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The Future of Workplace: the changing role of offices

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

As the world is embracing (or still getting used to) the ‘new normal’ ways of working and living, the industry is holding their breath on ever evolving government announcements and guidelines to plan for a safe reopening of their physical working places.

There is still an ongoing discussion on whether offices are still needed and what is the value they will add in the new world. Twitter announcing of allowing their employees work remotely indefinitely, and many other large companies assessing of how to repurpose (or in many cases exit) their real estate contracts, gives an impression that there is no going back to business as we once knew it.

Cushman and Wakefiled have conducted analysis of over 2.5 million data points from workers all over the globe, and have concluded that offices are not going anywhere, they’ll just thrive in different ways. They suggest that workplace can no longer be seen as a single location but rather an ecosystem of a variety of locations and experiences to support convenience, functionality and wellbeing, which they refer to as the ‘Total Ecosystem’. In this, the purpose of an office will be to provide inspiring destinations that strengthen cultural connection, learning, bonding with customers and colleagues, and support innovation.

Working from home has seen a 10% increase in employee productivity, and 90% of employees say that they feel trusted by their managers to get their work done. Though these are encouraging stats, personal wellbeing has taken a hit, as people are struggling to switch off and stop working. There is also an increasing lack of movement, as people can work, play and shop from the same seat. Moreover, surprisingly, younger people are struggling more due to distractions, inappropriate work set up and connection issues in their homes. Informal learning and mentoring are also suffering due to lack of personal interactions happening in collocated environments.

The technology is transforming how we work, where we work from and how we connect. 73% of employees expect the flexibility in working to continue post pandemic. However, office will have to become more meaningful place than just a location to sit in rows and work. Offices will also need to compete with the efficiency and convenience of meeting online. Connecting in-person and remote communications will require change in behaviour and training, and people managers will become key ambassadors for this.

We’ve had the capability to work in these ways for decades and many companies have highly developed agile and flexible ways of working. However, we have been held back by management attitudes, cultural differences and in many ways lack of trust, which has seen a positive shift during lockdown. Babyboomers are still the majority of decision makers in the industry, and the data shows that this generation have had the best experience with flexible working and therefore there is a high chance that they’ll carry this with them in the new working world.

In conclusion, it is safe to say, offices are here to stay. However, companies must seize the opportunity to reimagine their offices as they reopen, leveraging HQs to create a greater purpose and intent that fosters learning, drives innovation and creates communities of learning and mentoring. As Amanda Stanaway, Sydney-based principal architect at Woods Bagot has put it ‘We work because we enjoy coming together to create ideas and solve problems. That sense of connection is fundamental to the human race.’


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