What is the office actually for?
What was once seen as a logical and efficient way of working has now been brought into question by the sudden and mass shift to remote and hybrid work.
So, to work out where we’re going – we first need to rewind.
The ‘office’ has always been in a shifting state, all the way back to its conception in the 15th century, where medieval monks created ‘scriptoriums’ to copy manuscripts. From that point onwards these proto-offices slowly evolved as the introduction of artificial light, telephones, typewriters, elevators, and computers eventually spawned sky-scraping office buildings which defined the urban landscape.
Then BOOM! Lockdown. And everything changed.
What had been a slow and gradual evolution was jolted in a radically different direction. Those that could, worked from home. And for many of these individuals, working life became more productive, and more rewarding, to the point where today nine in ten jobseekers say hybrid work is now as important as financial benefits.
These new expectations mean that employers now need to be considering how they can most effectively use their office space to optimize the productivity of their people when they are in work – while also meeting their wellbeing needs when they are working remotely.
The best way to do this? By focusing on policy, place, and purposeful leaders:
Policy – Clarity is key when it comes to creating policies for hybrid and remote work, and so is the consideration of time. Your policies will outline when you expect people to be in, and when they are permitted the freedom to choose whether they use the office or work from home.
How flexible are your working hours? Are there core working hours that everyone needs to be available for? Being clear about what your policies are and why you have chosen them is important when it comes to building trust and loyalty with your staff, as well as lending to your attractiveness as a company.
Place – Different people are going to want/need to use the office for different reasons. For some, they may want to be in everyday as they cannot find a quiet space to focus at home. For others, they may only want to come in once a week, as they can do their individual work from home but enjoy face-to-face contact for more collaborative tasks. The point of this is that you have to be able to offer a place that can accommodate for both.
Will you have a Superdesk in one area to encourage collaboration and cubicle spaces for those who need to concentrate? Or will you try and adopt a more creative approach, with nap pods and sofas scattered about?
There is no ‘best way’ to do it – a recent study found that actively trying to make creative office spaces could be stifling creativity, whilst another discovered that changing from cubicles to open-plan saw a 70% drop in face-to-face interactions.
It all depends on your people’s needs; let them guide how your office space takes shape, and this way, it will ensure the optimization of their productivity.
Purposeful Leaders – Your leaders will play a huge role in bringing these policies to life – as well as ensuring that the office space you have is delivering a return on your real estate investment.
If you decide that you want all employees to come in once a week, then it falls to team leaders and line-managers to highlight why people should adhere to this. If you force your staff to come in only for them to do the quiet, concentrated, individual work they can, and would most likely prefer to, do from home, then you are not optimizing the space around you. These days should be dedicated to collaborative tasks, to nourishing the company culture and strengthening the relationships between colleagues. If this is done correctly, people will stop viewing coming into the office as a chore and actually start wanting to be there, but your policies can only be as good as your managerial facilitation.
Employers need to accept that hybrid and remote work is, for the majority of workers, desirable and beneficial, and begin leveraging this opportunity to optimize productivity rather than seeing it as an obstacle standing in the way of ‘the old way of work’.
The purpose of the office is changing, so now it’s a matter of leading this change rather than being led by it. And this is where we can help – we can assist in optimizing your organizational effectiveness when it comes to hybrid work, helping to craft policies and coach leaders to ensure that your company’s individual needs are met, and simultaneously align with the needs of your workforce.