Modern workplace trends

The modern workplace has clearly transformed significantly in recent years, and the pace of change only seems to be picking up, Leon Deakin, Head of Coffin Mew’s technology sector explores what employers need to consider to keep up.

We are constantly bombarded with predictions that technology is going to revolutionise the way we live and how we work. In fact I can’t remember the last seminar or presentation I attended where the rise of AI was not mentioned in some form or another with the now inevitable accompanying warning that professional service firms along with everyone else must adapt quickly or be cast into the abyss.

As a massive advocate of technology and innovation I have been tempted to simply parrot these messages, adding my own spin or take to anyone who will listen. However, through engaging with our own business (our staff) and those we engage with externally (our clients and contacts), I am always reminded that people must and should always come first. In my opinion any new technology, new models or methods of working can only truly work if they make a genuine difference to the people affected. This rule applies whatever sector you are in.

For example, if your staff and clients see no real benefit flowing from the latest gadget it is effectively just a white elephant! The swathes of unused ping pong tables intended to also serve as hot desks lavishly installed in the middle of open plan offices stand as testament to this. Please note I have absolutely nothing against ping pong, pool or using a slide instead of stairs. In fact I love it but unless they serve a genuine purpose and will actually get used what was the point?

For this reason alone I am always sceptical of any ‘one size fits all’ approach or the latest trend. Instead I think the most success is achieved when a business takes the time to really understand what its clients and staff want from their workplace. What will create the best environment for staff to excel? What will make the experience of being a client of your firm better? Funnily enough asking them is the best way to do this.

Once this has been determined the hard work can then really start by exploring what models and solutions are out there, because there are a lot! Indeed, when looking at ‘packaged solutions’ designed to make a process quicker, more intuitive, more embedded, more user friendly and more efficient, the real challenge can some times be knowing when to stop looking as it is a crowded market place.

My own personal tip at this stage is to be bold and not solely focus on simple easy to make changes, Think bigger and consider if a more fundamental change might be even more effective. It may turn out that bigger may not be better but it will be a conscious decision not just lurching from one fad to the next.

Personally, I think the increasing shift towards ‘flexible working’ in many sectors and businesses is a perfect example of how people can and should drive the agenda. The desire for greater equality and diversity alongside an increased wish for a better work life balance is thankfully now something an employer ignores at its peril. If they do, expensive claims might arise but more importantly, it is an essential part of your employee value proposition for attracting and retaining the right talent. Needless to say, remote working, flexed hours and all the other variations of what flexible working entails cannot work for every business or sector, but often there is a way to give people a greater feeling of autonomy and responsibility. It is about finding out what would make the difference to your people.

As well as greater flexibility, I am convinced from what I hear that the workplace of the future has to have (and be able to demonstrate) a greater social awareness and engagement. Whether that be creating conditions for equality of opportunity, engaging with local social issues or climate change. Staff and clients expect more and a token gesture here and there will ring hollow. Most businesses cannot be everything to everyone but work out what matters to you, your staff and clients and then actually do something about it. It is not about achieving perfection but showing intent and progress.

So by all means be inquisitive and innovative. Look at new models and new solutions. Just remain mindful that unless they are going to make a difference to the people who matter they may be a waste of time.


Leon Deakin

Leon Deakin

Coffin Mew
Leon is the head of the employment team at Coffin Mew, providing practical, solution focussed advice on all aspects of employment law and HR to a wide range of businesses and individuals. He also leads the firm’s cross practice technology sector team who help fast growth/scale up businesses and large companies in the tech sector with all their legal issues.