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What will tomorrow’s workplaces look like?

5 minutes of reading

Bouygues Construction’s Foresight team, together with Astrées and Chronos, is conducting a forward-looking study on changes in working methods and their impact on workplaces. How will the offices, housing, third places and mobility spaces of tomorrow be designed, equipped and operated in order to address the needs of new ways of working?

To answer this question, we held two multi-partner study workshops, on March 30 and May 27, 2021. We chose to bring together stakeholders from various fields of expertise, who will design and use the workplaces of the future: employers and social partners, promoters, operators, local authorities, digital transformation stakeholders, etc. The questions that arise today are truly central issues in skills covering real estate, human resources, digital tools and environmental responsibility. Let’s bring together the visions of these various stakeholders and devise scenarios for 2030!

“To understand the workplaces of tomorrow, we must first understand the different working methods.”

How can we make the office of tomorrow more attractive and a creator of social links?

Virginie Alonzi opened the session by citing figures from the Bouygues Construction module of the La Vie d’Après study carried out by ObSoCo: one-third of households had at least one member working from home as a result of the health crisis. Among the households affected, more than half did not have a dedicated work space at home, and 40% still do not have one. Furthermore, 38% of the inhabitants of cities would like to live elsewhere, and in particular on the outskirts of major cities or in medium-sized cities.

 

Nicolas Bouby explains that if we are to properly assess how workplaces are changing, we must understand how working methods are being transformed. Firstly, teleworking is not new: theorised in the 1960s and tested in 1979, it is gradually growing in an uneven way depending on the specific sector of activity, culture, etc. The pandemic has resulted in some confusion, making some data difficult to interpret. For example, is the increase in the number of burnouts really linked to teleworking, or more generally to other aspects of the health crisis? This is not a question that can be answered at this time. However, some key figures can be quoted:

  • 35% of French workers can telework from a distance, according to INSEE.
  • Small businesses have little investment in teleworking. For example, 77% of leaders of companies with 20-99 employees (VSEs) do not wish to make teleworking a regular practice.
  • At the opposite end of the spectrum, more than 2,500 companies were hiring in “full remote” mode in 2019.

The ability to perform certain tasks remotely creates a hybrid environment, and calls for staff to work asynchronously. This creates complex issues at different levels: personal for employees, for managers, cross-company functions: Human resources, real estate, information systems, social and environmental responsibility, etc.

 

On the subject of workplaces, several questions arise:

  • How do we design interior spaces, and for what uses?
  • How can we promote sociability without disrupting concentration? Places for interaction, places for concentration, sharing, etc.
  • Housing: What are the psychological impacts when you cannot have a dedicated room? How does this affect productivity? Who pays the utility bills during teleworking? Who finances the installations, and what inequalities does this cause?
  • Third places: working close to home, on the move.

 

Finally, digital tools provide a link between these different places: How can we overcome the feeling of exclusion during hybrid meetings? Digital tools can also create virtual equivalents of workplaces, especially through virtual and augmented reality, or serious games.

Xavier de Mazenod: “Is salaried employment obsolete?”

Xavier de Mazenod believes that working practices were beginning to change even before the health crisis. During lockdown, compulsory teleworking in very compromised conditions gave a distorted image of teleworking. The main factor driving change in working methods is the arrival of digital technology, e.g. via the option of working away from the office, but also through new management methods linked to new ways of communicating. Social and environmental concerns are also pushing for change – for example, average commuting time is around 2 hours a day in the Greater Paris area: the aspiration of lower travel times conflicts with a high concentration of offices. 7 out of 10 inhabitants already report aspirations to leave the Paris region. Prompting de Mazenod to ask the question: is salaried employment obsolete? He sees it as no longer the majority form of work, with 50% of permanent contracts ending in less than two years and only 13% of employees claiming to be highly motivated at work. And there is a parallel growth in the phenomenon of freelancing. After the pandemic, a significant majority of employees want to continue teleworking: so how do we organise that? A balance between private and professional life is yet to be found, in environments that are new in terms of both living spaces and working spaces.

Malo Mofakhami: “New technologies go hand in hand with the establishment of learning organisations where management is based on trust.”

Malo Mofakhami – a researcher at the Centre for the Study of Employment and Work and at the Centre for Economics of the Sorbonne, and a specialist in the quality of employment and its changes over time through a macroeconomic approach – offers an initial response to the question: how is work evolving? In the 2000s, the London School of Economics identified a turning point: intangible assets (intellectual property, information) have a higher value than tangible assets (machines). Long-term changes in employment are focused on the dynamics of services, while digital technologies are fundamentally transforming the industrial world, particularly through robotics. The workforce is thus becoming polarised: firstly, there is a decline in the medium-skilled workforce performing routine work, replaced by automation, in favour of highly skilled workers (executives, scientists, etc.). Secondly, we are seeing a growth in the number of very unskilled workers in the personal services sector in the form of less protected contracts (temporary work and fixed-term contracts, for example) with little prospect of development.

Is the use of new technologies favourable to employees? Mofakhami’s response is that on the one hand, the use of new technologies generally improves wages and job stability for the most qualified, but that this is accompanied by an increase in stress and a risk that work life will impinge upon private life. For less qualified workers, there is a greater risk of physical constraints: workers must integrate with machines (headsets, virtual reality headsets), which can cause physical problems. Technologies support the establishment of learning organisations with a less structured hierarchy and better job quality, which benefits innovation. However, this corresponds to a form of trust-based management which is not particularly common in France. Finally, Mofakhami concludes that ecological transition is likely to have a significant impact on salaried employment, by supporting the growth of green jobs.

Camille Rabineau:

Camille Rabineau, founder of Comme on Travaille, provides support for employees on their way to new working practices/spaces. According to her, the past ten years or so has seen a slow but sure metamorphosis of offices: more open, more varied, more flexible, shared, based on mobility, decentralised, office-as-a-service. The acceleration of teleworking raises further questions over this metamorphosis: today, there is a search for real estate optimisation, a rise in environmental concerns (real estate is a limited land resource), and a desire to make the most of employee interactions (serendipity). A giant leap was taken in mobile computing equipment during the crisis.

The bar to be cleared for adopting new practices is very high for some employees. According to an Actinéo study: 66% of French employees work in closed spaces, either alone or with others. There is a significant rejection of open spaces and flex-offices. Many employees fear they will sacrifice comfort and ergonomics when moving to more open, more flexible spaces. A paradoxical situation with employees who fear improvements, even though their conditions are not ideal. The move towards mobility is not a natural one in the office. The need to create points of reference within a company is very deep: a third of employees would willingly take the option of withdrawing into their cocoon.

An example of the discrepancy between claims and reality is the third place, with a low adoption rate by workers today. Companies that offer coworking passes see an average adoption rate of only 10%. There are major obstacles, such as the insufficient network of coworking spaces, and certain difficulties in working there. Therefore, according to Rabineau, there is a need for a meaningful transformation of the working and teleworking environments. We must give more space to asynchronous approaches, and rethink meetings. We need spaces that are inhabited, and must fight against the standardisation of workspaces.

Collective analysis of the factors of change

Ahead of the 2 workshops, 31 key factors impacting future workplaces were preselected by Bouygues Construction, Chronos and Astrées.

During the first collaborative workshop, participants collectively selected the 20 factors that they considered to be the most decisive among the 31 shortlisted; that is, the 20 factors with the greatest potential impact on the sector, but whose future growth is uncertain.

Following this workshop, these 20 factors were further investigated to establish their evolutionary trends. By combining the different hypotheses for the future growth of each of the factors, 5 contrasting scenarios were formed.

The objective of the second workshop was twofold: firstly, to discuss the most likely hypotheses for change in the 4 factors considered to be the most decisive by the participants of the first workshop then secondly, the objective was to dive deeper into the 5 prospective scenarios in order to imagine their practical implications for offices, housing and third places in 2030. To this end, the participants discussed the most likely hypotheses for changes in various key determining factors: digital connection; well-being and occupational health; management models; and lastly, regional attractiveness strategy.

Soon, Bouygues Construction, Astrées and Chronos will provide you with a more in-depth analysis of these ongoing transformations, as well as the results of this process and various scenarios for the workplaces of tomorrow.