Welcome back to …. well nothing new. Pretty sure you’ve been working over the last 18 months, just maybe not in the place you are used to working in. Over the last three weeks I have taken some time out to spend with the family but have done some work along the way. I’ve worked in a cottage in Wales, a farm in Dorset, a hotel in the Midlands and overseas. I mean all I need is a wi-fi access code (and a good coffee!). With the lifting of pandemic restrictions though there are many companies who are faced now with the challenge of welcoming their employees back to office (and wondering if they actually show up!).
To me the starting point is being flexible. That may be using flexible office space within the organisation or using a flexible office provider to give employees a broader access (well provided you pick an operator that caters to the location of your employees). The office space will be low density from here on in and the space will need to be packed with amenities, breakout spaces and above all be creatively designed to promote productivity, wellbeing and more. An employer could do this themselves but for specialist operators this is their bread and butter. The better operators of space will continue to evolve and be ahead of the curve. So we all have a flexible future.
Once you’ve passed the flexible test it then comes down to space. Those photos from days gone by of rows of desks and workers are the past. Thank god. De-densification of the office has been needed for a long time irrespective of Covid yet for years densification has occurred. I guess packing them in and making the space productive is better on the bottom line. But not any more as it doesn’t really factor wellbeing (see later). Densities within offices have simply gone too far so the idea of de-densifying is not really a surprise.
The office space is competing with working from home. At home I have multiple options for location. I can work outside (weather permitting) or with a south view or stand up. Okay not everyone has this ability and they are people potentially more likely to go to the office more frequently. The office space (whether owned or coworking or other) needs to be better than your home. A space that is comfortable and conducive to what they have to do. The task of the day. A less dense environment where the focus is on collaboration. So space will be creatively used – this will help promote brand for operators and give purpose for corporates.
So it is time to rethink the workplace. A workplace needs to be for collaboration, socialising and brand identity. It also needs to be, well, an office. Remember some people still want to use it like they did before. Some changes offices will see better amenities – something to entice you in – work spaces that are agile, flexible and varied. Most of us can be effective at home so the office needs to offer something more than the home office. This could be an opportunity for flexible office providers – increasing prices in exchange for the enhanced amenities and more generous lease terms they offer.
Our wellbeing has really risen up the priority list. It always should have been high on the list however the last 18 months have made us finally realise it. Fostering wellbeing for employees is important for organisations. Improved wellbeing helps prevent stress and creates a positive working environment. And I don’t think anyone would disagree that lower stress and positive environments are good for us and good for business. Strong wellbeing can help individuals really thrive to their best potential. So the office environment has a lot to do to ensure it promotes positive wellbeing. More space in the office. More green in the office. Lower density in the office. Some ways to improve wellbeing in the office.
The office. A smart office. Alongside proximity to good transport connectivity, the use of technology can help achieve some of what is needed from the office:
- Lighting: On or off. This is not really a good way to light up our employees’ workspace. Better lighting that is regulated depending on the time of day, area of the building and current use of the space.
- Technology can be used to prioritise sustainability for an organisation, utilising data to help decisions being made.
- Smart offices can use technology to streamline energy – creating an office that is environmentally friendly.
- To allow for hybrid working – rooms will need 360-degree cameras.
- Connectivity. There is already a premium for offices that rate highly in this area. Having watched WiredScore grow, the ability to monitor and classify how good a building is key. Employees need rapid and reliable connectivity.
- AI-enabled systems could also create happier and healthier environments for people to work in.
So the office is so much more than just how many desks are located within a building. A new view needs to be placed in the office. The view will become more aligned between landlord and customer. Developer and tenant. We are excited to be able to roam freely again – whether visiting the local coffee shop or returning to the office. The culture of the office will now have adapted – it will be a magnet to draw back the team some days of the week (not every week). An office with smart technology at its heart creating an experience for everyone.
So to end with, an office will be a centre for socialising, facilitating collaboration and allowing people to really identify with a brand. The modern day office has changed its purpose and now it’s up to employers and landlords alike to create these inspiring places for the now and the future.