What’s happening to the workplace post Covid-19?

Here are two short articles written by two FutureWork Forum Partners, both highly respected and renowned in the field of efficient workplaces – Andrew Chadwick, the Principal of Chadwick International and Chris Hood, Director of Consulting, EMEA, Advanced Workplace Associates. See original article on Future Work Forum here

One of the main areas of discussion on the implications of Covid-19 on the working world has been ‘what’s going to happen to the office’? Both Andrew and Chris set out their views on what is clearly going to be a huge issue for the majority of companies. What should the leaders of these companies be considering about the future of their offices? How do they ensure an effective organisation that delivers for all stakeholders, while meeting the concerns and needs of employees? What role does ‘the office’ actually play? Is it  somewhere employees will dread coming to after the freedom of working from home, or the beating heart of the company that provides energy and direction and a destination of choice?

Space Time – Post Covid 19

Author: Andrew Chadwick

Ever since lockdown on 23.03.20 a veritable industry in advice has sprung up seeking to help us out of the sinkhole into which we have fallen.  Everybody and his brother is writing guidance on how to deal with Covid-19. The Government does it, Local Authorities do it, Professional institutions do it. Furniture manufacturers do it. Shops do it. Everybody does it. It’s almost as though this huge sink hole has appeared in humanity and guidance has fallen out of it…and yet the end result of all this guidance is quite ghastly.

Great trouble has been taken to distance people 2 metres or 1.5 metres or 1 metre apart according to which country you are in. Everything is signed with one way or no entry and the loos and lifts can only accommodate one user at a time. You must take your temperature before entry and if caught with C-19 have to go home and self-isolate for two weeks – and for what?

A nasty soulless office with all the fun beaten out of it demonstrably showing the absence of what is becoming clear is the raison d’être of the office qua office – community with others. All over the world people were instructed by their Governments – with a few notable exceptions – to go home. And they did. And it worked! Indeed, the technology worked to the point that many organisations are content for their staff to continue working at home.

The statistics from a Leesman Index survey of 10,600 employees in 90 groups in 14 organisations in 16 countries held from lockdown to date are interesting:

  • 92% of staff were homeworking
  • 8% of staff were in the office
  • Of whom 76% expressed themselves highly satisfied with homeworking
  • Of whom 24% expressed themselves less satisfied with homeworking
  • Productive work, video conferencing, concentrated work, and private conversations were all seen as higher ranking at home
  • Informal meetings, learning by interaction, printing and scanning, chair and desk were all seen as lower ranking at home

This suggests that a small but high-quality Hub office in the traditional city centre will suffice as the locator for most businesses leaving the city to acquire a more residential feel encouraging small family businesses to thrive and make better places.

So what will the Office of 2025 look and feel like?

Well, nothing like today’s corporate office.

The Leesman results and personal experience suggest that a mixed environment will best serve all ages and dispositions. Interestingly, Millennials are the least happy with homeworking probably because of their domestic circumstances and their desire for social interaction.
Faced with this situation of total disruption in his / her organisation, what should leaders do?
First, they should engage with their own people and establish where on the spectrum of change their organisation exists. This can be done by interview using the Leesman questionnaire or something very like it.  They should then look forward to the effect on the roles engaged to lead in the layers below and get a feeling for what will be acceptable and profitable to their company in a change to their physical accommodation.

A return to working in the office should not be compulsory if the role can be fulfilled equally well, or better, from the home.

  • Consult with your workforce and conduct a survey to evaluate the mood for returning to the office
  • Identify the essential office workers
  • Identify those whose home environment does not lend itself to homeworking
  • Identify employees who fall into the sheltered or “at risk” category
  • Analyse the results to establish the percentage of flexible working i.e. a combination of home and office working
  • Factor in commuting time and mode of travel to limit the time on public transport
  • Evaluate and address the risk factors in the office – e.g.: cleaning, sanitising, one-way systems, social distancing, visitors, deliveries etc
  • Publish the schedule and operation mode of attendance in the office

The physical accommodation will no longer necessarily be a single building (depending on size of course) but a support platform as part of an eco-system that can span towns, cities, states and countries. We (Chadwick International) constructed one such in the ‘90’s for Accenture in their West Europe Division (France, Germany, Benelux, Italy, Switzerland) which we entitled Spacenet, a virtual office spanning all 260,000 sq kms of the region populated with “cities”, the major identity sites, “forts” that guarded strategic intersections, “fighting camps” adjacent to or inside client sites and “domi” the homes of the individual consultants.  This model will absorb all the post-COVID-19 changes in that it will provide for a significant proportion of homeworking, a selection of specialist installations and major identity sites of which to be proud.
Our experience was that not only did this construct attract the best clients, it was in effect saying we are prepared to be radical with ourselves, let us become radical with you. Most importantly, the millennials of the day flocked to the Paris office and other cities to the point that Accenture experienced a significant upsurge in the quality of intake.

In short, this model, or something very like it, will be the future for the commercial office across the planet.

So, in an ideal world you may well have:

  • A “heart” office to accommodate say, 35 – 40% of your staff at an occupancy ratio of say, 1:15 square metres include conferencing, wayfinding, dining, reservation service and high-end A/V with a distinctly classy “domestic” feel. This is the cultural centrum of your organisation and expresses your personality and ambitions to the outside world.
  • A homeworking option for 100 % of your staff.
  • Gym membership with swimming pool, lots of bike parking, showers and chauffeur service.

(If you take away ownership of space you must give something back. It might look expensive but the payback in acceptance and loyalty makes it cheap.)

Connectivity is the most important aspect of a combination of office and homeworking. It is, therefore, essential that the Space-Time Office regime has a strong electronic connection.  Remote video/teams conferencing will depend greatly on strong interconnections.

Social interaction is one of the more important features of office working. A rotating schedule should be established in the early planning to ensure that a limited number of each operational team or department may be granted access to the office.

Recognition of special requirements must be built into the scheme with attendant facilities.

Make the office domestic with all the features you enjoy in-home working.

Sit back and bask in the success of your company!


The Workplace Post -Covid-19

Author: Chris Hood

Inevitably we will emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic a changed and humbled world, enlightened by the experience and with new attitudes in play. The pandemic has forced us to try some new things, and many have been surprised in the process. Time-held conventions about going to work have been challenged and a more balanced, less onerous, more controllable work-day appears to be within reach. The outcome for those who are able to summon up the courage to stay on a new course is to think about work not as a destination but as a series of activities best performed in different places and for different lengths of time. I am very much in agreement with those that suggest that the future office will involve the development of an eco-system. This eco-system will be fundamentally based on personal choices about where, when and how work will be best accomplished. The “why” of this view is perhaps the most interesting. There is strong and mounting evidence from a credible sources* that such freedom to choose could be the boost that organisations need to boost productivity and optimise the workplace that best supports them.

Furthermore, there is growing evidence from the Leesman survey work that some elements of work are not particularly well addressed in the modern office. Focus work for example, which Leesman’s home working survey also describes as that which most people consider their most important work, is particularly poorly served in the contemporary world of open-plan. Even in an activity-based environment in which there are places to retreat for peace and quiet, confidentiality, and the ability to work undisturbed, it seems that more people would rather stay put and complain about how inefficient the workplace is, than move to a location that better addresses their concerns. Homework solves this problem for many people but there still remains a considerable number who just cannot work from home. Space limitations, family distractions or the need for strong and perpetual social contact may direct individuals towards other forms of local workplace such as co-working, serviced offices, libraries and other forms of public space. The essential feature of all these alternatives is that they should be close to home…walking distance if possible.

These third places have the potential to at least partially address the need for social connection, a comfortable and ergonomically sound place to work, the opportunity to learn and mentor, and to attract more diversity of thinking and experience than that capable within the four walls of an organisation.

The following illustration begins to describe this ecosystem which is reliant on a number of important organizational attributes:

  • A technology platform capable allowing anyone to work from anywhere at any time
  • Management practices that not only accommodate but excel in virtual management of employees and seek to drive further improvement in remote working practices and procedures. This includes the recognition of providing more autonomy to the workforce.
  • A mindset that welcomes talent into the organization no matter where it is located
  • A bold rationale for the role and purpose of the company mothership
  • The willingness to bring large parts of the organization together for both business and social purposes from time to time

The intelligence of organizations to invest in people’s work-at-home effectiveness (it’s supposedly where their most important and productive work is done, so why wouldn’t you want to make it as good as possible.

It might be helpful to start the development of a list of attributes for which a company hub might demonstrate permanent and high value. I offer the following start

  1. Complex, instant, fusion of knowledge to address high value, fast-moving challenges
  2. Living creativity, serendipity and innovation associated with high-value initiatives
  3. A place for work for highly valued high-social workers
  4. A place for people that can’t work from home
  5. A place to access unique facilities and equipment that can’t be provided at home
  6. Unstructured learning and knowledge sharing
  7. Regulated, compliance or security restrictions
  8. Host and present to customers in a branded environment
  9. The availability of hands-on help desks (IT, HR etc.)
  10. A place for social interaction

Of course, the real winner in this whole proposition is our planet. Within this new ecosystem, we have the ability to:

  • Reduce the space footprint of our going to work with both operational and embedded carbon reductions.
  • Reduce commuting through higher adoption of local workplace solutions
  • Drive the sustainability of life on this planet as the “purpose”.

The global pandemic has achieved in a few months what a whole legion of Change Management professionals have failed to achieve over many years: a commitment to objectively set aside traditional attitudes to where and when work is best done. The legacy that this enforced change may yet bring to us is the silver-lining that will hopefully emerge from this disruption.

Perhaps, in many ways, it causes us to open our eyes and look more broadly at many of the other behaviours in our everyday lives. We may surprise ourselves further!

*Peter Thomson’s new book “500%” relating to the resurgence of a company called Matt Black Systems through a carefully crafted program to allow employees to self-direct the activities they are responsible for, and Stamford Professor Nicholas Bloom’s seminal study of employees from C-Trip a Shanghai travel agency who were able to self-determine their workplace choice.

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