The office still matters. But it’s going to look very different when you get back

Businesses are still figuring out how to use their office spaces when they re-open to employees. Whatever happens, the role they play in our day-to-day work looks set to change.


Offices could look different when we return – if we do at all.

Image: lichaoshu

One of the big questions for businesses over the coming months will be the future role of the office.

The past year has, for many businesses leaders, been a case study of how employees are perfectly capable of working productively without being tied to their desks. Sure, such a rushed uptake of remote work hasn’t been without its glitches, yet it has called into question whether the traditional 9-5 routine and office space are still relevant.

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The short answer is ‘yes’ – though perhaps
not in the same way as they were pre-2020.

While a large part of the working day for professionals and knowledge workers may not require anything other than a laptop and internet connection, the past 12 months have also demonstrated just how important it is to get face-to-face time with co-workers.

“What’s the value of the office? It’s your colleagues; it’s the ability to collaborate,” says Adam Segal, CEO of real estate tech company Cove.

Tech companies have been leading the charge around the reimagining of workplaces.

Cloud CRM company Salesforce recently announced 
a permanent work from anywhere policy,

alongside a shake-up of how it used its real estate investments to fit with more hybrid styles of working.

Specifically, Salesforce plans to transform its offices into hubs for teamwork and collaboration. That means: out go the desks, and in come the break-out spaces and meeting rooms.

While Salesforce is one of the first companies to make such a definitive announcement, it certainly won’t be the last. As COVID-19 vaccinations gather pace, Segal says businesses will increasingly ponder how they can continue to get value from their real estate investments.

“To think that the office is a requirement for productivity has entirely been dissolved over the past 11 months,” he tells TechRepublic. “A good way to think about it is that you don’t need your dedicated desk anymore – that really summarizes it.”

In pre-COVID times, the office was designed as a place for employees to sit down for deep work. For some, working from home was reserved for special situations only.

Ranjan Singh, VP of technology for workplace tech firm Creston, believes that offices will need to accommodate a more “transient” workforce when employees begin to filter back through the doors. If in-office visits are rare, this could mean no more dedicated desks for employees to call their own.

“Offices will transition to collaborative spaces, where the focus is on team connection and collaboration, versus a place to come, do work at a desk, maybe attend a few meetings in a board room, and leave,” Singh tells TechRepublic.

Hybrid workplaces will also have to fit in with new working patterns if the traditional, eight-hour office stints are to be scrapped.

With concepts like
flexible scheduling, time-banking and split shifts

potentially giving employees even more choice around how they structure their workday, the way offices are used will need to reflect this new-found fluidity.

“We envision the new office as being a place where employees come and go more frequently and move around the office to connect with different teams,” says Singh.

“Teams may come together in the office to have meetings or set structured time to collaborate in person, then return home to finish off the workday.”

The most effective workspaces will need to be places that encourage casual water-cooler conversations, impromptu meetings and easy access to essential resources. This means that both the physical and technological architecture will need to complement each other and “work synergistically,” says Singh.

SEE: Return to work: What the new normal will look like post-pandemic (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

One example is room scheduling devices, which allow employees to book a meeting room or easily see if it’s occupied. “Workplace automation technology that not only comes loaded with seamless connectivity to software like Zoom or Microsoft Teams that organizations have become increasingly reliant on, but that also provides important data analytics around room space and usage for decision-makers are key to longstanding success,” Sign adds.

As well as a re-thinking of the physical spaces, the hybrid workplace will reorient management around productivity rather than attendance, according to Segal.

With managers having lost direct line of sight over employees, finding new and more intuitive ways to keep employees working at their best will be key to making a qualified success of long-term remote working.

But Segal points out that good management doesn’t necessarily mean having to maintain a physical watch over employees and their work.

“I would say, what does it mean to manage someone in general? It sure as heck doesn’t require you to sit next to them,” he adds.

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