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The face of the workplace in the wake of 4IR

Updated: Jan 28


Image Source: https://mediaxpose.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Career-Tech.jpg

by Joe Meiring | General Manager |


Architects envisioned the future structure of our world and work environment today more than a century ago, even though they were only in the midst of the 2nd industrial revolution at the time. Le Corbusier wrote his transformational book called The City of Tomorrow and its Planning, outlining residential areas within a city where living, working, and entertainment spaces where intertwined.


Mies Van Der Rohe focussed on enclosing open and adaptable ‘universal’ spaces where form follows function and allows multi use of areas in his Residential Towers of 860-880 Lake Shore Drive, and Seagram Building in Chicago, Illinois. He clearly saw spaces that were going to be used for different purposes and therefore needed to be multi-functional.


Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus movement, was intent on creating holistic spaces in a Gesamtkunstwerk – or total work of art – where every aspect within them works cohesively. This was the birth of modern architecture, an idea formed as a result of the necessity to simplify the superfluous ostentation of the previous centuries.


Little did they know, that their vision would truly manifest in its entirety 100 years later, when technology made it possible to virtually be in two places at once. The workplace of today is vastly different to that of yesterday, and constantly changing as our needs evolve. Automation means the requirement for manual labour is gradually declining, and more people are working remotely online.


Traditional office spaces where communal groups work from 9-5 are dwindling, and only certain industries still require large combined office spaces. Storing information in the cloud has further reduced space requirements and companies are downsizing offices accordingly. Many businesses run satellite offices with a skeleton staff presence and a board room or chill room meant only for monthly or weekly meetings.


Work environments have become more relaxed, even though work pressures have increased; flexible work hours are allowing people the freedom to ‘fit it all in’, be hands-on parents and attend the football games, or have time to pursue a personal passion, and but still work the required hours (and more) in their own time. Increasingly stringent labour laws around the world have forced many businesses to move away from a traditional approach of employing staff, rather utilising the services of consultants, thus resulting in a globalised unbundling of old company structures.


These are trends that are not just apparent in South Africa, but everywhere in the world. 4IR has brought with it a way to work harder and smarter, connect with more people, compete on a global level, run multiple businesses, all without ever leaving your living room. Socially this could have devastating effects on the mental health of the population, and companies are embracing a more holistic approach to staff wellbeing.


Companies like Google and FaceBook have changed the way the workplace looks with the unconventional Googleplex and Menlo Park. Discovery, with their Vitality program, has changed the way the workplace behaves; incorporating wellness as part of people’s daily lives and incentivising healthy living. Thousands of companies are changing the way the workplace functions, by taking daily communication online and allowing people to choose where they work.


The face of the workplace will continue to change over the next few years, and if your company is not keeping up with these global trends, you could face losing your employees, and ultimately your business, as millennials are turning down jobs that do not offer the opportunity of remote work possibilities. Companies without this option also experience a 25% higher staff turnover according to Global Workplace Analytics, and a 22% lower productivity level than those who allow remote working possibilities.


Add the savings of smaller office space, commuting time eliminated, the reduction of greenhouse gasses to the environment due to less unnecessary driving time, a happier and more productive staff component together, and you have a win-win situation all around.


The architects of a century ago have finally fulfilled their prophecy of how spaces will be multi purposed; living, working and recreational, woven together in functional cohesion. Is your company going to embrace this change, or remain rooted in the so-called tried and tested way of the past? Let us know what you are doing to stay ahead of the curve with your staff.

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