We’re challenging the concept of the future flexible workplace…
In recent years we have seen an overdue and much needed disruption to the office sector initiated in the main by co-working providers who rightly brought the approach of treating people who rented office space as a customer. This consequently changed the mindset of the people that design and develop office space having to up their game and come up with a new customer focused approach.
The immediate issue we need to solve is how offices can be used safely. The main risks of coronavirus transmission can be mitigated by reconfiguration, monitoring through technology and implementation of workplace use policies.
Lockdown has highlighted that most office-based roles can be functionally performed remotely, facilitated by the adoption of user-friendly technology. Overnight it has now become acceptable, almost assumed that the individual will be able to have control over their own working patterns and it will no longer be an exception or perk to be able to work from home.
So if you don’t need an office to functionally do your work, then that brings me on to think, why does a company need an office at all? And importantly, if there is an office then what will make us want to be there?
We’ve learnt that already established teams can be empowered to be successful and productive from home. But, how will this work as you need to recruit new staff, nurture new teams or embark on a new project? Can you set up or effectively grow a business from home? The physical workplace along with the interaction and innovation it facilitates can set and develop the culture, attitude, collaboration and aspirations in which its staff need to succeed and it is difficult to do that remotely. These reasons suggest that the vast majority of companies will continue to have some sort of central office but the size, functionality and the user groups of this space will need to be defined over time as we move out of the pandemic phase.
The new challenge of designing places for people to work is that we need to offer employees something that exceeds their working from home experience. More than ever, our employees take on the role of the customer and this is the push to permanently shift developers from being wholesalers to retailers of workspace.
We also need to better understand and communicate the direct impact that the office can have on our customer’s mental and physical wellbeing in addition to their productivity. We need to help educate our employees of the benefits it provides both at the corporate and individual level. The workspaces we create should enhance a person’s daily experience not detract from it. The office should offer more than a base from which to fire off emails and result in a place dedicated to creating a healthy, sustainable environment for fostering a connected company culture, knowledge sharing, socialising – helping drive a business forward together.
We also need to accelerate the use (and usefulness) of technology. In the same way that we lead very digital personal lives on a personal level – this will increasingly be integral to our building design, providing employees – our customers – with real-time data on how the key metrics linked to employee health and productivity are performing and offer immediate insights. For the office environment to prevail, it needs to work a bit harder for us.
And let’s look to our neighbours in the retail sector and some of the best retail brands who harnessed all channels from online shopping to in-store brand experience and browsing. Will we see a shift to an omni-channel approach to our work? In doing so, we could harness the benefits of remote working for our functional tasks and still appreciate the value of the workplace environment as the destination for immersing in our brand culture, social interactions and collaboration and the ‘money can’t buy working from home’ experience. Through this shift to a multi-faceted approach, we can cultivate a workplace where people can thrive – professionally and socially.
This approach is essential to be able to demonstrate to your customer why they need your office space and in order for the workplace to evolve into a space that can complement and benefit our working day.
Whilst we don’t have all the answers, at HB Reavis we’re challenging ourselves at this significant junction for the office sector to evolve into a retailer of a relevant product for the future and one that all employees will want to buy into.