The workplace of the future

By John O'Hanlon

Philip Gregory, Senior Regional Executive: Johnson Controls GWS, Middle East & Africa, talks about the workplace of the future, how it will impact the workforce and how businesses can navigate the tension between employee demands and the needs of the corporation. 

How is the workplace changing?

Since the 1990s, technological advancements have revolutionised the workplace.

Twenty-five years ago, the office was a place of fax machines, fixed telephone landlines and bulky monitors. The first website had yet to be launched, and the working day was 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Today, electronic communications are the norm and smartphones, notebooks and tablets have mobilised the workforce. Video conferences are commonplace and flexible working is gaining acceptance.

These trends will continue to change the way we work in the future. Technology will make us even more agile, connected and mobile. The globalisation of business will significantly change working times, and the workforce will demand more flexibility in terms of how, where and when they work.

What will the workplace be like in the future?

Johnson Controls Global WorkPlace Solutions’ new “Smart Workplace 2040” research attempts to answer that exact question. This research points to a radically different world, where the traditional confines of geography and time no longer dictate our daily interactions.

In 2040, work will be something we do, not somewhere we go. Workers will have higher expectations around choice, experience and fluidity. Flexible contracts will be the norm, with employees measured on output rather than input. Long commutes and rigid hours will be a thing of the past.

Workers will choose their workplace; this might include working from home, an eco-campus, a club or one of a network of connected offices. Workers will visit different locations depending on whether they want to concentrate, innovate or collaborate. Environments will be controlled in accordance with an individual’s mood, body temperature and blood pressure to ensure maximum levels of productivity.

How will this impact employers?

Our research reveals that for organisations to attract top talent, they must put flexibility at the centre of their workplace offerings. However, while employees might expect choice, employers will need to retain workforce cohesion, energy, passion and corporate identity.

We are already starting to see this tension today. Organisations are wrestling with the notion of mobile working and a perceived loss of corporate connection, buzz and energy. Some global businesses have stressed how collaboration and innovation thrive best when workers are together, and have taken steps to restrict flexible working.

In the future, this tension will intensify. Balance and compromises will have to be reached to achieve the best outcomes for both parties.

How should businesses respond?

The demand for wider choices will have implications for property portfolios. This may take the form of a network of connected workplaces, distributed according to workers’ home locations. Industry will need to consider how this type of network can be supported and serviced so that knowledge workers can thrive and collaborate effectively.

As workers become increasingly accustomed to greater choice, they will expect less formal working environments. Workplaces of the future could well have a club-like feel; they will be open and attractive, and include highly experiential, multi-zone areas designed to enhance the working lifestyle.

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.

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

About Johnson Controls

Johnson Controls is a global diversified technology and industrial leader serving customers in more than 150 countries. Our 170,000 employees create quality products, services and solutions to optimise energy and operational efficiencies of buildings; lead-acid automotive batteries and advanced batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles; and interior systems for automobiles. In 2013, Corporate Responsibility Magazine recognised Johnson Controls as the #14 company in its annual "100 Best Corporate Citizens" list. For additional information, please visit


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