Claire Brereton, Assistant Manager, People and Change Consulting

Claire Brereton
Claire Brereton

If someone had have asked me 12 or 18 months ago what my idea of a ‘modern’ workplace was, I would have thought of open, collaborative office spaces with ping pong tables and a casual dress code. But this idea is now outdated.

Whilst the pandemic has brought about many changes, perhaps one of the biggest impacts has been the shift in both mindset and behaviour towards work. Employees are bored of 9-5 working patterns and customers need more flexibility than ever.

Artificial intelligence and robotics are on the horizon, with research showing that automation and digitisation are substituting, augmenting and creating new tasks for workers. With this in mind, there is more of a focus than ever on the need to rewrite the rules of organisation design, and ensure our organisations reflect the agility our people and customers want.

So, what really is a modern workplace? Is it a hybrid model where we spend two days a week in the (same old) office, with the rest working from home? I don’t believe so. I think our idea of a ‘modern’ workplace needs to fundamentally change and reflect the new, digital age, and the new behaviours this brings.

Looking back through history, the organisational structures we often refer to as ‘modern’ designs, such as matrix, divisional, or functional models, aren’t actually that ‘modern’, given the fact they were developed around 80-years ago. Yet we have not seen any new theory developed in this field.

The question is, how do we flex our organisational design to reflect the needs of our employees and customers? I believe that any actions must focus on the ‘rehumanisation’ of work.

Flexible, collaborative, team-based approaches are the way forward, and should already be embedded in our organisational culture. There has already been a rise in alternative employment models with more reliance on contingent workers, driven by digital platforms and tech-enabled remote working.

Business leaders must defer from the pursuit of hours worked, efficiency and output, towards the pursuit of adaptability, empowerment, support and engagement. Creating these flexible conditions for efficiency and productivity will only enhance performance, through self-managed, networks of teams, focused on specific outcomes.

Although research shows that the HR department is the least likely to be involved in decisions on AI and automation, this flexible organisational design approach will allow organisations to proactively engage with the opportunities that technology brings, shifting from associating job automation with redundancies, towards reskilling, redeployment and job reinvention.

Only with this people-based approach and sustainable, engaged, ecosystem of talent can organisations, structures, processes and policies keep up with the exponential pace of change and technology. My new vision of a modern workplace is even better than I had previously imagined!

For further information or advice, Claire Brereton can be contacted at

Grant Thornton (NI) LLP specialises in audit, tax and advisory services.