COVID-19 created rapid change, and the lasting impacts of the pandemic on offices and ways of working suggest that few “white collar” workers will return to a daily, 9-to-5 stint at the office anytime soon. The concept that being in the office is somehow a proxy for productivity clearly does not hold true; the pandemic has demonstrated that employees can adopt different ways of working flexibility with many organisations reporting that productivity over the past few months has been maintained, if not increased. Work is being reframed as a thing you do, rather than a place you go, and measurement of ‘work’ will increasingly become about the outcome rather than the input, regardless of when and where it is done.
Whilst some of us experienced the downsides of reduced connectivity and the challenges of separating work and home life, others embraced the benefits of avoiding a daily commute to the office and being able to more easily balance family commitments and time at home. However, the new reality is that for many at least, a choice of where work is done will be defined by nature of the work and not a set location, so organisations are using this opportunity to embrace virtual work and rethink their real estate footprint.
Designing and creating future places for work along with the tools and skills to support this new reality will be critical, and organisations will need to consider several different aspects. The natural collaboration and interaction that happens in an office environment will still be important and needs to be factored in but may require organisations to look at the quantity and nature of space provided, with some spaces scheduled for specific uses and some repurposed or even disposed. The quality and reliability of technology to allow for working from anywhere at any time, the supporting processes and mechanisms to facilitate collaboration, engage employees and connect with customers also needs to be considered and balanced with the security and protection of information.
In addition to infrastructure related considerations, consciously addressing the culture, wellbeing and leadership dimension of these new ways of working is as important. The development of a culture that embeds the flexibility and positive aspects of the learnings from working through COVID-19 will take effort and trust will be central to this. Leaders will need to continue creating a safe environment where employees feel supported, especially around mental health. Underpinning all of this is building the skills of leaders and managers – different capabilities are required to lead and manage workforces that you can’t physically see as often and who are working at different times and different places.
As we move through the phases from recovery to a new reality, taking the opportunity to design where and how we work will help us manage the changes from the impact of COVID-19.