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The future beckons: How will workplaces respond?

When filmmakers Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis created the Back to the Future movies of the 1980s, they envisioned what life would be like on a future date that seemed far away: October 21, 2015.

As actor Michael J Fox’s character grappled with futuristic technology and unthinkable world events, the audience wondered: would life really be all hoverboards, wearable tech and hands free gaming? Now we know – and as more of those once imaginary inventions become the norm, our workplaces are adapting to make the most of the technological possibilities.

The real October 21, 2015, arrived only two days after the Institute for the Future (IFTF) and JLL managing director Bryan Jacobs present Are You Equipped for 2018 and Beyond?, a CoreNet Global Summit North America conference session that tackles the big questions about the future of work.

As new workplace technologies emerge, businesses look to marry these previously futuristic, now must-have tools with workplace strategy to improve productivity. As Jacobs says in a blog for Executive Sourcing Network: “Mobile and in-office technology enables more work to be done outside the office, making professionals more efficient while requiring less space per employee. Increased mobility also means facilities and IT must work together in maintaining a fully wired workplace.”

But are facilities and IT ready to coordinate their efforts? And are C-suite leaders and workplace strategists ready for the mobile, flexible future our technology makes possible?

Ready or not – the future workplace is here

Smart buildings, mobile devices, video conferencing and predictive analytics are all beginning to reshape how, where and when we work. In many cases, that means changing corporate culture—and using new technologies to their fullest, including embracing the Third Platform of the virtual workspace alongside the physical office.

The office of today is becoming more futuristic as business models change more rapidly than ever before.

Virtual teams are cropping up across the cloud, with Elance, LiveOps and other online platforms providing the opportunity to outsource some management functions via technology platforms. Automated management may seem highly unlikely, but, as Devin Fidler, Research Director of IFTF, argues in the Harvard Business Review, some managers can – and will – be replaced by software.

“During the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, a similar argument was made about detailed craft work,” Fidler writes, addressing those who are skeptical that knowledge work can be automated. “However, by breaking such work down into discrete steps, automated craftsmanship quickly became possible. After all, assembly lines transformed the world in 50 years.”

Task-coordination and sharing economy technologies, like Uber, Lyft and TaskRabbit, offer new ways of assigning and organizing work, relying on freelance micro-taskers over traditional employees.

Stay ahead with forward-thinking strategy

The workday is also not what it used to be. With the rise of mobile working, contract hiring and the “freelance economy,” many workers are not willing to accept the traditional nine-to-five world.

Flexible office configurations mean workplaces can be reshaped at any time. Many companies are focusing less on traditional offices, with greater openness to workplaces that can be easily configured and re-configured based on the work at-hand. It also means even greater emphasis on mobile workplace technologies.

“Should we all quit our desk jobs and sign up as life members of the sharing economy? No – but we should consider how to create workplaces that are as nimble as the workforce,” says Bryan Jacobs, International Director, JLL, and co-presenter with Fidler at the CoreNet Global Summit. “Increasingly, we see companies wanting to use predictive analytics to more accurately forecast where their business is headed and where workers will need to be. And they are asking their service providers to help them achieve greater flexibility in the types of workplaces they provide.”

Back to the future? Looks like we are already there—and it’s time to break from the past with forward thinking.

This article originally appeared on Real Views, JLL's news site that features stories exploring the world of real estate and its impact on the wider business world. Visit the Real Views site to subscribe for our weekly email of top stories, delivered direct to your inbox.​​​​​​