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Opinion

The Week in HR tech: No, booths aren’t the future of work

Now is the time to re-think how and where we work — and no, prefabricated booths aren’t the answer.

Yessi Bello-Perez

Technologist

Unleash Your Curiosity In this week’s column, UNLEASH Editor Yessi Bello Perez takes a look at work habits, technology, and workspaces.

  • Now is the time to re-think how and where we work — and no, prefabricated booths aren’t the answer.
  • We just need to figure out how we can leverage technology to ensure we take a people-first approach.
  • Deep work should be a priority — employees should be able to work without distractions.

I’ve been working from home, on and off, for about six years and I love it. I’ve always been lucky to have a spare bedroom that could double up as a home office.

Over the years, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time (and money!) perfecting the right setup. After a lot of trial and error, I recently discovered that the key to sucess was a window-facing desk.

Lo and behold the power of natural light! My desk looks out onto my neighbors’ backyards, which might I add are surprisingly filled with wildlife despite being in West London. Birds, foxes, squirrels, cats, and dogs have quickly become the highlight of my existence during working hours — and natural daylight helps too, of course.

This is not the future of work

This is why I was surprised to come across a BBC article that spoke about the future of work and pay-by-the-minute booths.

These booths, created by a Singaporean company called Swtich, enable users to pay around $3 per hour to use a desk, well, in a box.

Turns out these kind of setups have been around for years in Japan, where companies such as Telecube and Cocodesk have placed them in metro stations, hotel foyers, and convenience stores. If this is the future of work, I want absolutely nothing to do with it.

Countless scientific research has highlighted the benefits of daylight: it boosts vitamin D, wards off seasonal depression, improves sleep … the list goes on.

Choice is a wonderful thing and we’re certainly all entitled to decide how and where to work. I know working remotely is not a universal experience. I, for example, don’t have to worry about sharing a home with strangers, my neighbors are well-behaved, and so is my internet connection (most of the time).

But even if this wasn’t the case, would I chose to lock myself up in a booth for some quiet time? Probably not.

Of course, booths aren’t new. Working in the tech startup world, I’ve come across endless booths dotted around coworking spaces in London. They were popular, too.

But herein lies the crux of the issue, in an office setting, booths provide a much-needed respite from noisy colleagues but if your only feasible option to focus and get work done is to dive into a box for a couple of hours a day, then, you’re not working right — and it may not be your fault either.

Open offices? No thanks

I have been moaning about open offices for years. In fact, my editor at my previous job was kind enough to let me write a rant about them (informed by research, of course).

Pre-pandemic, most people thought I was just being a petulant millennial — but now it seems I was slightly ahead of the curve.

Before COVID-19 turned the world outside down, I was already struggling to understand why employees all over the world were being packed into open offices based on the premise that they fostered cross-team collaboration and, in some instances, helped eradicate hierarchy. I mean, who doesn’t like sitting next to their CEO?

In actual fact, many — myself included — were struggling to function, distracted by the water cooler chatter we now all miss, and the incessant phone calls and conversations taking place all over the place, which belonged to everyone and no one in particular. Oh, and don’t get me started on how open offices are a breeding ground for contagion.

Fast forward to 2021 and organizations are thankfully re-framing how they think about work and space, with many quickly realising the power of technology — and that’s the thing, technology exits, it’s just about how you use it.

people-centric technology

We often talk about digital transformation and being agile — but what does that really mean?

On the surface, it has everything to do with pre-empting change and adapting. If we start to dig a little deeper — and this is something HR has been so successful in doing over the past 12 months — you inevitably realise that digital transformation is meaningless unless it serves a purpose, not just for the business, but for its people.

Technology is a double-edged sword. Zoom and survey fatigue is real, HR tech stacks are overcrowded, HR teams often lack the data they need to make informed decisions — we know we can’t go back to where we were pre-pandemic — but on the flipside, it’s enabled employees to remain productive amid all the chaos.

It may have taken a global pandemic for the entire business world to wake up to the fact that people comes first, and everything else is secondary, but it’s progress.

HR needs to think about employees as customers. With many organizations opting for a hybrid working model it’s never been more important to leverage asynchronous working tools, which will not only allow your employees to work from anywhere, but to do so whenever.

I’ll leave you with that thought. See you next week!

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