The coronavirus fallout has forced new ways of working and workplaces to be redrawn, but what could this look like?
We will look back on 2020 as the year the world reset for the digital age and for the better. To stem the flow of coronavirus, organisations of all sizes closed their offices. Out of necessity, business leaders were forced to rethink and revamp their operations.
The virus fallout has exposed systems that were either inefficient or outdated. Trends have been accelerated, with remote working being the most significant. Laggards have kickstarted digital transformation programmes and the pace has picked up for those whose journeys had already begun. Those with a progressive mindset, though, have embraced the opportunity to recalibrate the way things operate, and reimagined workplaces and workspaces are paramount.
“I don’t think there’s a company on the planet that hasn’t had to change as a result of what’s happened,” says Nicola Mendelsohn, vice president, Europe, Middle East and Africa, at Facebook, who admits many of the social media giant’s employees have “really struggled” with remote working.
“It would be wrong to assume we’re going to go back to how things were before. The companies that will do well as we come out of this are the ones, first and foremost, thinking about their people. They’re thinking about how they enable them to work in this hybrid way of working, part remote and part office.”
Putting people at the centre and collaborating
Adam Steel, strategic foresight editor at The Future Laboratory, agrees that organisations have to build workspaces around their staff to improve wellbeing and, in turn, productivity. “In our new working world, offices are being transformed with the health of employees now central to their function,” he says.
“And the benefits of remote working will cause employers to reconsider the entire purpose of the office. Employers should reimagine offices with their unique benefits in mind – their social, communal, convivial benefits – able to inspire collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas organically.”
However, recent Nespresso research highlights that in the UK worries about workplace safety and hygiene have been heightened because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, in-person creativity is being hampered. More than a fifth (21 per cent) of respondents expressed concern for cleanliness when they return to the office while 19 per cent said they’re unsure how they can collaborate safely with new measures in place.
Organisations have to show commitment to their employees’ wellbeing, regain the trust of their staff and provide workers with the confidence to return to the office. “Every company must now consider itself a health business, in both the physical and mental sense, and reflect this in day-to-day operations,” says Rebecca Tully, managing director of inclusion and diversity at Accenture in the UK and Ireland.
“It’s essential companies look beyond initial fixes, such as one-way systems and plastic screens, and explore how they can start to make bold, long-term, systemic design changes to the office space.”
Blending hospitality hubs and workplaces
Implementing simple technology solutions in the office can both reassure employees that their wellbeing is being considered and reactivate creative processes. “For example, low-cost wearables that replace security badges can create a connected ecosystem to aid social distancing and allow employees to locate empty spaces in the workplace easily, reworking the physical space to become more responsive to employee needs,” says Tully.
Beth Hampson, commercial director at flex-space provider The Argyll Club, which has 38 luxury workspaces across London, notes demand for co-working products has increased the longer people have experienced remote working this year. “Our members are seeking places to meet and be inspired away from the humdrum of home,” she says. “The key difference between working on home and office turf is collaboration. When inspiration and support from your team are needed, there is no substitute for the office.”
COVID-19 has given us the chance to press a big reset button
But the reimagined office is more than that; it is a hospitality hub. “Professionals want somewhere they can seamlessly and effectively complete multiple tasks they just couldn’t do at home,” says Hampson. “Whether that’s a team brainstorm, a midday yoga class followed by lunch with investors or an end-of-week drink with colleagues in a business lounge. Traditional offices sticking to a cookie-cutter approach will struggle in a post-coronavirus world.”
This chimes with Lee Penson, chief executive of global architecture and interior design studio PENSON. “We see hospitality and workplaces decategorising and becoming somewhat blended,” he says. “An office building doesn’t need to be just an office building any more. Buildings need to multi-categorise, multi-function, be more flexible, more efficient and offer more for the people who work and live in them.”
The office is vital for facilitating new ideas, communication and collaboration, says Penson. “It’s a place where everyone comes together, where people mingle, strike deals and become firm friends,” he says. “Nothing can replace catching up with a colleague over a coffee or lunch; that’s where inspiration starts. Humans are social beings and the workplace should enable that, even more so now.
“COVID-19 has given us the chance to press a big reset button. We hope things don’t go back to normal.”
This article – sponsored by Nespresso – first appeared on Raconteur’s Return to the Workplace for SMEs report in March 2021