It comes down to flexibility, culture and community, does it?

I sit down and talk to my eldest son. He is only 11. We have one of those conversations where you are not sure where it might go. It went to the past of how things are now and how he struggles to comprehend a world without the internet, with only limited TV channels and a phone you have to dial. It makes you see and appreciate how much the world has changed – and despite the bumps and twists, it is moving in a positive way.

The economic and post-pandemic world have had a seismic shock on how we all work. A need to (if not already accepted) accept that the ways of working are changed forever – and will continue to evolve, for example four-day working weeks. The advancement of these ways of working, the rise of technology and the drive towards sustainability means our office buildings have to change. They simply have to. There are a few debates that continue:

Will we see an end to large scale office blocks? Personally, I don’t think we will. Sustainability has to make us look at existing buildings and really consider what is the best future step for them – demolition or refurbishment/extension – but it doesn’t mean large scale won’t stop. It does mean that those assets built need to be Grade A+. There is an awful lots of space that needs a lot of work on it – why would an employer settle for poor quality space! They need to cater for the ways of working both now and the future (and that involves more predictions). There will be a rise of smaller more distributed networks of working spaces to supplement the HQ style offices of the city. This is a great opportunity for more regional towns.

We can reimagine our cities and towns. The expectation of users of these spaces has changed and the experience they want has evolved. Topics like the 15-minute city will become a given creating greater communities for people in these locations. More support for our local communities and allowing a focus on family time can be enhanced by these adoptions. Quality shared work hubs in suburbs will begin to thrive. I do believe it creates a TRUE opportunity to reinvigorate local assets – I feel libraries have an opportunity to become something new serving the local community. They are within the community already and therefore in walking and cycling distance from local homes.

We can make those trips to the office really count. Commuting has never been a favourite of anyone’s, but we will create experiences in the office which allow for productive in person time. They won’t be daily, but they will be well-planned and focus on collaboration, interaction and even less screen time. Save the video calls for when you’re working from home. The commute will evolve – the rise of how content is received means we can plan for more productive commutes – podcasts, reading materials, training videos and much more.

Will it make us want to live in different locations? The city will always have an attraction for some people. However, there will be a proportion of people who are comfortable with a more suburban or rural living and therefore seek to move. The current cost of living crisis will also no doubt move more people out of cities into smaller conurbations. No longer needing to live near work provides more scope for many.

There will be a drive towards new skills for people in both existing and new roles. Hands up who has needed to sort out a parent’s technology recently or teach them how to “Zoom”. We are very much in a technologic world and those who already had or quickly developed technology-related skills will have thrived more than others during the last two years. The upskilling will come through employers providing more training to their employees (which will benefit the employer) and through people’s own initiative to development themselves.

In a hybrid world will we have less meetings? Yes, but only if we are willing to be more vocal about which we attend. I believe meetings can set direction and bring together a team but there needs to be a clear agenda that serves the purpose of the attendees. That means for a number of meetings people will either no longer be required to attend and/or can attend for shorter periods.

And where will we work? This will depend very much on the task and content at hand. There will be many examples. A presentation where for all purposes you are simply displaying and talking to information – well it lends itself well to a virtual environment. Key information shared to all at the same time. Avoiding repetitive nature. Larger town-hall sessions planned in advance can be an opportunity to bring wider teams together for networking, shared messages and social engagement. Personally, I find the in-house way of hybrid with messages available virtually but option to attend in large forum inclusive for all. Progress reporting very much feels like a virtual forum – monitoring of progress on a real time basis – largely taking place asynchronously. Lastly, remote doesn’t mean you never bring the team together so team building in varying thoughts would be in person BUT planned for experience.

There are lots still up for debate. There is no one size fits all but that is progress – There needs to be flexibility. There needs to be culture. There needs to be a community. The other questions posed are very much one’s employers and employees will figure out but let’s not try and force a square through a circular hole. The future of work and where we work will continue to evolve and develop and any step towards this is progress.

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