Workplace commentator, Chris Moriarty, shares his reflection on impacts the pandemic has had on the evolution of the workplace and assess the challenges organisations will encounter as they seek to adapt to a post-COVID19 environment. Here is what he had to say.
A spotlight on facilities and workplace operations
Those working in the workplace, real estate or facilities community most likely had had mixed feelings when looking at the national press over the past 18 months.
On one hand it’s been great to see the work that we do featured, with genuine interest and urgency at a national level. On the other hand, some may have despaired at the binary nature of that discussion as it flip-flopped between offices and homes, which ignored the nuances of the spaces in which people choose to work, organisational contexts and personal choices. We should probably take the rough with the smooth on that score.
Work has changed but it's not a new concept
What I think we can all get behind is that work has changed.
Lenin was credited with suggesting that “there are decades where nothing happens, and weeks where decades happen”.
Perhaps it has not taken a matter of weeks, but it’s fair to say that the pandemic and subsequent home working experiment has shifted workplace perceptions significantly, but remote working is not a new idea. If we go back through literature, academia has been talking about the impact of remote working on the spaces we occupy for work for over two decades.
As technological opportunities opened up, so did the possibilities (or so they thought). What stood in the way, as is often the case, was corporate culture and by that I mean ‘the way things are done around here’.
Whether you blame that on presenteeism, middle management, distrusting leadership or all of the above; working anywhere other than the corporate workspace has, until now, been the reserve of the upper echelons of the corporate hierarchy or a quirk of progressive (often tech) based businesses.
Not any longer.
Considerations for workplace change
There are too many studies to name check here but paper after paper has reaffirmed the prevailing sentiment that commuting into the corporate headquarters five days a week is yesterday’s news. So now that we’ve established that, what next?.
How do we plan for the future, particular in the world of real estate where planning cycles could be five/ten years, given how quickly things have changed during the pandemic?
Can we be agile as well as still be providing enough foresight to support sizeable investments?
What is the role of the office in the future and how will changing employee expectations impact these spaces?
How will workplace strategies change?
What spaces do we need? Do we need less of them?
What about HR? Are policies fit for purpose?
Will legislation change?
Is talent from anywhere an opportunity or a threat?
As is often the case in situations where significant change happens quickly, there are more questions than answers and the consensus is that we’re about to enter a period of experimentation. Case studies will be important and an acceptance that they might not be all shiny, glossy stories highlighting a roaring success; failure is going to be a crucial part of this journey.
Insights from Global experts
There are experts out there that can help steer us in the right direction and I’m looking forward to chairing a conversation with HR expert Megan Phelps, Workplace Strategist Dan Gardiner and CRE heavyweight, and author of ‘Where’s my office’, Chris Kane.
We have to establish how much of the future will be guided by existing principles that remain regardless of the context we find ourselves in and what thinking needs tearing up and rewritten.
We need to adjust our approach and our organisations, based on whatever the ‘new normal’ might look like, and accept it might feel different than our current experience. We have to accept that the world of work has changed.
It will be a long journey, but we’ll arrive at a new future one step at a time. The trick is taking that first crucial step.