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Gazing into the crystal ball of business and trying to predict the future is complex. There are many factors to consider when trying to get the mists to clear.

However, what is universally agreed is, whatever the workplace of the future looks like, it will be enabled through technology. When business leaders were asked what will have the greatest impact on work by 2020, advances in technology had the highest response at 80%. Well ahead of globalisation (69%), sustainability (65%) and economic growth (50%).

Why? Well, first you need to consider the changing trends we have seen emerge in the workplace over the past decade. Many organisations have introduced greater flexibility in their operations: to rethink the office. Responding to calls from their employees to better manage the work/life balance, smart businesses have realised the financial gains to be had. Agile workforces best operate in workplaces that are fit-for-purpose. In 2010 we were already seeing evidence of this trend and it is only predicted to grow.

Of course, the number of desks tells only part of the story. Technology facilitates this flexibility. Whether it is the surge in video conferencing, or greater use of always-on cloud-based networks, or the increase in bring-your-own-devices that are connected to corporate networks, technology is the driver.

But why should organisations embrace agile workforces and flexible workplaces? One word: productivity. Studies have repeatedly shown that a flexible workplace is a productive one. Many predict that providing flexibility will also be a key influence on retaining and recruiting the best staff. Better staff: greater productivity.

There is also the strong financial argument too. When continuous adaptation is becoming the business norm, only having the bricks, clicks and mortar needed for a flexible workplace means substantial savings on the key overheads of office buildings, amenities and resources.

% of staff as digital natives:

  • 2013 – 35%
  • 2020 – 75%

Speed at which the amount of data in world will double:

  • 2013 – 2 years
  • 2020 – 3 months

So what are the challenges to going more flexible? Security is viewed as the greatest risk. Having employees working in a variety of locations using an ever greater number personal connected devices to access increasing amounts of confidential data will give some organisations a cold sweat. And the scale of security problems does not help:

According to UK Government statistics:

  • 90% of large businesses and 74% of SMEs had a security breach in 2015,  both higher than a year ago
  • The cost of security issues at each large businesses doubled to at least £20 million last year
  • 75% of all breaches, and 50% of the worst breaches, were caused by staff.

This may explain why 67% of businesses expect to invest in IT during 2016, with 85% investing in staff training. How to balance the employee, financial and operational benefits of flexible workplaces with mitigating the increasing security risks is the biggest challenge over the next five years.

So whatever the future holds for the workplace, technology will be the key. With more technology in the workplace comes extra risks in the form of data protection issues and cyber attacks. To find out more about how data protection is a modern challenge for modern businesses, download our executive brief HERE.

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