It is estimated that 1 in 5 people today work from their homes. This group is quite varied – the mom who is freelancing as a writer, coder or biller; the entrepreneur who has a home office; the caterer with a basement converted into a state-of-the-art kitchen; the IT specialist who troubleshoots; and the employee who can complete his/her tasks in the cloud, collaborating with team members to complete projects.

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It’s a great work life for those who enjoy working alone and who are motivated by projects rather than time clocks. But there are drawbacks too.

The Isolation of Working from Home

People who are naturally introverted (yours truly, for instance) enjoy the solitude of working from home; and entrepreneurs who have a home office usually have plenty of time outside of that office to meet with clients.

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But, in increasing numbers, many who work from home are finding that there is a social camaraderie that they are missing by not going into an office and mingling with others. And wise companies are waking up to this realization with ideas for transforming the workplace into an inviting, far more holistic center for work, play and leisure – providing employees with flexibility of hours, open work spaces for lots of “connecting,” and “worktivity” environments in which employees can work, engage in physical activity, play, enjoy green space, and mingle over meals – all in one place.

“I think this is definitely the way that things are going, that we are moving towards offices as being a service. The people who are doing this really well know it’s not just about desks and chairs – it’s about how you create a community,” comments Dogpatch Labs Managing Director Patrick Walsh.

Indeed the digital “world” which once threatened to isolate more and more workers may now be revolutionizing how we work in a wholly different manner. It may be bringing us back to the physical workplace in new and exciting ways.

As Always – the Tech Giants Lead the Way

Facebook office via Gizmondo

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Facebook now has a new workplace. It is a completely open floor plan with a 9-acre park on the roof. The idea is this: bring people to work and give them an open, inviting workspace that equalizes everyone and, at the same time, allows the kinds of connections and interactions that can ultimately lead to collaborations and innovations, whether they occur at the coffee bars, the eating areas, the lounges, the actual work station, or up on the roof.

Google and Apple are following suit. What these tech giants are now realizing is that people with people, all with the psychological “feel” of being part of something wonderful, is the workplace of the future. They come to work, are valued for what they accomplish, not time spent in an office or at a desk, and are allowed the flexibility to move about, to interact, and to satisfy needs to play, exercise and socialize with their peers, superiors, and subordinates. These workplaces, indeed, are little cities unto themselves where “neighbors” work and play together.

How Can You Translate this Concept to Your Workplace?

While the mid-sized and small business obviously cannot emulate the structures that the giants are building, they can take the concepts and make substantial changes to their workplaces. Here are some concrete things you can do now (or encourage your management to do):

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  • You can take down walls
  • You can encourage employees to “move” together – take a walk, take their laptops to the local coffee shop, or to the park bench to discuss a project
  • You can move out of the office parks of suburbia and back into urban areas where the Millennials have now chosen to live
  • You can cease with the time-clock mentality and accept the flexibility of time that valued employees need. Indeed, employees are very willing to work non 9-5 hours, if they can participate in events outside of work that are important.

As Adam Myeroff, Director at Stuart Neils, says: “We are working harder and longer but innovative and collaborative work space with facilities like sit stand desks and video conferencing, means that companies are also focused on health and well-being of their staff and are able to offer flexibility so that it is possible to work and still not miss an important event like a child’s school sports day. The emphasis on this means that employees are happy to be available outside of normal hours and this approach is good for both the company and the employee.”

  • You can accept the concept that employee productivity counts, not time at a desk.
  • You can embrace the fact that technology has provided all of the tools for employees to work from home, in the company dining room, and in the lounge.

The Challenges You Will Face

There are four separate generations in the workplace today – young Millennials, Generations X and Y, and Baby Boomers who have not yet retired. Each of these has its own concept of “work;” each of these has its own concept of the ideal job and workplace. It is your task to provide a workplace environment in which everyone’s needs and comfort levels are fulfilled. Baby Boomers may still want their own work spaces, with walls. Give it to them. Some in Generation X and Y may still want to work from home – technology allows that now. Still others, particularly Millennials and many of Generations X and Y, want the ability to “move” about, to have flexibility to complete their tasks in the environment that “feels” right to them. Give it to them.

The Takeaway- “Big” Ideas You Need to Embrace for a Perfect Tech Office

Here are the big ideas for the workplace of the future that will attract the best talent and keep that talent around:

1. Put People First

Accommodating individual employee needs are important for both morale and loyalty. Some employees may prefer to work from home and collaborate on projects digitally; some employees may want their own personal work space in the building; some employees think best when they can move about and get out of the workspace and into open fresh-air places. All of these needs can be accommodated, when people understand that their needs will be valued so long as they remain productive.

2. Let Employees Find Their Strengths and Connect With Others

There should be plenty of opportunities for interaction – planned and spontaneous. This means that an “open office” concept must be maintained. No one should feel “watched” or intimidated by openly communicating with anyone else on work time. Great ideas and great solutions do not always come in formal meetings.

3. Build Camaraderie and a Sense of Community

This will mean blurring the lines between work and social lives and doing it at work. Planning social activities during the workday is not a big “no-no” anymore. Even if it is just a picnic in the parking lot, find ways to accomplish this.

4. Embrace flexibility that works for all individuals in your work community.

A parent who occasionally needs to bring a child to work; an employee who needs an hour off in the middle of the day to check on an aging parent; an individual who needs to come in later and stay later or who wants to come in early and leave early; someone who wants to work from home two days a week; someone who needs to get out of the confines of the building or who needs to run during the day to rejuvenate his/her energy. All of these things can be accommodated if we can make a paradigm shift to evaluating employees based upon productivity rather than time spent.

5. Build an environment of inclusion.

Everyone is valued for his/her contribution whether that is answering the phone or developing a new software app. Everyone is made aware of issues and problems that should be solved, including the custodian! Good ideas come from strange places.

6. Collaborate in Fun Places

Close the office early and go to the local pub to discuss a marketing presentation; take a team to the new art gallery or to an outdoor daytime concert; go to a sporting event. Creative thinking can occur anywhere, and the “aha” moments often don’t come in the workplace.

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Work will “look” very different from this point forward. Are you ready?