and rely on the Internet of Things, allowing for information to be gathered on workers’ needs and addressed instantaneously.

Data drive

The smart workplace will allow individual customisation (e.g. optimal lighting and temperature matched to individual preference), but will also track employees’ movement and their heart rates so as to evaluate stress levels and devise personal wellness programmes.

Data collection can also be used to monitor how employees interact with one another, placing workers front and centre as cohesion and welfare are facilitated. As Despina Katsikakis, an industry leader and workplace transformation consultant, reminds us: using technology to create a people-centric workplace is paramount. She recounts the many times she has worked in offices that were at odds with a company’s message, warning against senior management “sitting behind an enclosed door with a secretary in front of them who acts – with the best will in the world – as a guard dog”.

Make or break

The workplace is a vital performance facilitator, getting it right can make or break not only your company’s culture, but also your profit margins. If you find yourself facing a productivity gap, consider questioning whether your workplace is aiding or hindering progress. Of course it’s important to remember there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all office, but there are a few universal guiding principles: your workspace and facilities should be evolving regularly alongside your company’s progress.

Always start with staff in mind: design that is disconnected from the needs of your employees is guaranteed to deliver sub-optimal outcomes, and with one in two employees stating their workplace doesn’t support productivity, there’s plenty of room for improvement. (See what we did there?)

Polly Plunket-Checkemian is programme director of the Stoddart Review.

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