The office is dead. The office is dead. Bullshit!
Is it me or does it feel like a war of words at the moment between corporates – some pushing for a return to the office, others advertising a more remote future for the business and then others like PwC formalising a hybrid working model. But across all these potential solutions for employers it is clear “an office” still has a part to play. The role however may now be more a supporting role than headline star.
The role: The office will play a part in people’s work. The role it plays though has evolved. This is the opportunity for an office to be geared towards collaborative work. Yes we can do this remotely but it is really as efficient or productive? There is then of course those serendipity moments. Yes they happen. For me though it’s more social interaction with people. How they’ve been and what they’re up to. Again moments which can be achieved remotely but are they as informal and free flowing? To facilitate collaboration the office will need a makeover in many cases but on the other hand many have already prepared their workplace for the future.
For some organisations (more small/medium sized) the need for a large corporate office may no longer make sense and therefore you have the rise of coworking companies. Now coworking is not solely for SMEs it does lend itself well to support larger corporates. For larger organisations a coworking space could support the larger city centre offices and provide more flexibility to their employees on location.
The location: You can be productive in many locations. It’s about aligning the task at hand with the surroundings. Pre-pandemic I had four working locations: (1) client sites: catching up with clients and my teams. This will continue but supplemented with virtual team catch ups on days I’m not onsite. (2) home working: I used this for reviews and “head down” work. This will stay. (3) local coworking space: Useful for filling time before school pick up or simply a change of scenery. More used for reading and checking emails and (4) the office. I tended to go into the office 1 day a week and usually aligned by a team meeting. Best face to face to aid collaboration. So going forward not much changes. You see a location is not a job. It is a place where you complete a job.
The technology: This is all though not solely about the office. It’s much broader about the way we work. It is hard to deny that technology has not played an important role over the last 12 months and that will continue going forward as organisations adopt a more technology-dependent approach. The increased use of artificial intelligence (“AI”), automation and much more. I’ve been impressed by something so simple – technology that transcribes my discussions. Really helpful for taking notes and allowing me to read over anc check actions and next steps.
Technology can be used in many ways to make working remotely easier. I remember pre March 2020. My phone would ring multiple times a day but this was replaced with a sharp rise in instant messaging. I’m actually shocked when people call these days. Software needs to acknowledge that we have work to do and therefore having “do not disturb” times can make it easier for people to leave a message but not expect an immediate response. You know, like you’d left a voicemail! Employers, colleagues and employees themselves need to understand we are not working 24/7.
The technology and working location contribute to one thing that is key – the culture. How do you maintain it when people see each other less and less? Is virtual meet ups the same? I’ve said before that I don’t really get the water-cooler moments. I mean do offices still have them? But I do believe in speaking to people outside of that close group when you are in the office. It is difficult to really bring to life the culture of a business this way. I really fear for those who have joined an organisation during the pandemic and encourage massively reaching out and spending time with them.
So if I can work anywhere for anyone then I’ll surely look for the employer that closely aligns with my values and skillset. And I’ll want that employer to use an office – whether it’s a corporate office or a coworking space.