Post Covid-19: The office of the future
Covid-19 has turned our personal lives and working worlds upside down. After months of forced participation in the world’s biggest ‘Work-From-Home’ experiment, our attention now turns to how our working lives will be resumed and impacted in the post-pandemic workplace.
What will individuals want and need from their place of work? And as employers, how much value does our business derive from ‘social capital’, face-to-face contact and the physical provision of a workplace for our people?
Vocal proponents of home working now declare that there is no need to return to the environmental and personal rigours and expense of commuting. They say that the benefits gained from our rejuvenated view means that our homes – or our local café – have permanently replaced the need for a shared office.
But supporters of the office argue that this neglects critical lessons from generations who believe in the workplace as our second home. It is the place in which we feel safe for a large proportion of our lives. The place where we solve problems, create solutions with like minds and form bonds that last a lifetime.
Company policy and the will of individuals will determine how these differing perspectives blend in the future. It will transpire with time how deeply this period of home working has changed our relationship with the office.
For a multitude of businesses, there is no choice. Their people must work from a central point to comply with data security.
If a business has a choice and the home working experiment has exposed a potential alternative, they must decide whether the inevitable cost savings outweigh the benefits of bringing their people together under one roof. If they decide to maintain the role of the office, they must ensure they can persuade their people to leave their home desks and return to the fold.
Do we need the office?
The office is the physical heart and soul of a business representing its cultural aspirations. Without this palpable hallmark, you have at best a floating, fragmented collection of individuals loosely connected by a company name. Compelling intelligence about a company is derived from a visit to the office and buying decisions are made accordingly.
Companies heavily invest in ‘social capital’ which is held within their networks, their teams’ knowledge, their ideas and group resilience. Without the office this value is rapidly eroded. The office grants us the ability to interact – face-to-face – whether formally behind closed doors or in accidental meetings in break-out areas. Our body language, vocal interjections and camaraderie contribute to a gold standard of collaboration.
The next generation of talent make their decisions based on company values and how they are demonstrated in the place of work. This influx of energetic people absorb learning and gain wisdom through stories and actions of their elders. The handover of knowledge accumulates with time and creates an underlying essence of intellectual and cultural capital for a business.
And then there is the unspoken chemistry that runs through every office. Synergies bring people together and relationships are formed. Chance encounters, struggles, challenges and shared victories nurture the soul of a company. Businesses make progress through their ability to innovate. Innovations come about when people are in the same room. All the video conferencing technology in the world will never replace this human need.
A shift to working from home?
Having experienced some clear benefits of working from home, many individuals will continue to see it as a viable choice for the future. Video platforms make connecting with clients and colleagues imminently possible and any technological shortcomings will soon become a thing of the past.
There have been multiple benefits realised from a precious time exchange, swapping the commute with home life connections and reclaiming salary lost to travel expenses. Given the choice, many individuals will not wish to relinquish those newfound benefits – and those workers may be in a stronger position to demand this option in the future.
Adapting to change
Those who continue to work from home may request that their companies provide furniture, technology and tools. Subsequently, there will be layers of management who need to adapt their style, relinquishing visual control over team members.
If companies comply with these home workers’ wishes and have no counter-proposal to tempt them back, banks of desks will sit empty in our offices.