The future of the office and workspace
“There is increasing recognition that the social interaction of the workplace is a key element in productivity.”
There are cycles of thinking. As the pandemic began to strike, those operations that are building-based ceased overnight. Almost as quickly, new technologies emerged into regular use and a large body of opinion was expressed that offices were a thing of the past. Working from home (WFH) was the way forward; money could be saved by not using expensive office space and new ways of working would emerge for necessary face-to-face customer/service user activities.
As the pandemic has continued and we have operated in and out of lockdowns and tiers, it has become apparent that face-to-face service delivery has not developed as was hoped. It is also becoming obvious that WFH and video calls are not suitable for everyone. One only has to note the changes in backgrounds to calls to recognise that some people have chosen to return to the office. This may be in isolation; it may be on a rota basis; but it is happening. There is increasing recognition that the social interaction of the workplace is a key element in productivity.
Nevertheless, the flexibility of WFH is also something that is cherished. I usually start work between 06.00 and 06.30 (using time that would normally be spent commuting) and the number of immediate responses to emails sent before 08.00 is surprising. Time is then available, during the day, for doing other things.
Those other things often include going for an hour-long walk. This provides exercise, fresh air and clear-headed thinking time – which may or may not be about work-related issues. Those with larger households living at home may not find this as practical and the combination of adults working and children being taught online is something contended with by many – with all of the issues created by conflicting priorities using finite bandwidth.
It was, therefore, refreshing to find this report from an organisation called Birchwood Park, which indicates a possible way forward. Birchwood’s research found that 64% of workers were expected to return to the office on a part-time or rota basis, with just 10% planning to return to the office full-time. That’s a significant shift in our working culture.
There is a slight caveat in that Birchwood Park operates a large business park, based in the North West. However, its report contains some very interesting thinking; for example, around flexible working, portable tech and the the onus on employers to provide a healthy working environment and ample opportunities for exercise and socialising.
These are all ideas that can be adapted for adoption outside of the environs of a purpose-built C21 business campus and it is well worth leadership teams reading this report as they begin to plan an exit from pandemic-enforced working patterns. When some ideas are formed there is a need for discussion with staff affected.
The seminar that accompanied this report made it very clear that staff are the most important asset of any operation, large or small. They are often the most expensive asset as well. You would ensure that an expensive car was serviced; you would get your household boiler serviced for fear of breakdown at the most inopportune moment. An even better level of care is needed for staff.
Failure to attend to this will reduce staff retention and cause a sharp financial blow by the triple whammy of lost expertise, recruitment costs and time taken, and the induction of a new member of staff. Attention to the work place and pattern, post Covid, is a key element of wellbeing and staff retention. It does not have to cost a lot
Andrew Rainsford is a specialist consultant in the Christian sector, helping churches with matters concerning buildings, capacity building, project development, income generation and community enterprise. He has 28 years experience in funding and third sector management and now engages with projects that will make a difference to the community.