If the office is to remain critical to the work experience – and its Castlerock’s contention this is the case – then it will need to adapt. COVID has moved the office goal posts, and it will demand a vibrant response from employers, whether it be in the private or public sector.
They will need to devise solutions that allow the office to perform those functions that can’t occur virtually, especially in a knowledge economy, such as mentoring, face-to-face interaction, collaboration and serendipity, while giving employees the flexibility that has become the norm during COVID. Employees will always need places where they can meet, connect, and build relationships. Now, more than ever, the office must facilitate this.
Quite clearly, solutions will vary from organisation to organisation; don’t expect of textbook solution covering all eventualities. Organisations will need to identify issues as diverse as the talent required, how critical is collaborating and can it be done virtually, the importance of social interaction, which work roles are paramount, and even location. Although the office is not going to disappear, it will require a fresh approach.
There will be a premium on “healthy” buildings. Even in a vaccinated world expect more exacting hygiene and fresh air standards to remain the norm. Employees will want to feel safe and know that their work environments are facilitating this by having cleaning protocols in place and upgraded air and filtration systems. For talented employees, they will want these measures as part of any employment package.
In a workplace where some employees work from home, businesses will want to ensure time in the office is used to full effect. Expect more meeting rooms and places people can gather to brainstorm.
No doubt businesses are factoring all these workplace issues into their post COVID strategies. Where they had to respond overnight when the pandemic struck early last year, they now have time to consider how they respond. What happened to working patterns relationships during COVID? Did they flourish or did they wither? What COVID-effected changes should be formalised and what should be discarded? Were functions traditionally done in an office able to be done digitally and if not why not?
What organisations must avoid thinking is that they can simply slip back to the pre-COVID world; not only have employees s experienced the advantages of working from home for that to happen, but much of tomorrow’s talent will want flexibility built into their work arrangements.
It’s often forgotten just how much time and thought has gone into ensuring offices are productive workplaces that allow people to realise their full potential – that good office design contributes to a culture of learning and knowledge sharing, while good amenities, natural light, and other aesthetics promote feelings of well-being.
There is no reason offices cannot continue to play this role. Tapping what they offer both the employee and organisation while remaining a flexible approach to work roles and patterns will help ensure this happens. Indeed, in a knowledge economy, it’s imperative that it does.