The future workplace is already here, and it’s in a surprising place

Posted on October 9, 2013

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Last month I was lucky enough to be taken on a guided tour of a new workplace. The place in question is around 4 years old. It reflects the future of the workplace and begs questions for the future of internal communications and leadership.

This workplace has wifi, a high street, a library, a radio station and cloud-enabled learning and development. Management are experienced in employing social media to stay in contact with their ‘teams’ and workplace radio – run by the ‘employees’ – is used to both entertain and inform everyone on what is going on.

Flat-screen TVs relay BBC news 24/7 and combine with local news that is relevant to the workplace.  The architecture is sleek, modern, light and airy.

Some areas of the workplaces are paperless with ‘managers’ able to communicate directly to ‘employees’ using iPads. Whilst I’m techno agnostic, I was impressed to walk into one part of the workplace to find that every ‘employee’ was using the latest iMac – I counted 30 in one particular room.

Management employ an open door policy in order to break down barriers, and a carefully constructed set of values and behaviours is prominently displayed. You can sense the code of conduct running through the ‘business’.

In key areas the targets for ‘employees’ are clearly displayed alongside the competencies required to hit those targets. A signage manager is employed to ensure that every message or target is up-to-date, and a wall of fame – Hollywood style – highlights the achievements of some of the stars of the ‘business’.

In what can only be described as the high street, a hair and beauty salon and open kitchens allow employees to get their locks trimmed or taste some fresh food – all of it delivered by fellow ‘employees’.

And for those looking to relax a little, on the top floor of the ‘business’ a Soho House style terrace is filled with comfortable wicker chairs and coffee tables – it’s a place where ‘managers’ and ‘senior employees’ can relax and discuss the issues that are holding back performance.

As my guide tells me, “the culture has changed. ‘Employees’ need direction, but they perform better when they are nurtured and when they get meaningful feedback every day. They expect that now and it’s what they need if we are going to get the best out of them.”

But this ‘business’ is different. It’s a school. The ‘managers’ are teachers; the ‘employees’ students. 

The school in question is Sirius Academy. Whilst this school is new and may not reflect every student’s experience, its drive towards a different culture and a willingness to embrace different technologies cannot be ignored. No doubt some kids will thrive in this environment and some still reject it, but the high performers will be used to this culture. It’s want they’ll expect and thrive in.

We’ve heard a lot about kids entering the workplace and having to learn how email works; how IT servers work and then get used to direction from the top rather than more two-way dialogue and collaboration. This isn’t surprising given the fact that some of our schools are now stealing a march on the workplace by introducing a culture and ways of working that are more progressive. 

Mid-way through the tour my guide said to me, “we are putting in this technology and these ways of working so that when students go out into the workplace they are ready for the world of work.” I stopped him and broke the bad news. Many parts of the world of work are way behind I told him. They’d better catch up, or they won’t be employer brands that the employees of tomorrow will want to consider.

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