Is the most hackneyed phrase…”What’s the future of the office?”

That said, what is it?

I have read a lot and when I say a lot, I mean A L O T ! on the future of the office but let me be clear, this isn’t a 2020 thing, this is a 90s, noughties and yes, Pandemic thing. We do, prior to March, spend about a third of our life ‘at work’, it’s just ‘at work’ has shape-shifted quite a bit.

There is no new norm, we should stop saying this, it is really another evolutionary trend, as with most trends (puff-ball skirts) they will be kicked into touch and recycled into something else but other trends (carrying data in your pocket) will endure. I think that will be the same for the being ‘at work’.

Most of the employee/staff engagement surveys are saying roughly this; 10% can’t wait to be get to their desk in their office, 10% never want to set foot inside the building again and 80% want somewhere between 2, 3 and 4 days in the office. This is a nightmare scenario for facilities managers and commercial real estate folk. How do you efficiently and effectively plan for this? AND cost-effectively??? You, your chair and your desk used to be measured in £££ per sq footage and generally of the an eye-watering value but now it’s that same X a lot of social distancing = £lots of money.

As of mid-August with temperatures in the mid-30s where I live, everyone (90% of working people) are quite happy on most days to Zoom or Teams from their back-garden or front room but how does this change when the weather changes or the children are back at school, not sure ? Neither am I but it shows it is a moving feast.

Both Barclays and Morgan Stanley have challenged the status quo on “… the notion of having 7000 people in a building may be a thing of the past…” it may, it may not. Sir Martin Sorrell said he’d rather place £35m on the money markets than drop on staff in expensive offices, so there you go. Twitter have said that their staff can work from home forever, but happy if they want to pop into the office to collaborate, this is fine if you can expend this kind of flexible working but for a lot of firms, it is prohibitively expensive.

However, as one writer said (and I am inclined to agree) that the game is up for the office. If you can be productive, reduce travel to and from an office location and reduce your costs, why wouldn’t you do that? It’s a no-brainer. However, it is not that straightforward.

I spoke last week to a friend of mine who runs an operation for a well-known brand, he’s done very well in his career and currently leads an operation of around 1300FTE across the UK. He said that both he and his COO had got the entire business off-site and operational in 4 days. This is a firm who have 10s of thousands of employees. The tech had stood up, the people had been supportive and the plans had worked better than he had expected, he added that his CEO had dropped a note to congratulate both him and his management team on a job well executed. 4 months down the line, how where things? He took a deep breath and then said that if you take the operation as a whole, it’s working really well, the dashboards are largely green and his team are as engaged as when they were in their multiple offices. So a success?? Maybe but he then said that he had started to see cracks, in two key areas; some of his staff probably around 100 (so 7-8%) were experiencing a range of mental well- being challenges, isolation, anxiety, money worries, abusive relationships were bubbling up where the office in previous days would have been their sanctuary. More practical issues he was having to deal with around his staff such as home broadband issues, working from the edge of a bed and lack of decent home computer. We can forget not everyone has access to what a lot of us would call essentials.

I personally find that I need to be in the office, I am a creature of habit, routine and an office keeps me sane, I am in that 10% with a small flex towards home-working but no more than 1-2 days a month and some months none. I think I am unusual. I have found that I am highly effective using Teams which has previously resided on my desktop with me clicking past it. Now it underpins my day. I fully expect that to always be the case, with trips to cities as and when face-to-face meetings are essential.

Let me know on how you are finding your new way of working, we are edging towards 6 months, the nights are drawing in, I suspect the honeymoon period is definitely over. How are you finding it?

I am interested in how it is impacting company culture, how you meet in person, how do you do your office chit-chat, how do you collaborate?

DM me or respond, I am keen to hear back.

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