It might seem that the pandemic has transformed how, where and when we want to work, but in reality it’s just dramatically sped up a trend that has been around for some time.
Companies who saw this early on have adapted quickly and knew how to handle the pandemic, unfortunately a lot of others are still playing catch up or forcing enlightened workers back into dull offices and losing top talent as a result.
The purpose of the office
The first question that should come to mind is what role the office now plays in day-to-day work. Since emails replaced letters, generally there was no necessity to be sat amongst colleagues, but there are creative and efficiency benefits to being around co-workers.
Pre-pandemic this was a common request for office design, employers wanted to create ‘chance encounters’ where people could mingle, and new ideas be created. This is one argument for keeping the office, but it’s important to consider the type of space that is created; it needs to nurture this environment.
As people have adapted to remote working, there will be reluctance to return to the commute and a fixed desk for a lot of people. Perhaps the office should be considered a hub, a place to meet and share ideas, break the monotony and socialise. If clients regularly visit, it’s a chance to be a showroom, demonstrate the capability and successes of the company. Without banks of fixed desks, there is more room to accommodate these spaces and clever, adaptable design will allow spaces to be multi-purpose, making the most of the lease.
Remote and shared working
A lot of smaller businesses and freelancers are now making use of hot desks at places like WeWork and Spaces. When you consider a new arrangement as ‘working remotely’ rather than ‘working from home’ this starts to make a lot more sense. The benefit to staff is that they can choose where they work, who they share their office space with, what style of office they want etc. If employers want to, they could offer an allowance for staff to rent a desk where they like or put it towards their set-up at home. It’s a short-term financial commitment to the company and allows for scaling, without being tied into a long lease.
It’s also possible to ditch the idea of a company having their own office; there could be a shared arrangement with likeminded partners. This has been seen more in recent years, especially at larger companies with surplus space who allow clients to use their desks or meeting rooms when they need. It helps to keep the client close and nurture the relationship.
Maybe a group of small companies taking on a shared lease, creating a mixed working environment is something that staff would look forward to seeing. Small companies sometimes lack a little camaraderie due to the lack of larger teams, but collecting together in this way can help to overcome that issue and allow the sharing of resources such as meeting rooms or a receptionist.
Eventually all of this becomes a question of what you will spend your money on. In all honesty the key is in flexibility and options. We are seeing residential clients moving away from the totally open plan layout, people now want options – a kitchen / diner, a cosy TV room, a place to work.
These are the same options people will begin to expect from the workplace. Sometimes you need a quiet space with no distractions, sometimes you want a cosy relaxed atmosphere, maybe you also want a standing desk to avoid slouching.
Options and flexibility also help the office to be more accessible, providing a range of possibilities and allowing the staff to choose how and where they work. Engage staff in the conversation and the final specifications of furniture, there will no doubt be things you’ve not considered.
Since the push to work from home, it’s likely a lot of staff now use laptops that can be brought to the office, or even left in a locker if the staff member is a full-time office person. For more complex situations there are desk booking systems that staff can use to ensure their place.
In the end…
This also won’t be forever. Trends will constantly evolve but this is just one of the most dramatic changes to the workplace in recent years and it will take a more drastic change of approach in most circumstances. Each company should analyse the individual needs and wants of the staff.
There needs to be some flexibility for staff members as well, some will want to be in the office full time, some won’t; it would be wise to allow for a fairly even split and allow desks to be shared, maybe even use a hot desk scenario. Listening to what staff need to work effectively will help to improve wellbeing and ultimately, productivity.