Let’s talk about the Workplace: It’s complicated! 
07.8.2015
Caroline Burns in Workplace Design, Workplace Research

Digital nomads hold unique expectations for what workplaces should provide.

I am a digital nomad. I have traveled the world over for work, and for pleasure, and I pride myself on being not only well-traveled but good at traveling—I have a full repertoire of digital tools as well as the know-how to get and stay connected wherever I may be. In fact, I am zooming over Europe at 35,000 feet as I type this, heading home to Singapore from the U.S. Working on a plane is almost an every-day occurrence for me.

The world of workplace and the things that influence it, like cultural norms and locational context (working on a plane, at a conventional desk, or a local café) has fascinated me from the time I was a university student backpacking through Asia and spending time in these newfangled places called Internet cafes (if you are not a Gen Xer you probably don’t know what these are). A personal and professional interest in the influencers of work was the inspiration for my recently completed PhD thesis, which examines the interplay between workplace and corporate attributes—such as culture, reputation and competitive strategy—to enhance (or constrain) performance at both organizational and individual levels.

The workplace is a complex topic and I was inspired to write this post as the first of a series highlighting key findings, as well as interesting topics of discussion that arose from my thesis. I realize a thesis is not exactly light reading, and all of us have seemingly unrelenting demands for our professional and personal attention. Increasingly we are working with different technologies, responding to 24/7 communications, and reacting to faster cycle times for everything. But reflecting on my two decades in the workforce, I question whether as people we are fundamentally different twenty years on from when internet cafes were still hip establishments. We are probably more stressed and better at multi-tasking (and with attention spans approaching gnat-like dimensions), but are we really that different in our intellectual and emotional needs as knowledge workers? Personally, I don't buy the hype around generational differences. Instead, I suggest we spend more time understanding the cultural and social influences on workstyles, and how this might translate into workplace design in places like Asia and Latin America.

For all my familiarity with the place I call "home" (I have lived and worked in the Asia region for half my working life) I remain intrigued and still occasionally perplexed by the subtle differences that influence not only the workplaces we design, but also how we engage and partner with our clients in Asia. Regional perspectives on the value of mutual trust and reciprocal relationships, on effective leadership and hierarchy, on community harmony versus individual empowerment, and on well-being, are just a few of the cultural dimensions that influence workplace design in Asia. I believe more research and a deeper understanding of these nuances will enable us to make more informed design choices with our clients, and so my Gensler colleagues and I have committed to undertaking the Asia Workplace Survey this year, exploring workstyles across major cities in Asia.

I look forward to sharing key parts of my thesis and my regionally-influenced perspectives on workplace design, including the findings from Gensler’s Asia workplace survey in future blogs. But next up, I’ll be busting some myths about generational differences in the workplace, looking through the lens of an Asian socio-economic context. In later blogs I’ll share why I believe some of the best workplace innovations and future trends are emerging in Asia, and what a ‘balanced workplace’ might mean in my world of sub-100 square foot density!

Meantime, if you would like to learn more, please connect with me or our global research team. See you back here soon!

Caroline Burns is one of the global leaders of Gensler's workplace practice and has spent the last 20 years working across Asia to provide clients with corporate real estate and workplace advice. She is passionate about the value clients can achieve by aligning workplace with corporate vision and identity, and by leveraging the physical environment to address critical business needs and issues. Contact her at caroline_burns@gensler.com
Article originally appeared on architecture and design (http://www.gensleron.com/).
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