Is the Future of the Workplace As We Know It Extinct?

Spoiler alert: it’s not!

There is a temptation to look at the changes of the past several months as all or nothing. Companies around the globe went fully virtual in a matter of days and the results in many ways have been positive. 41% of employees say they feel more productive, while a staggering two-thirds say they would be open to some version of remote working longer terms. Equally important is that companies now see a roadmap to reduce overhead and the cost of physical office space. So surely the traditional office is going extinct, right?

There is no doubt that the office as we know it will evolve after Covid-19, but there are a number of factors companies need to consider when determining the outlook of their physical workplace. A recent study by McKinsey and Company,  Reimagining the office and work life after Covid-19suggests that there are four factors companies need to evaluate when navigating the future of their office:

1)     Re-envision how work is done – completely

The immediacy of going remote in many ways meant that organisations took their existing way of doing business and simply made it virtual. McKinsey argues that we need to completely re-envision both how we work and the implication on company culture to find the right balance of in-person and remote work. 

If your culture is one that promotes employee training and development, how much of the in-person mentorship can be translated digitally? Would your project teams benefit from in-person collaboration at the onset of an assignment and supplement with remote work otherwise? The physical office space will need to evolve to support the essential in-person interactions that fuel your company’s work and culture.

Partnering with experts like Capella who specialise in workplace design, can help your firm translate your vision into a functional, purpose driven redesign of your office space. The goal here is to thoughtfully reimagine how work will be done, beyond the immediate measures of the past few months, and have your physical environment support those ideals.  

2)     Decide who should work where, and to what extent

After organisations re-invent how work is done, they will then need to determine which roles can be done remotely, and to what degree. This may seem like a simple delineation depending the nature of your firm. In sectors like hospitality it was a fast line in the sand – operations were hands on and still had to report to the office, while all other functions would work virtually. But here we are again, back to all or nothing. Organisations need to think not just about the physical, but the most productive solutions, and they likely are not all or nothing answers. McKinsey suggests that there are 4 scenarios: Fully remote, Hybrid remote, Hybrid remote as an exception, and Fully on-site. 

It’s plausible that many of your roles will take on a hybrid approach. And similar to the initial reimagination of how work is done, your physical workspace will need to support the in-person work that cannot be translated virtually 

3)     Purpose-design your office to support your objectives

We all likely have experienced some variation or remodel to the traditional office space over the course of our careers. But how different have they really been? For the first time in our collective working culture, we need to wipe the slate clean and completely rethink the traditional office space design to work in a world after Covid-19. 

There are immediate concerns to consider such as physical distancing, airflow and the movement of people through the space, until a vaccine is readily available. Longer term though, if the nature of how we work will change, so does the physical office. Assuming your organisation will adapt some variation of the work types outlined by McKinsey: fully remote, hybrid, or fully on-site, the workspace becomes essential to support those interactions or work functions that cannot be done remotely. Perhaps for your company that means more meeting rooms vs. individual cubicles, or smaller satellite offices to support employees who are in the field but require a centralized office as part of their work. 

No matter how you redefine the future of your work, one thing is certain: technology will be key. Although this was always an eventuality, Covid-19 has accelerated the technology trajectory and now must be an essential factor in your physical office redesign. According to McKinsey “To maintain productivity, collaboration, and learning and to preserve the corporate culture, the boundaries between being physically in the office and out of the office must collapse.”

4)     Thoughtfully decide how much office space is needed and where

We’ve had to adjust quickly to the changing circumstance of 2020, and it many ways fast decisions have been essential.  Once we accept though that we are never fully going back to the way things were before Covid-19, we need to take a pause and more thoughtfully design how and where work will be done moving forward. Based on the objectives your company has established through this process you likely will need to take a fresh look at how much office space you now truly need, where, and in what form. 

Flexible workspace solutions were already gaining momentum before Covid-19, many companies were starting to talk about “The Future of Work’. Covid-19 has accelerate this conversation. However, according to McKinsey, now more than ever companies will likely adopt a “portfolio of space solutions: owned space, standard leases, flexible leases, flex space, co-working space, and remote work.”

Where and how much space in each category will be determined by your organisation’s unique objectives, the talent you are trying to attract and retain, and the nature of the work itself. Consistent though with transformation in our work overall, the office space as we know it will not disappear, but it will change shape. 

So now what… 

Systematically it makes sense. We take a step back to evaluate how the work we do has already changed, and how we need to proactively determine how we will work moving forward. And assuming you agree that it is not an all or nothing solution, the role of the office is not extinct, but does need to be re-imagined. And don’t worry, if this all feels a bit overwhelming, you are not alone. Companies are navigating unprecedented change in the wake of Covid-19 and partnering with experts to help. At Capella we specialise is thoughtful, collaborate, purpose driven office redesign. We’ll help you take the first step in bringing your employees back to work and big picture, translate your vision and culture into the physical workspace so that the ideals that are essential to your firm’s success are able to be executed. At Capella we are your partner in creating the future of your workplace. And in an era when change is apparent in everything we do, we all need an ally!