The world of work has evolved. 

Today’s workforce feels the need to learn new skills every day to find their way in this changing terrain.

Companies have two options: resist the change (and fall behind).

Or embrace the new paradigm and keep pace with the rest of the world.

Survival of the fittest depends on being able to adapt.

Simplyhealth HR expert Corinne Williams describes how the world of work is changing. She also looks at why these changes are happening. And she gives businesses ideas for what they can do to embrace the change. 

What is the Modern Working Environment?

The Modern Working Environment (MWE) is the term given to the broad range of changes sweeping the way working spaces are being designed now and for the future.

What are key hallmarks of the MWE?

The MWE has two key characteristics: flexibility and respect.

Respect: people are different, and the way they work best may vary. The MWE takes these differences into account and empowers people to work in the way (or ways) that suits them best.

Flexibility: the MWE leverages technology to make it possible and easy for people to work in different ways and from various locations. Technology can foster collaboration, making it easier for teams to work together on projects. It also supports quiet, focused work. In the MWE, each approach is possible and supported. Team members can work from home or away from the office. They can work in quiet zones in the office. Or they can work in effective groups. The way they work depends on the task at hand, and the work style of the person or people involved.

Why is the world of work changing?

There have been offices in one form or another since the early 1000s. In that time, the world has transformed. Yet, besides the décor, little has changed in the way offices work.

Traditional office spaces focus on the tasks being performed. The MWE focuses on the people performing those tasks. It takes into account how unique each of these people is, and supports that uniqueness.

Technology makes the evolution of work possible. The internet and portable devices enable employees to do their work from anywhere in the world.  The web allows teams to connect online and share files and resources. It no longer matters if they share the same physical space.

What are the challenges involved in creating a modern working environment?

The biggest challenge is resistance to change. A lot of this change has been instigated by workers who feel that their needs could be better supported. Yet many workers are still resistant to change. They have become used to the way things have always worked, and the routine provides a sense of security.

What are the advantages of evolving the working environment?

Happy employees are productive employees. People are more like to be happy and productive if they can work the way that suits them best.

The MWE also enables access to talent pools that may have been excluded from typical work styles.

For example, mums may have delayed returning to work after giving birth in order to take care of their infants’ needs. Older workers with a wealth of experience but limited mobility may have felt the need to retire early. Disabled or chronically ill people may have felt forced to choose between their careers and their health. This year’s CIPD Health and Wellbeing at Work survey reports that the most common approaches organisations have in place to manage people with a disability and/or long-term health condition are developing a flexible and inclusive working culture and providing access to support services, such as counselling or occupational health[1].

With the MWE, these people could work flexible hours from home. Using technology, these people could be as engaged in their work and teams as they would be if they were at the office. And the company retains the benefit of their skills and expertise.

What is Simplyhealth doing to make the MWE a reality?

Simplyhealth’s primary vision is to make everyday health a reality for everyone it impacts. This vision starts with Simplyhealth’s own people. It lies at the heart of the decisions the HR team makes for the business.

Research continues to emerge that shows how a flexible approach can create a happy and productive workforce. Simplyhealth was eager to test the suggested strategies and create a supportive work environment for its people.

Simplyhealth has begun a trial implementation of the MWE in one of its Andover-based offices. The space has been rearranged to allow open collaboration areas and quiet zones for focus.

While there are desks available, the aim is to have only 70% of the workforce using these at any time. The rest would be spread across hot desks, team areas, or working remotely.

Working hours are being assessed to make it possible for people to be as flexible as they need to be.

Simplyhealth has enlisted the services of workspace experts and office decorators to ensure the space is used as efficiently as possible. Outcomes will be measured against key indicators over time to assess what works, and what can be improved.

Based on the results of this experiment, the upgrades will be rolled out to the rest of the company in due course.

How to create a modern working environment: critical considerations

  • Start with your business ambition.
    Be very clear on your organisation's reason for being, its core values, and the role your people play in achieving and living those values. This needs to be at the heart of your transformation. It will drive every decision the business makes, and provide a yardstick for measuring the best course of action in any scenario.

  • Embrace collaboration.
    Recognise the evolution of the work environment as an opportunity to encourage people to come together and collaborate, then move away into spaces that best support the way each of them works, and creates.
  • Identify the quick wins.
    When you begin this process, look at where are your company is going to get the MOST benefit from a change. Then you can create an architecture for change - a wireframe - and fill it with feedback from those people who currently work in that area, as well as fresh recruits with new perspectives, and consultants with specialist experience in those areas. People have different points of view, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. So it's important to consider as many aspects as possible.
  • Take advantage of serendipitous learning.
    Often, the best insights and creativity come in those moments of collaboration or contemplation – as long as individuals have access to both ways of working.
  • Remember that each person is unique.
    Make it easy for people to work the way they work best.
  • Take advantage of the tools available.
    Make it easy to collaborate and work using technology.

Any business can evolve. It is possible to create an environment that enables the people who work there to be as productive as possible, by making it easy for them to work in ways that suit them best. All it takes is a clear understanding of the company’s vision, and collaboration with specialists who can make it a reality.

Find out how Simplyhealth is making the modern working environment a practical reality when you read the full case study. Just drop your details into the form on the right and we’ll send your copy straight to you.


[1]Simplyhealth/ CIPD Health & Wellbeing at Work Report 2018, Total sample:1,021 HR and L&D professionals-p.22

Corinne Williams

Corinne Williams

Corinne Williams is the Director of HR & Engagement at Simplyhealth and leads the Modern Working Environment Project that has already seen the successful delivery of a pilot across one floor in our Anton House building.

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