The Workplace of 2040

Winter 2015/2016

Today’s teens, supported by advances in digital technologies, will dictate how and where they want to work when they grow up.

NINA HAS NEVER KNOWN a world without the Internet. In 2040, she will be one of millions of workers who leverage technology to create work patterns radically different than those of today and achieve a satisfying work-life balance.

Nina will rapidly embrace profound changes imposed through the exponential growth of technology, artificial intelligence and biosciences during the next quarter century. Like the entrepreneurs of today, she will not commute to work every day, and will frequently work from home, relying heavily on technology to accomplish many work tasks.

When Nina does go to the office, she will be going to a very different place than the office of today. Her co-working campus will be a city within a city. This large, connected, community will be centered around small environments or nooks, all built to human scale; a place where she can network with others in a highly experiential environment. She will consider a visit to this “trophy workplace” a reward rather than a burden.

Far from being a scene from a science fiction movie, these and similar scenarios are the result of sophisticated future trends research carried out by CBRE Global Workplace Solutions (formerly Johnson Controls Global WorkPlace Solutions, GWS), reviewed and challenged by industry experts. The Smart Workplace 2040 report suggests work will be something people do rather than a place to which they commute, and envisions how this will affect the everyday lives of employees and businesses.

The research has far-reaching consequences for city planners, office developers, employers, corporate real estate managers and facilities managers, all of whom will need to adapt to the changing demands, aspirations and expectations of the next generation of digital workers.

Six years ago, GWS described how technology would transform the way people work by 2030. Since then, the world has experienced a significant acceleration in technological developments with the launch of the iPad; the adoption of wearable technologies such as Bluetooth, smart watches and activity trackers; and greater acceptance of remote working. This new report takes the vision a step further.

Companies and other organizations — many of which do not currently support the types of collaborative work that the office workers of today and tomorrow expect to undertake — must rethink the traditional real estate model and the working environment itself. Those workers will want and need to spend more time working in team spaces with built-in collaborative technologies, often using video conferencing; they will spend more time in dedicated collaboration rooms and far less time at their desks — if they even have assigned desks — or in traditional meeting rooms. Collaborative spaces therefore will be of utmost importance, and technology must be available and easy to manage. Building occupation will not be a constant, so businesses will need to draw on metrics regarding office use. Consequently, financiers, owners and real estate developers will need to factor fluidity of occupation into their portfolios.

These trends will continue to change the way we work in the future. Technology will make us even more agile, connected and mobile. The globalization of business will significantly change working hours, and workers will demand more flexibility in terms of how, where and when they work, reflecting changing work-life balance expectations.

The impact of societal and digital transformations will directly affect workplace functions in a number of arenas, including the following.  

Facilities Management. Focusing workspaces on end users’ needs and constantly evolving demands will require the development of technology-based service solutions such as the incorporation of adaptive white noise technology to enable a first-rate telepresence session in an open environment.

Real Estate. A dispersed real estate model with mixed facilities and multipurpose environments could become the norm, to allow fast response to changes in user needs and to meet new customer use patterns and demands.

Workplace Design. Employers and workers will be looking for social, cohesive and adaptive working environments, places that empower users and teams across different work contexts and collaboration modes. Designers will need to develop intuitive interfaces to improve the user experience among highly connected workers.

Service Delivery. Building owners and managers will need to respond in real time to user demand by integrating invisible “shy-tech” solutions: nonintrusive, fully immersive technologies that unobtrusively track user activities and record user experiences within the office environment.

Health. The workplace of tomorrow will provide wellness services to sustain the well-being of employees and avoid technological burnout.

Industry leaders should already be thinking about balancing the desires of today’s and tomorrow’s workforces with future business needs. This will ensure that workplaces are fit for tomorrow’s workers as well as fit for the businesses of the future.