Workplace specialist Adam Baker shares his views on how the future of work will evolve and the impact COVID19 plays in how organisations will adapt the workplace.
How will the workplace evolve in a post COVID19 era?
I think it’s still too early to call. COVID19 has accelerated organisations’ ability to support people working from non-office locations. We’ve seen this both in terms of deploying technology and trusting people. For many organisations this has been imposed (due to Government or state restrictions) and seen as crisis management.
Whilst working from home has worked for some, it hasn’t for others. It has highlighted that one size doesn’t fit all. What works for one person in one organisation doesn’t work for another.
It also depends on the organisation’s starting point. Those that had no support for collaborative working, few meeting rooms, poor technology and allocated desking will face different challenges to offices who don’t.
Will the need for office space completely disappear?
There will always be people whose role, personal circumstances, or preference will be to work from an office. There are also many activities that are performed better in person than remotely.
How can businesses balance the need for traditional (i.e. assigned seating) vs. non-traditional work (i.e. collaborative workspaces) settings?
There is no simple answer to this.
Firstly organisations need to have a clear strategy for their business and their people. What are the goals for the organisation and what type of skills and people are needed to get there.
Understanding how and where people work and what needs to change, enables them to create the right balance of work settings.
This analysis may highlight capability gaps. Maybe too much reliance on command and control, not enough innovation, the need to collaborate more across silos.
Organisations then need to understand how all their people work (what activities they perform, and where best they perform them). This will be unique to everyone and cannot be turned into generalisations about job title or grade.
What tactical changes can businesses make now to redesign/adapt the workplace?
The key is aligning the people, technology, real estate and workplace strategies so they directly support the business strategy.
It’s important to understand what activities people currently do, where they do them, and what is missing.
Returning to the office is going to be gradual, so the workplace will need to continue supporting remote workers with technology and software to enable team or individual collaboration.
Consider implications in the short and long term:
Do you have the infrastructure to make changes to meeting rooms?
Will everyone be joining VCs from their office desk?
How will you manage noise levels in the office?
If more people are physically co-located how will you avoid creating a ‘them & us’ feeling between office and remote workers, so neither side feels like the poor relation?
What are the key challenges businesses will likely face?
1. Using a one size fits all approach to the future of work
Our ‘work from home experiment’ in 2020 was forced upon us and often not managed in organisational change terms.
We don’t know what the long term impacts are of keeping people working remotely and there is as much danger in applying a ‘everyone works from home’ approach as there is in a ‘everyone goes back to the office’ stance.
Every organisation needs to re-evaluate their workplace strategy to understand what will work for them and their people.
2. Finding new ways of working
Working from home has worked for some but not others. In many cases, organisations have simply transferred existing ways of working in person, to remote alternatives. For example, in person meetings to virtual meetings, but it’s important to note that not all existing ways of working will be transferable.
Organisations need to re-evaluate how we work and the impact it has on the workplace. Redefining the workplace experience that supports flexible work patterns, remote and office workers as well as improve our collective effectiveness.
Embracing more asynchronous ways of working will enable more people to know what’s going on, or contribute to a problem, without all having to be in the same meeting room or video conference at the same time. Support mentoring, knowledge sharing and induction through non-traditional ways will require new capabilities from managers accompanied by new technology.
3. Pressure on costs
Given the economic outlook there will be inevitable calls for cost savings. Disposal or acquisition of real estate is often not a quick or inexpensive process.
Changes to office work settings and layout will require capital and revenue spend. While this may improve talent attraction and retention in the medium term, it may be difficult to justify internally.
The run costs for Facilities Management teams may also see this pressure, with potentially less people overall in offices still requiring the same services.
4. Trust being taken away from people
One of the reasons remote working had not gained traction before COVID-19 was a reluctance by managers to let people try working from home, through fear they may not do the work or lack of trust.
There are some organisations who are eagerly waiting for the time ‘we can just get back to normal’. But organisations who want to return to 9-5 working and presentism run the risk of losing good people who want to work for organisations that support different ways of working.
5. Prolonged uncertainty
Any vaccination may not be widely distributed across the population until Q3-4 2021. Organisations need to move from pandemic reaction to future business development and planning to ensure they are ready.
How can businesses continue to optimise their office space?
Outside of COVID-19 restrictions:
Space usage - Understand who is using the space, frequency of use and what they are doing. The efficient way to gather this intel is by using occupancy sensors and integrating a workplace analytics system.
Work setting - Understand what work settings are utilised and why. Combining occupancy utilisation data and employee feedback from those who are using the space, will help you understand what is missing or working well.
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About Adam Baker
Adam Baker is a specialist in connecting the physical, technological and behavioural elements of the workplace to build great employee experiences.
Adam’s passion is to change the expectations people have about what it means to experience life in an organisation. He enables organisations to see how they can behave, structure and operate to deliver great workplaces. Connect with him at inclusivecultures.com or via LinkedIn.