New World – Old Office

The pandemic has changed much and is changing the way organisations plan to occupy their offices and work. Does this mean the office needs to change as well? How many people will be in? What features do they need? What are the right technologies and in what quantity? If we accept a change has occurred then adaptation needs to take place. Let’s have a look at the areas of challenge and how they can be addressed.

The COVID-19 Pandemic has thrown the accelerator switch for businesses and organisations to transition to hybrid working. A transition that has been quietly happening progressively over the last 10 years has suddenly been thrown into the spotlight.

McKinsey’s recent report supports what is happening it reported that post COVID-19 52% of employees want more flexibility. Of those responding 50% indicated they would like to work remotely 3 days a week or more. Most troubling for employers is that 25% said that they would consider changing employer if their organisation fully returned to on-site work. The demand is certainly there in many sectors with employees wishing to retain elements of home working and move to a hybrid working model, and there have been a number of organisations announcing in the media their own plans to do so.

It is likely for most organisations they will start encounter problems in the months to come, as the office space employees get to practise hybrid working in is critical to its success or perceived failure. For many the office was designed based on old principles reflecting a time when employees had assigned seating and everyone was expected to be in the office every day. These offices invariably lack the features, spaces and technology in the quantities required to properly support hybrid working.

When we consider what hybrid working is and what it requires, we quickly come to realise the shortcomings of the old office. Hybrid working introduces the fact that there is no single place of work for the organisation. It is highly probable that the people you are interacting with every day will not all be in the office at the same time as you unless you have arranged for it. For those in the office, there will be an increased demand for meeting rooms, which in many cases were offices already in short supply of because of the need to house so many desks, an item that will be less in demand. Additionally, these meeting rooms need to have AV equipment to allow the remote participants to join. Straight away for many offices, this becomes a problem.

To paraphrase Le Corbusier’s “A house is a machine for living in” the office cannot simply be thought like a machine for working, it has a far more complex role to play! It will become a place not only where work is done but also a hub for the social aspects of working, in getting to know new colleagues, catch up with existing ones, undertake the coffee machine chats and all of those other functions that play to the human psyche, that make us productive in our work.

As Frank Lloyd Wright said, “Form follows function – that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.”. There are many cause-and-effect situations hybrid working creates and encounters when applied to older office designs, as practitioners we are well aware of what these are and help organisations navigate through them. Employers do need to be aware of the issues, which in many cases are relatively simple to resolve as to how well hybrid working works in their organisation is a challenge they will need to be focused on, as those organisations that master this style of working will gain advantage, either through attracting talent or even competitively through productivity, with those unable to master it experiencing the opposite situation.

There is the need to align the office to the way the people and the organisation plan to use it. At Holistica we advocate this starts with creating an understanding of the people as a workforce, their personas, their requirements from the office and how they expect to interact and where technology is needed to enhance the experience.

 It would be fantastic to imagine offices all being re-designed and tailored to hybrid working in the short term but this is not realistic and it will take time to transition. 


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