The more we contain the epidemic, the more we feel pressed to return to the office setting, to re-establish the relationships with other people, exchange information and ideas. But after our understanding of work has changed in the new reality, is it possible to resume our duties and start functioning as if nothing happened?
The pandemic has forced us to change the way we work. This is nothing new – we’ve all heard it before, so we won’t be dwelling on it any longer. What I want to do is look forward and wonder what is about to change. What do we have to consider? What should we make allowances for?
Before the pandemic we talked a lot about the multitude and diversity of tasks you perform at work and the related need to provide relevant space for these tasks in the office. Project work, brainstorming, ad hoc meetings with colleagues, meetings with third parties, focus work – to mention just a few. As regards operational work, not much changed when the pandemic broke out. Most tasks were simply moved to the online space – video call software or applications for managing a dispersed team became essential for the completion of work-related tasks. It’s good to note that a similar model was popular among sales reps before the pandemic, as it was directly related to the nature of their work. And now it’s become even more popular, and what is more important, in many cases it proved successful.
During the pandemic, some tasks and processes were completed in a more effective way, but on the other hand, information exchange and a sense of belonging to the team or organisation clearly suffered. Deepening sense of isolation, being out of touch with the team, plus the everpresent issues with information flow – all of these suggest that a search for intermediate models might be a good idea. We need models that will create a space for us to use the skills, tools and frameworks developed and tested during the pandemic. But full-time return to the office as we knew it seems only too abstract. After all, we have come to realise we don’t have to waste more than one hour stuck in traffic jams (make that double – you still have to come back home after work), only to sit behind the desk to reply to all the e-mails. This can be done virtually anywhere, provided you have Internet access. Sometimes the best solutions is to find a golden mean – and it could be the abovementioned hybrid model.
Anyway, each organisation will have to decide on the shape and framework of their own hybrid model. You should bear in mind that certain professions require 100% office work for a number of reasons (these could be technical, safety-related etc.). Plus, there are employees who simply prefer to work in the office for personal reasons. This is another thing we should consider when planning an office of tomorrow. In the end, it’s not about “whether or not we return to the office” – what we want to know is “what kind of office we return to.” Just as before the pandemic we tried to accommodate the offices to your working style, now we need to think of the activities envisaged in the office of tomorrow and see what we have to do to create a space that supports creativity, knowledge exchange and effective work. The analysis of trends already points to certain tendencies and directions that will continue to shape the layout and functions of the office of tomorrow.
An office will definitely be a place designed for the integration of the company teams. It will be the centre and medium of the organisational culture – a place that supports the onboarding process for newly hired employees. This is because it will become a communication hub. And it’s not only about communication among the employees who come to the office on a specific day. The office will be a centre from which you can connect to any place, any partner, any employee in any location, to someone who happens to be working from home on a specific day, to a contractor, supplier etc. This will be possible thanks to a number of meeting rooms and individual offices with a video call system.
The latest publication by Nowy Styl – Workspace of tomorrow. Communication Hub – presents a vision of the office whose key function is communication. Communication Hub is an office of a company following the hybrid model – a place for meeting, exchanging ideas and building interpersonal relations. Formal and informal information flows make it possible to maintain business continuity and improve the existing processes.
Another consequence of the changes we witnessed over the past year will be more flexibility as regards working hours and workspace. Since the team can perform their tasks effectively (sometimes even better than before) while working from home, why make the employees return to the office full time? If you grant your employees the freedom to choose where they want to work, if you decide to trust them on this and provide them with the tools necessary to work in the office or from home – you will be following the increasingly popular pattern of tomorrow. As you enable the staff to work from home, you will also embrace desk sharing, where a number of employees share a single desk. And this is because you will see it’s a waste to see some of the desks standing empty most of the time. In order to create a comfortable space for those who do come to the office, you will come up with a variety of specific zones that support ad hoc consultations, formal meetings or brainstorming.
Thanks to technological advancement, communication within dispersed teams will be much easier, too – everybody will be able to participate in the meeting and be treated as an equal – no matter where they are.
I have presented a vision, which used to be merely a dream of the distant future, at least for most organisations, especially as regards their readiness for and awareness of such changes. Nowadays I can safely say that this is a vision of an office of tomorrow – and it’s within reach. This is because certain changes cannot be undone, while others are actually most welcome. That’s why it’s good to reflect on what our workspace should look like once we return after the period of mandatory remote work. We knew many of these solutions back before the pandemic. Others were introduced while it lasted. Of course, there is still a long way to go, but it’s good to realise that many of the things we are currently using may effectively support us in implementing the hybrid work model.
You will find more inspirations and solutions that can be adjusted to your office of tomorrow in our publication titled Workspace of tomorrow. Communication Hub – a reservoir of possibilities and ideas we can use together to come up with your own office of tomorrow.
Author: Mikołaj Tarnawa, Senior Workplace Research & Analysis Consultant, Nowy Styl