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The rise of the human workplace

Caroline Lindsay, Learning & development manager, UK & Europe

There’s no shortage of voices telling us about how digital will shape our future. They talk about the rise in artificial intelligence, collaborating with robots and about how automation will take over many of our most mundane tasks.

Digital will revolutionise the world of work, but there is also an emerging discussion focusing on our human needs in this digital age. The conversation around designing our workspaces, tasks and experiences with the principles of human-centred design is worth having because we become tone-deaf to the needs of people at our peril.

So what does a workplace need in order to protect its most valuable commodity – us, the employees? We need to craft our workplace experience keeping six human needs as our guiding star to get us to our destination – a high performing, legacy-leaving, enjoyable (yes, let’s use that word!) workplace.


We all need safety, stability, security, predictability and control. Tapping into this need will see organisations offering secure employment as a point of difference, easing up on their drive for limiting authority to the top few and reducing prescriptive policies. We’ll rarely see massive change efforts as we understand how disruptive they truly are. Instead, we’ll see tweaks, morphing and ongoing small transitions – tapping into our deep need to feel like we know what the future will bring and can gain momentum by not being continuously disrupted.


Juxtaposed to certainty is our need for variety. This is our need for challenge, excitement, adventure and some change. This need sees people working in different ways (along the lines of the freelance movement/gig economy/laptop lifestyle) to meet our driving need for variety and adventure in our lives. Organisations which tap into this need will lighten up on dictating terms for employees and allow for hyper-personalisation as they understand we are not a one-size-fits-all species.


This is our need to feel we are not just cogs in a machine – that what we do has meaning. It’s our need to have personal responsibility for something. Now this doesn’t come in one flavour either, but when we are recognised for our efforts or rewarded for our performance, we feel a bit more significant and that’s good news for all.


People also have a need to give, express care and serve something bigger than ourselves. Let’s face it, we all want to be clear about what we are expected to contribute at work – and how our efforts support the main game. Like significance, an element of this includes our need for meaning and purpose – for contributing to something bigger than ourselves. It’s not a new idea but tapping into it is like pouring rocket fuel into our performance tanks. When we feel our efforts clearly make a difference, it positively exploits our powerful human need to make a contribution.


This is our need to connect on a personal level. It’s our need to feel part of, and accepted by, a community of people. The global rise in anxiety has been partly attributed to the breakdown in social connection and communities. When we don’t have this need met our mental wellbeing quickly deteriorates. Predictions are that we’ll start to see more organisations looking deeper at how they can support the sense of belonging and community within their teams – especially as we work more and more virtually. This need will not ‘evolve’ out of us, so we need to evolve better ways of curating great social connections across our companies.


Our final need is to have a sense of progress where our skills, knowledge, careers and lives are concerned. Being able to learn and feel like we have the potential for growth is vital to our enjoyment of the workplace – as well as the retention of talent within an organisation. Interestingly, growth occurs naturally where we have diverse inputs and partnerships, as it can supercharge our ideas, as shown in the partnerships between Spotify and Uber, Cirque de Solei and Reebok and even NASA and Lego. These were all diverse partnerships which delivered much value back to their clients and businesses. So whether it’s growth through learning or growth by exposure to difference – we all need to feel that sense of progress about our lives.

So, as digital technology brings greater efficiency to the world of work, let’s take the opportunity to make our workplaces as human-friendly as possible. By focusing on the six core human needs, we can make work fulfilling and meaningful, boosting the wellbeing and productivity of employees in the process.

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