Flexible working and the next generation office

The revolution is here.

As Covid restrictions start to ease around the world we are witnessing the emergence of two distinct school of thoughts amongst business leaders with regards to setting new management benchmark in the wake of the largest remote working experiment of all times. On the one hand we see leaders embracing the flexibility their staff have been longing for so long and on the other hand bosses of large corporations quoting “Working from home is an aberration”. In light of what seems like the death of the central business districts some top commercial property developers are urging bank CEOs to “Get a backbone and bring staff back into the office”.

The reality is that employees of today need purpose much more than their predecessors did. The later generation of workers were born in a world where global information is readily available and they are very well informed about the challenges of our time around sustainability, equalities and for them having a job that pays the bill is no longer sufficient.

Salaries alone are not a strong enough motivator for staff and on the contrary when a company relies on wage increases alone to retain and motivate their employees, we see individualistic behaviour skyrocket and as a result the rise of the kind of culture that precipitated the world into the subprime financial crisis with blind greed and short sighted decisions being upheld as examples to reward and look up to. So, whether we like it or not flexible working is a must and will be the revolution of our time.

So how can companies rip the benefits of this change and gain a competitive advantage in the war for talents?
  1. First it starts with culture. No matter the management systems you put in place in a company if the culture is not right the long-term shareholder value will not follow. Culture starts with a well-defined purpose, a clear mission and a strong set of values. And these need to be communicated and upheld, again, and again, and again. Read more about workplace culture here.
  2. Secondly ensure that the deliverables on both sides are clear, actionable and measurable. Investing in your management will generate significant increase in productivity and give employees a sense of achievement and value.
  3. Thirdly provide your employees with the tools they need to do their job efficiently no matter where they are. This includes aligning your workplace set up with the type of work your employees want to carry out in an office environment.
  4. Fourth give trust until proven otherwise. You cannot expect your employees to trust you if you do not give them trust in the first place. You will find out soon enough if someone is abusing your trust and provided you have built a strong culture any bad apple will be weeded out by the other employees quite quickly.
  5. Finally communicate to your employees about the tangible benefits of moving to a flexible working framework, both internally and externally.
What impact on the workplace?

For a long time offices have been built with only one purpose in mind: Creating a space where staff can congregate to be in line of sight of employers. Now the purpose has completely changed and especially in the context of increasing competitivity in the war for talent and changing generational priorities companies need to think more than ever about how they make their office the engine room of the business: A place where employees can experience the true purpose of a company. Similarly to what has happened to the retail industry where the physical environment’s purpose has shifted from a place to store goods to a place for client to experience, companies should really focus on creating meaningful office experience.

  1. Reduction in office footprint.
    One of the benefit of flexible working is the ability for companies to reduce their real estate footprint therefore cutting on rental costs. Where previously companies would allocate 15 sqm sometimes even 30 sqm per person when we look at regional offices, by aligning flexible ways of work to real estate we are now seeing companies able to work more productively with footprints that are 30% sometimes even 50% smaller than previously.
  2. Tailor the physical space to the work being done.
    The current average utilisation of office space is circa 50% meaning at any given time only half of the office space being rented is effectively utilised. This can be due to a range of factors from poor design, larger than necessary footprint, too many formal meeting rooms and not enough informal meeting space, inflexible lease terms leading to surplus footprint but more than anything it has often been the result of a lack of coordination between HR and Property with real estate decisions being made without enough strategy work being done at the front to inform the design and ultimately the amount of space being required.
  3. Focus on experience.
    Just like we can observe in cafes and restaurant creating unique experience tailored for your target users will lead to higher utilisation. By conducting thorough research on your employees you can then create environments that they will like, leading to high adoption and increased productivity. This is the idea of place making.
  4. Take advantage of the change to generate boost in morale.
    Just like a new house means new beginnings a new office is also a great opportunity to kick start a new phase in the business and generate a boost in morale through a carefully managed change process. The key being to ensure alignment at every level of the organisation and work with a workplace partner who can translate your company’s requirements from strategy to design to delivery.
  5. Cost reduction through increased usability.
    The footprint is not the only driver of workplace cost. In fact, rent accounts for only 60% of the total workplace cost the balance being spread across cleaning, electricity, maintenance, insurance, office management related staff, IT/T and other operational costs most of which often have increased over time for a lack of proper scrutiny. An office move is the perfect time to reassess and drive cost reduction.
  6. Increased sustainability.
    This is probably one of the most significant benefit of flexible working. Not only across the reduction in CO2 emission due to reduced commute but equally through the reduction of under-utilised real estate, more energy efficient design and a longer-term approach to office design ensuring the workplace you design today will last for a longer time, avoiding churn and associated wastage. Find out more about how to maximise your ROI through design.

Overall, it is clear that flexible working presents significant opportunities for both the employer and the employee and the approach to implementation must be carefully planned with all stakeholders providing input and thoughts. Critical to success is the role the physical workplace will play in your strategy. If you want to find out more about how to create and deliver on meaningful workplace strategies for your business get in touch with our experts today and learn how we have helped clients achieve the best out of their workplace investment.

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