The Office Concept: Let’s Shake Things Up

To say that COVID-19 has rocked the world is an understatement. This virus has forced radical change on many aspects of our lives. One area of great impact is the office and how we work. With many professionals working primarily from home for over a year now, some are questioning the value found in the traditional office model.

Everyone Has an Opinion on the Ideal Workspace

I have seen many reports, surveys and research studies all investigating the issue of the professional worker and their workspace. Many of these were published or sponsored by those with a vested interest. Their findings tend to support their bias, particularly where worker behaviour could have a negative economic impact.

There’s a lot of insight and discussion around what the future of work looks like. These changes are not just because of COVID-19, but other factors such as automation, AI and the purpose and role of human labour. At a minimum, we are in for an interesting ride as this transformation takes place.

So allow me to offer my take on it all. While I have no vested interest, I should point out my bias. A flexible working arrangement suits me, and it’s something I did prior to the pandemic. For me (as an introvert, working parent and early-morning thinker), working remotely makes my life easier. It enables me to juggle my schedule and frees my time as I can move away from the mundane, such as the daily commute. Flexibility allows me to focus on tasks at times that are convenient and practical.

But back to my take on the concept of the office beyond COVID-19. Without sounding glib, there is no one-size-fits all answer to this issue.

The Office Workplace and the Remote Workspace Both Offer Value

Some people prefer working in an office, others prefer working remotely. Some organisations want an office presence, others don’t. There are benefits to being in a physical office, particularly for junior staff. For instance, new graduates may struggle to build professional networks if they are not in the office. While other employees appreciate the office as it enables them to step from their family life, where they can cast their identity beyond the home. Just as some employees prefer working remotely for a range of reasons, for example, it frees up travel time which can then be used to strengthen family relationships. The perception of value in ongoing work arrangements will vary for each employee and organisation.

This leads to how organisations approach setting new office arrangements. Some organisations openly discuss working arrangement possibilities with their employees. In other instances, decisions are made by senior management without consultation from their workers. When determining the best option for your company, it’s helpful to start with a brainstorm around some key considerations. Here are a few questions I think are important:

  • What are management expectations regarding the office?
  • What arrangement brings out the best performance in employees?
  • What options are there for different roles? Does this work when combined across the organisation?
  • How will you create and support your company’s culture?
  • What intangible aspects contribute to the organisation? This includes trust, communication, growth, opportunity, engagement and collaboration (formal and informal, internal and external). How will these aspects be managed?
  • What is critical to the organisation’s success?
  • What are the compromises and risks in each idea? Are these risks acceptable?
  • What are other organisations doing? Would it work in your organisation? Why or why not?

When reflecting, think about who is best to offer insight into these questions, and seek them out. This is a data gathering exercise so you can make an informed decision about work arrangements within your organisation. Be open to ideas and insight and engage by asking more questions if you need further information.

Happy Employees are Productive Employees

A key point to keep in mind is focusing on both the short and long term outcomes. With any type of change there is usually cost involved and adjustments to be made. Putting in place strategies that are responsive and adaptable can minimise future pain. To help think about this, a further question could be: What will attract the right talent in the future?

When seeking a new role, potential employees often look beyond the role and its salary package. Their decision to join an organisation includes other intangible factors including policy and support of flexible working, how the organisation sustains and supports their culture and the employee’s unique circumstance, aspirations and strengths. None of this is new, but in a COVID-19 world, a lot of employees are prioritising these aspects in their career journey.

A Variety of Flexible Working Options

The questions above should help you garner deeper insight into an office concept that could work for your organisation. In my next post, I will discuss some different options for office arrangements. There are different working models that illustrate what the workspace could look like in the future and how you could adapt it for your organisation.

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