Future workplaces will be a more collaborative environment. In this episode, Sabine Ehm chats with Nicola Millard about how companies are approaching this shift.
Meet the expert
Nicola Millard is the Principal Innovation Partner at British Telecom, which is better known as BT. Nicola calls herself a “slightly weird” member of BT, as she is half technologist, half psychologist. Although passionate about technology, her main focus is on the people.
Nicola’s initial job title was Futurologist. She had a love-hate relationship with this name, as people would ask her to tell the future. “If I spent the whole day looking at a crystal ball, that would be very boring.” Nicola spends much of her time researching human behavior and the future of work. She is particularly interested in how people interact with technology: are they accepting it or rejecting it?
Listen to the following clips to gain insight into how Nicola sees and predicts the future workplaces.
“I’m a psychologist in a technology company trying to understand the most disruptive part of innovation, which is of course, not the technology. It’s us.” – Nicola Millard
It is safe to assume that most experiments will fail when innovating. In the clip, Nicola discusses how this can be the most challenging aspect of her role. A conflict with an individual who is risk-averse or terrified of failure can be problematic. Nicole works to change this mindset by instilling an attitude of failing fast, learning quickly, and succeeding quickly.
This idea will shape future workplaces. Testing new ways of working will take time and come with many failures. Back in 1992, Nicola worked on a team experimenting with working from home. At the time, this was quite revolutionary. The experiment ran for a year and was considered a success. However, the technology wasn’t good enough to make permanent changes.
Several years ago, Nicola was asked to speak to a prediction she had had that subsequently failed. For her, this was home-working. But, as we all know, this rapidly changed when the pandemic hit, proving her right in the end. “You innovate your way out of a crisis.”
“Effectively, the home is now a competitor to the office.” – Nicola Millard
Prior to the pandemic, Nicola was traveling the world visiting state-of-the-art office spaces. She had “become completely obsessed with office design”. Now, the home office has become an unforeseen competitor. “I have a great [at-home] work setup, but I can’t really socialize.”
An office built for social functions is a very differently designed space. Community building is at the core of the design, and assigned seating is replaced by collaboration spaces. In this clip, Nicola discusses how she needs to have confidence that the office will provide her with what she needs when she decides to go in. This includes proper tools, facilities, and of course, people. Her coworkers, clients and her team must also feel supported and comfortable in the space.
“How many people can I get into X amount of space tends to be the traditional way of looking at Real Estate. That’s got to change. It’s metrics. I could get lots of people in there but they’re not particularly productive.” – Nicola Millard
Many major companies have begun to integrate human-centric practices into their work environments. Traditionally, the only metric they used when designing office spaces was the space ratio: how many people can we shove into one room? Companies now understand that this isn’t good for business. Human behavior plays a major role in employee output. You may be able to fit 100 people into a room, but it may not be a great place to work in.
BT has already started closing many of its older buildings. Most were initially built to hold racks of networking technology, meaning they didn’t have windows. After a while, they swapped out the racks for desks and put employees in there. As you can imagine, this wasn’t the best environment for productive workers.
Future workplaces will be completely based on human behavior. Nicola Millard, a trained psychologist, has taken on this role at BT. Nicola has developed an understanding of what works by studying employees, team members, and third parties. However, the pandemic changed everything. The home office is now a competitor to corporate spaces. In other words, employees need incentives to come to work. Nicola believes companies can create those incentives by restructuring the space to be more collaborative. BT and many other large corporations have already begun this shift.
Want to turn your current offices into the ideal future workplace?