The lasting impact of Covid-19 on the office
When giving presentations on workplace issues, I sometimes open with Darwin. He said that it is not the smartest or strongest who survive, but those with the best ability to adapt. With hybrid working on the rise, to me that seems a great place to start. If we have learnt anything from the pandemic, it is that work cannot and will not go back to the way it was before. So what will it be like instead? What is certain is that we are going to divide our time differently between the office, home and elsewhere. Ideally, in a way which meets our own needs and those of our organisation. This could have a huge impact on the role and value of the office.
Never waste a good crisis
The past year and a half have been unprecedented, tense and difficult. But also instructive. The pandemic and our lightning-fast switch to working from home have yielded three crucial insights, which are now going to play an important role in the next normal of work.
1. Together is not necessarily in the same place
Before lockdown, working in the office was the norm. You could work at home for the odd day if you really needed to focus, but for the most part you were all together in the same place. Now that we know that we can also be together remotely, we want the flexibility to choose where we work.
2. The office is still valuable
So is it never back to the office, then? Unlikely. Countless surveys show that we miss each other and are longing to be together again. The office has always been the place where an organisation’s culture is built and developed. Teams need somewhere to work effectively together, and individual employees still need a shared space for inspiration, motivation and interaction.
3. A little more flexibility
We have shown that we can adapt quickly when we really have to. But after eighteen months we can also say that a quick “one-size-fits-all” solution is not enough. What is needed is a more methodical, tailor-made strategy, better aligned with the individual needs of people, teams and the organisation.
Our insights from the pandemic period lift the veil on the office of tomorrow: a place with an important role still, but possibly one more specific than it used to play. Which is going to have major repercussions for your organisation’s accommodation needs. Does it still suit your people and their way of working? What does the organisation need in order to be effective? Perhaps some form of booking system is necessary, so that you know who is going to be in the office at what time. Or maybe you require a different location or less space. And how do you then use that new or upgraded workplace to attract and retain talent?
Hybrid working: the heart of the matter
The next normal of work is going to generate a whole chain of highly charged issues. The first of which will also have one of the biggest impacts: your work model. How exactly are you all going to be working? Many organisations are opting for a hybrid approach, a mix of virtual and office work. How this is organised in practice will determine, for example, the maximum staffing capacity of the physical workplace, the facilities required and its layout – and thus forms the basis of your workplace strategy.
Not two options, but four pillars
Hybrid working goes a lot further than allowing your employees to choose between working at home or in the office. It requires a good understanding of the unique needs and working styles of individual persons and entire teams. These are mapped out using four pillars: WHERE, WHAT, WHO and HOW. You need to determine WHERE work can be accomplished, WHAT work requires in-person collaboration to accomplish, WHO benefits most from spending time in the office and HOW workspaces advance company objectives, employee collaboration and culture.
At the interface of these four factors are such values as staff satisfaction, work-life balance, employee well-being and productivity. All important components of a good employee experience, but also essential to build a good corporate culture and true effectiveness. Where exactly the “sweet spot” lies will differ in every organisation: there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to hybrid working.
Building flexibility step by step
To start with, you will need to try things out and experiment a lot to find a form of hybrid working which suits your organisation. Something may look great on the drawing board, but in practice lead to an unworkable or undesirable situation. Ultimately, a good solution is not just about the objective, measurable factors, but also about the often unmeasurable subjective appreciation it elicits in your people. So my advice is: involve your employees and management in its implementation, keep testing it and adjust it as and when necessary. Only in that way you will have a solid foundation for your workplace strategy.
Make Darwin proud
Back to Darwin. Whilst some animal species survived thanks to better camouflage, others developed stronger poisons or thicker skins. The adaptations needed for survival are not the same for everyone: it takes thorough research to discover which will best suit your people and your organisation. We have recently been doing just that for a number of firms, so we know it is not easy. But it is important: the more effectively you set up your organisation and your workplace strategy for the huge changes coming up, the better you will adapt to the next normal of work.
To support you in introducing hybrid working, we have compiled a white paper entitled The Next Normal: How Hybrid Work Is Transforming Commercial Real Estate. In it, we look more closely at the four pillars listed above, discuss the most important challenges ahead and provide practical recommendations for the short and longer terms. You can request your copy here. To talk more about hybrid work, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.