We may not know what the future holds, but we can certainly be prepared for it

unknown-futureGiven the track record of people when it comes to making predictions about the future, it’s easy to grow cynical, especially when it involves a profession as subject to the vagaries of technological and cultural change as facilities management. But while we should be wary of more fanciful and long term thinking, any natural scepticism shouldn’t blind us to those predictions that we know will largely come true, especially those based on what we know is happening already. For example, recent research carried out by Cass Business School and Henley Business School and presented in the book Future Work: How Businesses Can Adapt and Thrive in the New World of Work found that two-thirds of managers believe there would be a revolution in working practices over the coming ten years. Given what we’ve seen over the past ten years, it’s impossible to argue any different. In fact the only quibble we should have with this is that it won’t take another ten years for this to happen because the process is already well underway.

Human Resources magazine recently polled senior HR professionals on their ideas of what a head office of the future would look like, and found that by 2014 around 23 per cent of respondents hope for a more decentralised approach to head office power and 14 per cent hope for a ‘virtual’ head office, staffed by flexible workers, homeworkers or global workers. And while 91 per cent of respondents see ideas for improvement in their organisation coming from the top today, just 18 per cent think this will still be the case in five years.

So we know it will happen, we’re just not sure exactly how. According to the HR survey while more than two thirds of employers are already carrying out cost cutting programmes in their head office, more than a third of these have not given any thought to the future shape of their organisation. So there’s still work to do and much of it will involve making the office future proof.

This is manifest in a number of ways. At the level of workplace design we need to ensure that layouts and configurations of interior elements can happen quickly and easily. This has always been one of the great drivers of facilities management thinking but the accelerating pace of change in the world of work means it is more important than ever. They key word here is optionality and the best workplace design should leave organisations choices when it comes to meeting future challenges.

Future proofing is also important in the choice of individual elements. The more architectural elements of an interior fit-out such as screens, storage and many workstations should be adaptable and reconfigurable. All products including these, carpets and lighting should be durable and supported not only by long term warranties but also service levels that support recycling, upcycling and, at best, cradle to cradle support. The choice of materials is important when it comes to meeting environmental commitments but so too is the ability to manage products effectively to ensure that meet future needs.

This includes the ability to replace worn or damaged parts of chairs and so on, but also, from the client’s perspective, the sophistication needed to appreciate how we should appreciate longevity. The very best seating designs, for example, not only maintain an aesthetic appeal but also a functional one over the longer term.  Seating also has the added advantage of being the product that is least susceptible to change because it is the one most in contact with the most consistent element in any workplace; the individual.


03bdbc8Justin Miller is the sales director of office furniture and ergonomics specialist Wellworking