2020 made many businesses re-evaluate their workplace strategy: we certainly have been busier than ever advising and consulting with clients.
Although the changes brought about by the sustained onslaught of COVID-19 have affected every business differently, there are few that won’t benefit from taking this second lockdown as an opportunity in which to think carefully about the way they approach their culture, their ways of working and their workplace strategy.
Now is the time to think carefully about what you want for the future, whatever it holds.
In my end of year blog, we looked back on the lessons learnt during 2020.
Here we delve into some of the key things that businesses will be considering in 2021 and beyond, all of which push us to think in new ways about workplace strategy and design.
Understandably, many businesses are looking for alternative ways to shape the space they need. Some are looking to keep the same square footage but reduce they days they use it – possibly sharing space every with another business utilising it on different days.
Some may work remotely for the majority of a month but come together for a week of intensive collaboration. This creates great opportunity for multi-use developments which could combine workspace with hotel accommodation, leisure and hospitality for a fully immersive experience.
Freedom and flexibility will be key for many businesses, meaning landlords are focused on alternative solutions to traditional long–term leases with associated long–term liabilities and end–of–term dilapidation costs. The flexible office providers who offer shorter leases and more adaptable spaces will continue to be in a strong position.
Larger businesses (typically with a capital–city focus) are looking at workspace hub and spoke strategies, where a potentially smaller main office is the hub, with a dispersed team working from smaller satellite offices or their own homes, coming together to meet and collaborate.
This model will bode well for regional cities and larger towns where there will be a shift from London to more distributed hubs.
In the short–term, employers are asking “when our workspace opens back up, what will it take to encourage employees back in?” But there is a longer–term strategy to consider. Businesses are asking themselves some tough questions:
- Do my people have the right environment to work from home?
- How do we safeguard and grow our company culture when we’re seeing each other face to face less?
- Can my team be creative and productive if we only come together occasionally?
- Is there a need for smaller hubs where people can collaborate effectively?
- Do I want a long-term lease where I’m responsible for everything but where I have security?
- Do I want a shorter lease, probably at a higher cost, but less liability?
- Are there alternative ways of working where I can rent out space as a service rather than being tied to premises?
The reality is that businesses need to spend time considering these questions. Because we’re not just talking about space. We’re talking about the culture the leaders will be creating.
If you’re committing to an office lease for five years or more – and you get it wrong – the challenge could be costly and take time to resolve.
Culture is the thing that keeps your business going. It is the people and the interactions between them that make most businesses work effectively.
If you make long-term decisions that don’t consider all the evidence, or if you don’t consider what’s particularly unique about your situation, then your culture will be eroded – and it might not be noticed until it’s too late.
It’s not about Instagram; it’s about wellbeing.
Of course, many workplaces are designed to look amazing, but 2021 will continue to highlight that there are many important factors beyond aesthetics.
The impact of the coronavirus on our collective mental health has yet to be mapped out, but we’ve never been more aware of the need to protect our wellbeing and state of mind.
Top talent will gravitate towards those companies that take their holistic wellbeing seriously, providing them with employee experiences that prioritise mental and physical health both in the workplace and when working from home.
Make your office a destination
A shift has occurred in the relationship between organisations and their people.
Employees feel they should be able choose whether to come to the office or not. That is going to change but needs to be managed to ensure the best outcome for both parties. As a business leader you have to create the opportunity, and the need, for them to come into your workspace. There is absolutely no point in people spending the time and money to commute to work only to have them sit in a corner working away.
As soon as people enter your workplace, there should be a sense of welcome, energy and community. Of course, they need to feel it’s a safe place to do great work. Equally, they need to come into the space and feel like it’s a great place to be. Somewhere they can make connections, enjoy the social framework, get great work done together, have a better coffee than they would have at home.
Or as Brittney Van Matre, Nike’s director of workplace strategy and operations puts it: “a kickass headquarters with a lot of amenities and a super slick experience” or “a really unique experience that you can’t get anywhere else.” We’ve always said that the office has to be a destination, and this is more important now than ever before.
When lockdown lifts, your office has to be somewhere people want to go to talk and meet. It is a key factor in attracting and retaining staff.
As we enter 2021, we need our people to be engaged, energised and focussed. We’ll need creativity and collaboration to ensure we can tackle the challenges ahead.
We need to come together as individuals around the common purposes that unite us.
Understanding where and how we work together will be defining factors in how we build on the learnings of the last year and thrive in the year ahead.
Get it right – with the best people in a space that inspires greater collective outcome – and in the next post-COVID economic cycle, the opportunities for success will be great.