What The Workplace Will Look Like As Companies Plan To Return To Work – by Adrian Cowley, Managing Director, Your Workspace
A few months have passed since my last blog, so I thought it wise to provide a further update on what we have learnt since that time and highlight the trends we have experienced.
Looking at my last post, it was at a time when our FM clients and workplace specialists were faced with extraordinary circumstances early in the pandemic and all were looking into a crystal ball on what the future would hold for real estate and the workplace that we know.
Following the onset of Covid-19, the workplace is continuing to change at an unprecedented pace. In just a matter of months, we have seen a seismic shift in people work remotely more from home than ever before. For those who are going into the office, or who plan to go into the office in the coming months, we’re seeing an increased need from both real estate professionals and workplace specialists ripping up previous accommodation strategies and re-writing the rule book.
Over recent years we had seen a progression for businesses to move from a traditional/fixed workplace and the introduction of an agile working strategy and hybrid workplace. Whilst most businesses were adopting this new way of working, it was at many different levels, with the majority of businesses naturally being very cautious about how their staff would deal with the change in working practices that were being implemented and so more of a softly softly approach was being employed.
We now move forward to November 2020 and the pandemic has seen how we work totally turned upside down. The majority of employees have been forced to work from home as result of the second lockdown, and have had to quickly go through a digital transformation learning curve and we now use terms like “lets do a Zoom or a Teams call”.
Initially, we saw exaggerated comments saying that WFH was the future and that the office is now dead. I believe these early comments reflected the new found experience that WFH was actually not as bad as some may have perceived and the experience was actually positive both in how people can be effective and provide a work life balance. Just recently, I saw a news article where a Radiographer had turned her spare room into an office, with all the equipment she commented that “I can pretty much do most things”.
So, whilst there has been some real progress in people WFH and efficiencies, we are also seeing that the novelty factor is disappearing. People are welcoming some form of return to work and identifying that we do need to physically interact as human beings.
The Modern Workplace
The need to collaborate and engage together physically has long been identified as one of the key features of the modern workplace design in providing spaces for people to gather, share ideas and innovate. The benefits from collaboration have seen businesses thrive in the past and now at a time where many businesses may need to re-invent themselves and adapt to changing circumstances such as COVID-19, collaboration and the need to brainstorm in a socially distanced environment will be key.
Digital transformation has filled a gap during this unprecedented period and will no doubt continue to play an everyday role within our working life. As humans we communicate in many non-verbal ways with body language and expressions which are often not seen via a screen.
So, my view is that the office as we knew it will be no more, but we will see a much more flexible approach to how employees use the office space. I believe the office will become more of a hub where people can do their everyday work, but also a space to plan to meet up with colleagues and book a to meet and greet and enjoy bouncing ideas around. From the research the Your Workspace team have completed we see a move for most companies to adopt more of an Activity Based Working model, (ABW) and a ‘Hybrid Workplace’, terms not commonly used previously. But this is what agile working is in the real sense of the word, where employees are encouraged to work as they want to get to allow them to do their job to the best of their ability, providing flexibility in their work – using the office hub, home working or meeting spaces as they see fit.
The new hybrid office will not be a “one fits all” solution and employers will need to recognise the various types of employee that work for them. As more employees shift to remote work, some workers will work from home for part of the week and return to the office for the remainder of the week. Others might predominantly want to still come into the office on a permanent basis and others maybe a few times a month for specific tasks. In the new hybrid office, there will be an increased need for more adaptable, reconfigurable space; more varied types of virtual collaboration spaces; more socially distanced spaces, and potentially lower density in headcount to address health concerns.
Amid these profound shifts, companies want to know what they can do to optimise their real estate. Tenants are looking to the CRE teams for solutions and answers to this uncertain future and we will now see pandemic as one of the topics, on a company’s Disaster Recovery or Business Continuation plans.
Technology holds the key to success, but only coupled with human creativity. We’ve long emphasised the human experience of place as a critical component. The adoption of tech should now be easier if people can see a benefit. In our personal lives we have all seen our knowhow grow in using APP’s such as ordering a meal at a table in a restaurant or viewing a menu from a QR code, so this will now also become common in the workplace.
The need to book a desk or meeting room and then to our own solution of smart lockers, will see employees using such APP’s in the workplace more regularly. I believe the need/demand for a “one fit all” workplace app that can do all of the above and much more both for the employee and employer alike has accelerated by 3-4 years during the course of the pandemic. The employee wants an easy solution to carrying out their role and responsibilities effectively, naturally the employer wants to provide this.
The technology that will be implemented will also need to be intelligent and report back on how the real estate is being utilised, reporting activity and utilisation; this will be a key performance indicator of how successful a company’s CRE is working in this unprecedented situation. This information will help companies plan their CRE both for today and tomorrow.
And finally, we cannot forget at the centre of this is that we are all human and the events of this year have affected us all. The mental wellbeing for all employees needs to be considered and as people do return to work in the future, people need to feel safe. We have had seen lots of messages from government on washing hands, face masks etc and the employer naturally should take whatever reasonable action they can to provide this. Technology can also play it’s part here and we have seen developments within our smart storage range such as automatically blocking lockers for cleaning after use, and social distancing allocation as some of the new features that have been created for this new era we face. I’m sure we will see this continue well into the future.
To speak with a member of our team about how we can help you transition to an agile way of working, how we can help you to re-design your office space in to a hybrid working environment, or to discuss any of our innovative products, get in touch!