Experts say the office is here to stay as businesses re-evaluate their spatial requirements ahead of the post-Covid future
Coronavirus threw the world into the deep end of remote working, where many businesses faced the same choice: go remote or disappear. Those who took the leap have experienced the benefits of remote working, including dramatically improved work/life balance, greater trust between managers and employees, zero commute time and a much higher capacity for focused work. But they’ve also experienced the downsides, from poor working environments, digital burnout and the blurring of work/life boundaries, to the loss of the creativity and innovation associated with office environments.
The benefits of remote working are undeniable but, for most organisations, so are the drawbacks. Office design specialists are predicting the retention of both remote working and core office space in the rise of flexible workplace strategies. In other words, the office is here to stay – it’s just going to look and work a little differently than it used to.
“The office may not be the only place we work, but it is proving to be the glue that holds our work environments together and the point around which businesses organise themselves,” says Martin Reeves, Managing Director at office design and build company Oktra. Experts have always identified the workplace as a business’s most valuable tool for fostering community, reducing affinity distance and jump-starting the interpersonal communication that leads to innovation. A flexible workplace strategy places permanent, bespoke office space at the centre of a network of auxiliary workspaces, realising the benefits of both remote and office-based work while mitigating the pitfalls of each.
The main draw of a flexible workplace strategy is, as the name suggests, flexibility. Oktra Group Technical Design Director, Claire Elliott, explains the strategy’s importance as companies work to redefine their own property requirements: “Businesses are grappling with very different spatial requirements than they’ve had in the past. The proven success of remote working has granted a far greater degree of flexibility in terms of when and where employees are working, and that means the type and amount of workspace businesses need is changing.”
“Right now, we’re focused on helping our clients select the right flexible workplace strategy for their businesses by identifying the approach that will support their long-term goals,” continues Elliott. It’s a strategy that looks different for different companies and its versatility is part of its universal appeal: “core and flex” space models, “hub and spoke” office networks and central offices paired with generous remote working options are all examples of flexible workplace strategies.
Most businesses will never return to a traditional office-based working model. “The spaces that you work in remotely are usually, by nature, a silo – you’re isolated,” explains Martin Reeves. “It’s the isolation piece that workspace helps us with – it helps us overcome feelings of isolation and it creates feelings of community.” Company culture and community aren’t just nice to have, they’re essential in generating brand buy-in and a shared vision between employees. The result is not only streamlined compliance and methodology, but heightened creativity, better problem solving and improved mental health.
“Place is an incredibly powerful tool, particularly when it comes to attracting and retaining talent,” Reeves continues. “Yes, the option to work remotely is now a part of that. But in some ways the central workspace is now even more important for companies communicating their brand to potential hires.” Core office space gives businesses the ability to evolve in a work environment that reflects their brand and culture, and it’s that kind of investment in the workforce that rising generations of talent have come to expect.
Flexible working is positioned to shape the new normal as businesses re-evaluate their property footprint ahead of their return to the workplace. “Can organisations have a common purpose without a workplace? I think probably no,” concludes Claire Elliott. “Being surrounded by people who are working towards a common goal is what motivates us and what gives us purpose. Right now, we need to make a concerted effort to maintain communication levels with colleagues – professionally and socially.”
Co-workers across continents can arrange a video call in less time than it takes to walk to someone’s desk. But the workplace’s importance in fostering connection and providing a sense of community has been highlighted in its absence.
For resources and insight on evolving commercial office space requirements, visit oktra.co.uk.