By Karl Breeze, CEO at Matrix Booking
For anyone still in doubt: flexible working is the future, not a fad.
Even the most stubborn of traditionalist C-suite members must have come to this realisation, off the back of a two-year period which has proved that working from home can yield productivity akin to – and even surpassing – that achieved in the office.
In fact, beyond this realisation, there has been an even more significant learning that what employees really want, is choice. Choice of where to work, when, and even for how long in some cases. And as long as end goals are being achieved within this dynamic of flexible choice, then who are business leaders to argue?
So, what’s next? When it comes to the home-office timeshare, employees are – by-and-large – content, and even the most reluctant of CEOs are bang to rights. The next step is to make sure that this new dynamic is being presented and developed in the best way possible.
So much thought leadership and prospective innovation has been targeted towards at-home transitions, to this end. But what of the office?
If the brand’s HQ is no longer the hub of all activity, what is it?
At the other side of the COVID tunnel there’s a need for organisations to review their real estate, and to reassess what these new-look spaces are for…
1.A space to work
That’s right – before you get too far ahead of yourself, remember that the artist formerly known as ‘office’ isn’t completely dead.
Recent research has revealed the number of employment tribunal decisions relating to flexible working has increased by 52 percent in the past year. When it feels like employee power has shot through the roof, and workers have evidence of strong performance data to propel that rocket, there might be an understandable leaning among decision makers to give up on the office-as-workspace model altogether. This would be a mistake.
Additional figures suggest that 88% of workers genuinely crave a hybrid dynamic. ‘Hybrid’ isn’t just a gateway drug to ‘laptop on the sofa’. It is a legitimate wish to create a balance where people can work in both spaces effectively.
Your real estate may no longer be a sea of static desks with name plates attached. But a flexible-use space paradise comprising hot desks, booths, informal sofa settings or even pub-style benches should certainly be on the agenda.
2.A space for onboarding
We all know someone who went through the challenge of starting a new job, remotely, during the pandemic. Fortunately, in many cases, businesses went the extra mile of ensuring they were made to feel welcomed, informed and embedded into the fabric of their organisations.
However, with the best will in the world, it wasn’t the same as stepping into your new office on your first day.
Not only do organisations need to retain a strong sense of atmosphere, culture, friendship and education in the workplace for these moments, but they actually now have an opportunity to build the space around this phase as part of their real estate reviews.
To make the office a perfect area for interviews, onboarding, training and progression reviews is one of the best ways to keep the former essence of that space alive. In its former life that office was where people became most directly affiliated with the brand – a concept that still holds sway now.
3.A space for promotion
In the same vein as channelling a brand culture through the workspace for new hires, the same applies to visitors from outside. Whether it’s prospective customers, business partners, shareholders or miscellaneous visitors, the office is still the best way to exude a company message and vibe.
Now, without the need to dilute that atmosphere with desk capacity needs, there is an opportunity to reimagine spaces for this purpose. Presentations, meetings, pitches and even gatherings can be considered through the use of interactive and digitised rooms, higher-tech media systems, or more open-plan layouts.
Where a sea of heads once sat at desks, it wouldn’t be the best first impression to outsiders, to now just witness a sea of empty chairs. Think about what they would be impressed to see instead.
4.A space for collaboration
As part of that aforementioned 88% who crave a hybrid balance between home and office, there also needs to be a consideration about what people are coming into the office for.
Some will simply be looking to freshen up their surroundings to do their same core tasks. But many will have identified where the at-home experience is lacking slightly.
It may be easier to focus in isolation, but it’s easier to collaborate in person. As such, converting the workplace into a space for meetings, idea sharing and more organic conversations would be an appropriate transformation of real estate.
The office in its traditional former state was rarely geared up for such instinctive and seamless collaboration, such was the need to fulfil capacity requirements. Here lies an opportunity to change that ergonomic outlook, and to give those hybrid demanders what they’re really looking for.
5.A space for data to flourish
Before any of these first four review stages are undertaken, there needs to be an initial clarity around how to transform the office from what it is today, to what it should be in the future. There could be an inclination to rely on instinct or guesswork, presuming there is nothing more than that to guide such a nascent trend.
But there absolutely is.
Utilisation and occupancy data should be the informing guide to any decisions made; crucially, because every company’s scenario will be different. The volume of in-office workers could change according to the season, days of the week, specific ongoing projects, new hires, and many other variables. Keeping on top of that flexibility, manually, is likely to lead to missed opportunities and an unclear overview of your real estate’s purpose.
Instead, addressing each of the previous points in turn: businesses can utilise workflow management tools and security solutions to ensure hot deskers are given safe and seamless access; meeting room and boardroom booking tools can account for any training, onboarding or collaborative work that needs to be done in-house; and visitor management systems can guide outside arrivals into the new-look space.
There is data to inform every step of companies’ real estate reassessments. When moving your HQ into the next generation of hybrid work, it makes sense to do so with the help of the next generation of digital innovation.