One of the main areas of discussion on the implications of Covid-19 on the working world has been ‘what’s going to happen to the office’? What should the leaders of companies be considering about the future of their offices? How do they ensure an effective organisation that delivers for all stakeholders, while meeting the concerns and needs of employees? What role does ‘the office’ actually play? Is it somewhere employees will dread coming to after the freedom of working from home, or the beating heart of the company that provides energy and direction and a destination of choice?
Space Time – Post Covid-19
Author: Andrew Chadwick
Ever since lockdown on 23.03.20 a veritable industry in advice has sprung up seeking to help us out of the sinkhole into which we have fallen. Everybody and his brother is writing guidance on how to deal with Covid-19. The Government does it, Local Authorities do it, Professional institutions do it. Furniture manufacturers do it. Shops do it. Everybody does it. It’s almost as though this huge sink hole has appeared in humanity and guidance has fallen out of it…and yet the end result of all this guidance is quite ghastly.
Great trouble has been taken to distance people 2 metres or 1.5 metres or 1 metre apart according to which country you are in. Everything is signed with one way or no entry and the loos and lifts can only accommodate one user at a time. You must take your temperature before entry and if caught with C-19 have to go home and self-isolate for two weeks – and for what?
A nasty soulless office with all the fun beaten out of it demonstrably showing the absence of what is becoming clear is the raison d’être of the office qua office – community with others. All over the world people were instructed by their Governments – with a few notable exceptions – to go home. And they did. And it worked! Indeed, the technology worked to the point that many organisations are content for their staff to continue working at home.
The statistics from a Leesman Index survey of 10,600 employees in 90 groups in 14 organisations in 16 countries held from lockdown to date are interesting:
• 92% of staff were homeworking
• 8% of staff were in the office
• Of whom 76% expressed themselves highly satisfied with homeworking
• Of whom 24% expressed themselves less satisfied with homeworking
• Productive work, video conferencing, concentrated work, and private conversations were all seen as higher ranking at home
• Informal meetings, learning by interaction, printing and scanning, chair and desk were all seen as lower ranking at home
This suggests that a small but high-quality Hub office in the traditional city centre will suffice as the locator for most businesses leaving the city to acquire a more residential feel encouraging small family businesses to thrive and make better places.
So what will the Office of 2025 look and feel like?
Well, nothing like today’s corporate office.
The Leesman results and personal experience suggest that a mixed environment will best serve all ages and dispositions. Interestingly, Millennials are the least happy with homeworking probably because of their domestic circumstances and their desire for social interaction.
Faced with this situation of total disruption in his / her organisation, what should leaders do?
First, they should engage with their own people and establish where on the spectrum of change their organisation exists. This can be done by interview using the Leesman questionnaire or something very like it. They should then look forward to the effect on the roles engaged to lead in the layers below and get a feeling for what will be acceptable and profitable to their company in a change to their physical accommodation.
A return to working in the office should not be compulsory if the role can be fulfilled equally well, or better, from the home.
• Consult with your workforce and conduct a survey to evaluate the mood for returning to the office
• Identify the essential office workers
• Identify those whose home environment does not lend itself to homeworking
• Identify employees who fall into the sheltered or “at risk” category
• Analyse the results to establish the percentage of flexible working i.e. a combination of home and office working
• Factor in commuting time and mode of travel to limit the time on public transport
• Evaluate and address the risk factors in the office – e.g.: cleaning, sanitising, one-way systems, social distancing, visitors, deliveries etc
• Publish the schedule and operation mode of attendance in the office
The physical accommodation will no longer necessarily be a single building (depending on size of course) but a support platform as part of an eco-system that can span towns, cities, states and countries. We (Chadwick International) constructed one such in the ‘90’s for Accenture in their West Europe Division (France, Germany, Benelux, Italy, Switzerland) which we entitled Spacenet, a virtual office spanning all 260,000 sq kms of the region populated with “cities”, the major identity sites, “forts” that guarded strategic intersections, “fighting camps” adjacent to or inside client sites and “domi” the homes of the individual consultants. This model will absorb all the post-COVID-19 changes in that it will provide for a significant proportion of homeworking, a selection of specialist installations and major identity sites of which to be proud.
Our experience was that not only did this construct attract the best clients – it was in effect saying we are prepared to be radical with ourselves, let us come and be radical with you. Most importantly, the millennials of the day flocked to the Paris office and other cities to the point that Accenture experienced a significant upsurge in the quality of intake.
In short, this model, or something very like it, will be the future for the commercial office across the planet.
So, in an ideal world you may well have:
• A “heart” office to accommodate say, 35 – 40% of your staff at an occupancy ratio of say, 1:15 square metres include conferencing, wayfinding, dining, reservation service and high-end A/V with a distinctly classy “domestic” feel. This is the cultural centrum of your organisation and expresses your personality and ambitions to the outside world.
• A homeworking option for 100 % of your staff.
• Gym membership with swimming pool, lots of bike parking, showers and chauffeur service.
(If you take away ownership of space you must give something back. It might look expensive but the payback in acceptance and loyalty makes it cheap.)
Connectivity is the most important aspect of a combination of office and homeworking. It is, therefore, essential that the Space-Time Office regime has a strong electronic connection. Remote video/teams conferencing will depend greatly on strong interconnections.
Social interaction is one of the more important features of office working. A rotating schedule should be established in the early planning to ensure that a limited number of each operational team or department may be granted access to the office.
Recognition of special requirements must be built into the scheme with attendant facilities.
Make the office domestic with all the features you enjoy in-home working.
Sit back and bask in the success of your company!