How will our workplace evolve after the madness of COVID19? Let’s not be too hasty, says Dan Moscrop, Creative Director of Them and presenter for Spacecraft, The Workplace Design Podcast.
The office is going to change, that’s one thing we can all agree on. What’s harder to agree on is quite how much it’s going to change. Respected industry leaders are at polar opposites, with some talking about business as usual, and others (correctly in my opinion) stating that transformation is needed and already in many cases happening through forward-thinking businesses.
The following article looks at where we are now and where we’re heading, which is towards a purpose-led workspace that’s main aim is to represent your brand and more importantly to retain your culture.
We didn’t really get long to adapt to the new way of working, literally going from a typical working day to working from our respective dining room tables. It hasn’t been easy but there are definitely some good parts too:
- Work/Life balance.
Our working hours have completely changed further blurring the lines between work/life balance. And though we want structure, the 9-5 will no longer be relevant. The idea of everyone attempting to commute to arrive into work in their masses at the same time is going to feel pretty alien to us.
The concept of presenteeism has been detonated, but in many cases productivity is down, it’s just that people aren’t keen to share this as they don’t want to lose the perk of working from home. The great news is it really is highlighting those people in the office that talked a good game but didn’t really deliver.
There are a lot of businesses talking about reducing the size of their offices to save money, but initially, there are long leases to negotiate out of and we’ll need our existing volume to reduce the density of the teams working in the space, often on rotational days.
- The Employee Centred Business.
Over the pandemic, businesses have entered into a different relationship with their employees. HR’s multi-layered role of protecting the business whilst supporting the employee has entirely been absorbed with supporting the staff. This has given employees more of a voice, and it’s likely they’ll want to keep it.
- Wellbeing and Culture have taken a big hit.
It takes more than a few quizzes, Friday beers and Zoom birthdays for teams to feel like they’re getting the benefits of working together. So what differentiates who we’re going to work for if we’re working from home?
What we know is that the office is more than just a place to keep our computers, it’s a hub of collaboration, creativity and culture. Businesses have tried to lose the office in the past, with Yahoo! being one of the most famously cited (and slated) for banning home working, which though heavy-handed was based on the degradation of their culture. Though there are perks to working from home it’s hard to build strong relationships with colleagues or clients when you’re speaking into a screen with a 3-second delay. Businesses need to be asking not if, but why do they need an office.
Businesses need to step back from the noise and plan what the true purpose of their office is. We’re finding that we can do focused work from home, but creativity and collaboration have suffered. There’s an efficiency to Zoom calls but a day full of them is draining. The pandemic should speed up the positive things that have been happening to our offices, and because we all had to react quickly we know change doesn’t need to be glacial. Here are a few things we think we’ll start to see pretty quickly:
- Close to Home.
Having had a taste of working from home, rather than lose two hours travelling into a central office, people will want to work nearer to home in smaller sub-offices or co-working spaces, giving people the best of both worlds: a professional kid-free setting without the commute. Serviced offices already providing flexible leases where offices can be leased in a membership model, but struggling retail units could be repurposed as small office units.
- Creating Brand Flagships.
To wow clients and function as a talent magnet for staff, spaces designed more to be a brand experience and a place to meet and collaborate rather than hold banks of desks. Workspaces are likely to need some rejuvenation to re-engage employees and help employers to reimagine the productive and creative space.
- Culture Hubs.
A number of businesses (including Yahoo! and HP) noticed a substantial drop-off in culture when their teams started to work from home, this is a very real and serious issue. What would the glue be that holds your organisation together if you’re teams are only communicating online? Many of the businesses that had tried remote working found they needed to create a branded hub to attract people back into the office to rebuild their culture.
Since Covid19’s impact on the workplace, the demands on the employer to look after the employee has grown. There has been a shift in expectation from employees, as their mental wellbeing has suffered and the poor ergonomics of the kitchen table started to kick in. This will continue as employers are expected to provide a workplace that improves how we feel and not just physically: through biophilia, tactile materials, sound, oxygen and light. Businesses that have applied a proactive approach to improving staff wellbeing are predisposed to look after their teams during the lockdown and will be the places to work. Businesses expecting to go back to the old way of working might lose the respect of their staff.
After six months of us all working from home, our CFOs will start asking why we’re paying London wages for staff that can work effectively from anywhere, opening up a global talent market. In addition to this, the lack of the need for conventional office space will also allow businesses to expand into different countries with less of a financial outlay.
The new workplace is certainly going to be different, we need to work out what we want it to be and also remember that despite the seriousness of the pandemic, it’s hopefully going to be a relatively short blip on the landscape. It shouldn’t inform what the office of the future is, but should be a catalyst to making positive change.