The Future Office: A Crystal Ball or Alarm Bell?
This article was written by our partners at Solved, Netherlands.
It seems everyone these days is a “futurologist.” Soon, when we can go back to the office completely because a vaccine has been found, the “6-foot society” will be stripped of all coronavirus rules and stickers. The world will look different; what does that mean the office will look like?
Architects are sketching vistas of work environments that have been completely redesigned. Real estate agents are coming up with images of workplaces in large circles of 6 feet and calculations of the number of more feet needed, ready for the next pandemic. And furniture suppliers are designing ingenious solutions for home workers. In this period, when all the impossible suddenly seems possible, utopian ideas sound realistic.
When the world changes so fast, it is natural to start thinking strategically about the future. And what prevails: the quality of the workplace or the idea of saving money?
In recent weeks, Solved has coronavirus-proofed many corporate workspaces, inspecting mostly abandoned offices as, except for a few, everyone has worked from home these recent months. This includes the finance department, which has always been told they need to be in the office – same as the lawyers. A tour with one customer showed that even the employees of the abandoned control room with the large screens are also working at home.
Working from home is possible for many more departments and organizations than previously thought. The estimate of how much people will work from home varies widely, from 49% (Intermediair study, 11 May 2020) to 25% (Knowledge Institute for Mobility – 24 Apr 2020). Both percentages could be correct but apply to different organizations.
So what percentage belongs to your organization? Will you have work-from-home days spread out during the week, or will the first hours of each employee’s day be spent at home before driving to the office when traffic slows, meaning the office will still be full in the afternoon?
And why do people even go to the office?
These are difficult questions that need to be considered. You may be asked to lead certain aspects of the transition back to the office, which could include quick actions and significant modifications. Several of our customers have made decisions quickly; in the Netherlands, it is easily stated that working from home 2 days a week will become the norm, even though everyone now has a fixed workplace at the office.
We are all for quick decision-making, but because many foundational and strategic questions are still unanswered, we are sounding the alarm. Experience shows that you can have a nice office, but if it doesn’t suit the work, corporate culture, and your vision, it still misses its target.
Solved has created a roadmap that provides businesses with quick and well-founded insight into how much and when people should work at home and in the office. The roadmap is the same for every company, but the outcome will differ appropriately.
Map your employees’ activities.
Focus: Research often shows that employees participate in deep work, or “process work,” more than 50% of the time. Therefore, this step provides insight into how much time is spent in deep work by the employees in your organization. Then, step 2 is to distinguish where the employee can best perform this.
Research shows that 48% of people are more productive at home; in contrast to the office environment, working at home is efficient and focused. At least, for those with a dedicated workspace and possibly without children requiring home education or extra eyes watching them…
However, it’s too soon to conclude that businesses will need to adjust to work-from-home policies, as working from home is not possible for, or loved by, everyone. At a law firm, one lawyer works well digitally, while the other drags shopping bags full of files through the house to whatever space is unoccupied.
This said, many businesses may need to adopt personalized working methods for their employees. And as an employer, you should offer quiet workspaces to staff who do come to the office on a regular basis.
Collaboration: The need for collaboration and consultation has increased during the pandemic. In organizations with a collaborative culture, their days are full of video calls.
Fortunately, the variation of virtual and physical meetings has now been normalized and helps make hybrid work options more possible. For example, a virtual team meeting could occur at home at the beginning of the day, followed by collaborative in-person sessions at the office later in the day. Again, step 1 is gaining insight into the time spent on collaboration, then step 2 is the search for a way to fulfill the needs that surface.
Meeting: In addition to missing the hairdresser and social happy hours, employees are also missing their colleagues; 60% of Intermediair respondents consider this a viable reason to return to the office. Having a chat over coffee, venting frustrations, sharing concerns, complimenting a colleague, or simply laughing together has proven indispensable and irreplaceable.
Staff interactions and relationships are much needed to prevent tunnel vision and burnouts. And what about new employees who have never been to the office before – how will they become acquainted with company culture, habits, and brand value? This is an important part of every staff member’s work experience and company longevity.
Map your company’s culture
One of our customers conducted extensive research into the activities of their organization and was able to conclude that working from home was possible and desired by their employees; therefore, reducing the number of workspaces seemed logical.
What was forgotten, however, was the company’s hierarchical culture. Going to the office also meant being noticed by executives. Because this is a cultural priority for them, then leadership needs to consider how to build this into a WFH model. For example, a manager needs to set the example by using the entire range of communication tools so that proper support is created among the managers and organizational leaders.
Should you choose to offer remote work as an option to your employees, what parts of your culture need to be redefined, modified, and/or extended to the WFH standard? Do you highly value honor and have an employee recognition program, and if so – is it ready for WFH? Maybe your culture highly values integrity – how will you track, recognize, and honor this? What about teamwork; how are you going to cultivate working relationships and communication long-term?
It’s important to keep all of these cultural cues on your priority list if you decide to transition your culture to a more virtual environment.
What is the vision?
The most important part of this process is to have a clear idea of why you are doing all of this. What purpose can working from home contribute? Any purpose is legitimate, as long as it is genuine. Is cost reduction the driver? Fair enough. Should the office not renew their lease? Or is your goal “simply to be the best workplace in the world” to attract the best people?
Last week, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey reported that “Twitter employees are allowed to work from home for as long as they want.” The message was eagerly adopted and took on a life of its own. If Twitter can do that, then everyone can do it in whole or in part. However, the reason why Twitter will probably succeed (and possibly not other companies) is the vision behind their decision. The CEO had previously stated that he was dissatisfied that almost all employees live in San Francisco, and he wanted a wider geographic spread of talent.
This decision also helps to disconnect the office from your employees’ choice of where to live; if they no longer have to come to the office, they can live anywhere – increasing the geographic spread of talent. This is a good example of linking your company’s vision to housing.
In short, the future of the office will change, and in many cases, already has. Working from home will never disappear. Evidence that people really do work at home is no longer necessary, and most collaboration can be done remotely. Everyone can use digital tools.
However, widespread research doesn’t show how big the impact will be on your individual company. Insight into the activities, the corporate culture and your vision are necessary to make the right choices.
Solved is developing a tool for this that we will share with you shortly. We look forward to seeing the future with you!