The office is dead…long live the office
– April 2020 –
What will become a thing of the past? For as long as I can remember futurists have been predicting the death of the office. Suddenly, and presumably not in the way they predicted…it is.
I have read many articles about how this is the ultimate flexible working experiment, without making light of the terrible and serious struggle that is going on around us.
There is much talk about how things have changed forever. That working environments, attitudes and approaches will never be the same again.
How this can be the catalyst that allows businesses to make monumental changes in how they work, creating that trust the many felt was lacking in their ability to work from home and get work done. The multitude of collaboration tools proving we don’t need to travel for meetings, we can just as easily co-ordinate in the cloud. I must admit, I am now much better versed in software solutions I had rarely and sometimes never used before, Zoom, Teams, Hangouts, WebEx, Skype…even House Party. So is this sight a soon to be lesser spotted one?
For the introverts amongst us this might indeed be the working revolution that they have been waiting for. They don’t need to be in the social arena of an office, they can quite easily produce to the same levels as before, and in many cases, much more, now being able to work in their own space, to their own design, and this must be a good thing.
Therefore, this will cause a knock-on effect in terms of property requirements, both in terms of scale and use. I have read how businesses will require a fraction of their previous space, embracing technology and the opportunity it provides for flexible working, meaning the office may become the hub with many spokes – everyone is proving they can work remotely, effectively. Hot-desking, agile working, dynamic working will all once again come to the fore as buzz words and ‘presenteeism’ is no longer a factor, all of which must be good? No more of this:
Which brings me to meeting rooms. Will the queue for meeting rooms become a thing of the past? Will we be as busy converting meeting rooms into wellness rooms as we used to be finding spaces to make into meeting rooms? One of the most common things clients tell us is that they don’t have enough meeting rooms. Obviously we challenge this as we know that they are often mis-used, from a private conversation room, a phone box, a lunch spot, an office, two people in a four person room, four people in a six and so on…sometimes they are designed poorly so that the screen is directly behind a chair and therefore an eight person room is automatically a seven person room so they need to go into the ten person room to see comfortably.
Now good design can alleviate a lot of this, with activity-based solutions, providing the spaces for each use and freeing up the meeting rooms to be meeting rooms for the right number of people.
So with all of us now working remotely will we ever need a meeting room again? Can we drop to 1 to 10 desk ratios?
Will we only come in to enjoy the free breakfast, the yoga and pilates and then spend the afternoon with a headset on strolling through the rolling hills as teams meet from all corners of the UK and indeed the world in a virtual space?
There aren’t that many personality types that this working arrangement suits. Certainly not for all or even most of the time.
Personally, I am very happy in my own company. I am probably an extroverted introvert, equally happy in large groups as I am sat by myself reading. So I wasn’t too worried about the enforced solitude, content working from home, previous experiences proving that I can be disciplined, effective and possibly even enjoy it.
The commute is now a walk, inside, to my home office. It takes seconds, not the hour and a half it used to. I suddenly don’t need to feverishly check twitter to see how Greater Anglia have managed to mess up my journey to and from work this time.
I see my daughters when they wake up, I can help them with their schoolwork, I can read them a story, play a game of cards with them, put them to bed. All of which is absolutely brilliant.
My focus time is at an all-time high. I have the space and time to write, to catch up on the admin that gets pushed aside, even the data entry to keep our CRM systems as up to date as possible, something that was always tomorrow’s task.
I speak to all my colleagues on a daily basis now, we all meet for a beer now, albeit virtually, as no-one has to rush off anymore…
So why does it feel like forever?
I have to keep reminding myself that it has only been a couple of weeks of working from home as a result of this crisis. I am also reminded that working from home doesn’t quite cover it – Trying to get through this crisis whilst being a parent, teacher, cleaner, entertainer, dog walker, cook, colleague, friend…and working too.
Having spoken to a wide variety of personality types over the past few days it has been reassuring and enlightening how much people miss people.
The benefits are great – and I can’t see a future world which doesn’t involve some more flexibility and using the technology we are now so well versed in…but…some things are much harder virtually.
Pitching over a VC is so much worse. Having spent decades learning how to read a room, pick up on physical language and tells, use this to help drive a pitch in whichever way the potential client might show a preference for, to create that balance between humour and camaraderie and professionalism and ability…is nigh on impossible. Only being able to see from the shoulders up…only the speaker being visible, sharing a screen can hide all the people, even yourself, meaning you can forget your camera is on…
A virtual coffee just isn’t the same. And no, I don’t want a virtual breakfast!
I don’t think I am ever going to complain about my commute again* (* I am. I know. But not as much). I can’t wait to be back in London and seeing people. Having a coffee. Breakfast meets, that quick beer after work but most of all, the office.
I wasn’t in the office all that much, pitching, meeting clients, networking and walking from meeting to meeting taking me out for the majority of the day, which suited me. Being ‘stuck’ in the office was a bad thing. Now…I even miss these guys:
Not that they are representative of any character in the JAC office you understand…
I wonder if, when we get through this COVID-19 crisis, the vast majority of us can’t wait to get back into London. Back to ‘normal’. I can see businesses offering more freedom to work remotely or flexibly and for tasks that require concentration perhaps this will be taken up a lot more.
I wonder if our human need for interaction will make the office even more of a focal point. Having taken work for granted people now want their own spaces in work. They may want a different type of office, with more breakout spaces, phone call areas, collaboration spots and focus rooms. Will we see a push for a desk? Their safe-haven, sit-stand place of their own, where they can put up a picture and down a favourite mug.
A different and perhaps better use of space with variety and freedom but no less overall size requirement? Or more shared space with other firms in the building and more trust in the workforce.
Might we even see a drive back towards cellular offices, where people have a home from home, can shut the door for focus periods? I mean, now we all know how to set up a zoom call on the go, perhaps we can use that to chat to our family instead of actually seeing them…which might be quite nice, after all this is over and we are allowed away from them again!
But for now – let’s embrace the good and try to minimise the bad, look out for one another, take the potential and use it going forward and help others too – we are still talking to fantastic clients who are pushing on wherever they can, we are pitching, responding to RFPs, sending out our own, talking to the market and finding solutions in this trying time – and I’ll see you soon, back in London, perhaps in your newly built office…
“I suddenly don’t need to feverishly check twitter to see how Greater Anglia have managed to mess up my journey to and from work this time”
“A virtual coffee just isn’t the same. And no, I don’t want a virtual breakfast!”
“I see my daughters when they wake up, I can help them with their schoolwork, I can read them a story, play a game of cards with them, put them to bed. All of which is absolutely brilliant.”
…it has been reassuring and enlightening how much people miss people”