“Progress is impossible without change and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything”  – George Bernard Shaw

One of the key aspects of planning commercial real estate is to understand how the traditional workplace has been replaced by new working methods. The era of using desktop computers, having a permanent workstation, individual landlines, and making copious print-outs is likely to become out-of-date very soon as new workplace methods are introduced. It is well known that technology creates a decentralised organization but the balance between centralising and decentralising depends on the organisation concerned and also on its culture. It is noticeable that the Sri Lankan workplaces that JLL deals with rely on a plethora of hard and soft technologies such as smart phones, laptops, tabs, Microsoft links, email, cloud facilities, WebEx and online marketing channels such as ‘Facebook’, other such websites and software systems that are customised.
Interestingly, Sri Lanka is in the latent stage of becoming a fully-fledged digitalised economy. National internet penetration has reached over 25% ( in the last five years and internet use is higher in the Western Province with the proliferation of high-quality affordable smart phones. As a result, the use of smart phones for official purposes is also growing.

Value creation due to technology
One of the ways that workplace space is being revolutionised is through the agile working concept provided by technology that allows home-based and agile working to slowly infiltrate the Sri Lankan working environment. This impinges on three value generation aspects, especially for employees and for end-users. Firstly, certain employees who work from home, benefit by having a more balanced work life that gives them more flexibility, time with family and allows them to make use of time more productively. This, in turn, helps the organisation to reduce overheads and the employee to save on travelling time and associated expenses. A publishing company has said that the use of a virtual machine, a technology provided by Microsoft, creates a server that replicates a real server, is giving it a 25% cost saving.  A well-known Sri Lankan financial institution uses only Apple iPads and e-mails for online board meetings as opposed to using printed documents and this saves paper. Further, the use of cloud facilities has made certain organisations more secure on data security with all data consolidated onto one secure platform.

Digitising workplaces
It is widely known that, today, decisions are made in real time and this requires real time data which depends heavily on connectivity, reliability and disaster recovery of systems and a quick response time frame. For instance, if we look at a multinational company, we can see that their field staff depends on smart phones as point of sale to book orders from retailers and wholesalers by using a customized sales order application and that this makes their work more effective and efficient.In the event of a natural disaster that affects a manufacturing facility, the real time data and interconnectivity help its management make  quick decisions after consulting the regional / international divisions.

Effective strategies
Technology confers enhanced productivity. However, it can also create work-related stress and mechanically driven tasks which can become monotonous over time. Therefore, certain soft facilities need to be implemented to improve the morale of employees and the majority of firms approached by us said that they provided club memberships with facilities such as badminton, fitness centres, photography groups, holiday bungalows, and so on. Such facilities could not be provided in-house due to the cost and lack of space.

Leading workplace standards
When considering leading workplace standards we need to look at three key aspects – Trust (The people they work for), Delight(In what they do), and Relish (The people they work with).

Siemens, a  global technology company in Belgium, found out that 16% of its employees experienced high levels of stress and irregular working hours which impacted their performance. Hence,the company introduced a health programme that focused on awareness building and training through the following:

* Making available an instructional/educational video

* Arranging a two-day health seminar for managers

* Launching the Siemens social network platform “Fit@work”

* Introducing its “Individual development plan” for job security related issues
This resulted in low absenteeism and 90% of the participants recommending the programme.More than 250 employees joined the social network community and Siemens was awarded the title of“Employer of the Year 2014”.

* To conclude, Sri Lanka is still at the embryonic stage in developing workplace strategies. These are visible in certain organizations, especially in call centres, Software developing companies, Business centres that have global affiliations and would work on shift basis or would share office infrastructure.

* IT infrastructure needs to be adopted more broadly across all sectors not just amongst the BPO/KPOs.

* Work at home could be implemented if efficient individual performance measurement mechanisms are implemented, along with clear HR policies that are coherent.

* Workplace strategies will not only boost the transparency within the firm but also the efficiency by reducing human errors.

* When fair and transparent HR policies are set for home or on flexible working hours it boosts the confidence level of employees, giving them comfort and appreciation.

Simultaneously the employer can monitor progress to confer benefit to the organisation.
(The writer is the Chairperson of Jones Lang LaSalle Sri Lanka)