1st May 2020
3 Min Read

Will your organisation need an office in the future?

Russell Norton
Russell Norton
Culture & Insights

Probably, yes. But will it be the same size and used in the same way? Almost certainly not.

Any organisation with large offices will no doubt be asking what the future of their property portfolio looks like. The rapid shift to remote working has proved that people are capable of running large organisations from their home office or kitchen table. Facilities teams and CFOs are now asking themselves what this means for the shape and size of their offices.

Here’s our run-down of how to handle this topic from an internal communication perspective.

Optimising the current situation:

We still don’t know when offices will be allowed to reopen, so right now your focus should be on helping your people be as productive, collaborative and secure as they can while working from home:

  • Keep providing tips about optimising your workspaces and methods
  • Reiterate the options for flexibility in terms of shift patterns or work styles where they exist
  • Offer support to your leaders on maintaining energy and productivity among a remote team – this may still be new for them
  • Work closely with your CIO to maximise data security among your people working remotely
  • Define a virtual engagement plan for your leaders to ensure they remain visible and accessible across your channels.

Managing uncertainty:

For some, the shift to remote working has been welcome and they are thriving under new autonomy. Others are struggling with isolation, lack of support and complicating factors at home. Your communications should be as inclusive as possible right now, to minimise stress and anxiety:

  • Share what you know and be open about what you don’t. Avoid any speculation about timescales or what the changes to ways of working might be. Set regular milestones – say, every fortnight, or month – and communicate the latest definitive information
  • Start gathering feedback from as many people as possible (employees, customers and stakeholders) about what parts of remote working are going well and what parts aren’t
  • Don’t refer to the current situation as ‘the new normal’ – we’re still in a pandemic and facing challenges we’ve never had to before. The idea that should be ‘normal’ is angst-inducing for many. ‘The new normal’ will be what comes after lockdown restrictions are lifted.

Control the controllables:

Whether you’re in the happy-at-home or the can’t-wait-to-be-back-with-the-team camp, you’ll want to know that whatever happens, you’ll be safe. Lead the establishment of a taskforce – with representatives from leadership, facilities, HR, IT – to start planning the future of shared spaces and the impact on your people:

  • Think creatively about the space you have. Retailers and banks may be able to use unused space off the shop floor to accommodate office workers
  • Think about the flows of people in offices. Consider introducing one-way systems and social distancing markers to avoid overcrowding
  • Think about cleanliness and hygiene. The tolerance for unclean shared spaces will be rock-bottom, so you’ll need to plan for additional and more rigorous cleaning regimes
  • Think about your carbon footprint. With fewer or smaller offices, and not as many people commuting – you may be able to demonstrate faster progress against your sustainability targets.

One step at a time:

It’s very likely that any return to offices will be done tentatively and in a phased approach. Use this to your advantage and only move as fast as you need to. If you’re operating ok with your current remote ways of working, don’t rush to change them:

  • Gather data now that helps you segment your audiences. Run a survey asking them to share if they want to return to the office or not, as well as questions on if they have school-age kids or live in a flat-share. This will help you build a heat-map of demand for your office space
  • Make the rules around returning to the office very clear in terms of what’s essential and what’s optional (e.g. the wearing of facemasks). Remind people of these rules regularly and make it obvious when they’re updated
  • Broaden your talent horizons. If you are recruiting, you now have access to people across the country, and the world. As and when appropriate, use this to your advantage.

Remote working has shaken everything up. There have been difficulties, but there are have also been some huge wins. In conversation with our clients, we often pause to reflect on ‘what are the parts of lockdown that you like, and want to retain in the future?’

There are many parts that people remember fondly: appreciating time outdoors, quality (virtual) time with friends and family, healthier work-life balance, digital downtime, new focus on diet. It’s important, as leaders consider the future of work spaces, that they ask employees what’s important to them.

Shiny tower-blocks and artisan espresso bars may appeal to some, but the working environments of the future are going to have to be more considered, more flexible and more employee-centric. If an outcome of this devastating pandemic is that the needs and preferences of employees are put back at the heart of decisions around the spaces and ways in which we work, then perhaps there can be some positive outcomes.

If you’re ready to start thinking about what your offices will look like in the near future, then talk to us. We can help you build an engagement strategy that ensures your people are kept front and centre of any decisions that are made. Get in touch: hello@scarlettabbott.co.uk

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