Over the last decade, the primary reason to go to the office was removed and we nearly didn’t notice. When I started my career, you went to an office because if you did not, you simply could not do your job. Our job was in-person, and any technology used was large, expensive, desk-based, and immovable. If you were in finance you needed your PC to run your spreadsheet, if you were in HR you needed to be in the office to meet people, and if in sales, you needed to go to meet customers in-person and process paperwork. If I wanted to talk to someone, I had to call them when they were at their desk. I couldn’t call their mobile because they didn’t have one, I couldn’t set up a video conference with them – there was no Zoom.
The shift in flexible working
The internet and cloud-based business applications changed everything, and we nearly missed it. We used to have to go to the office the same way a manufacturer needs its workers to go to the factory, because it was the only place you could do your job. You can’t press steel from anywhere but the steel mill but now you can sell it using Salesforce, account for it in SAP, manage the people who make and sell it with Workday, and you can market it using software from Adobe, and all can be done remotely. COVID-19 was the catalyst that shone a light on the situation and made us realise we could do our jobs from any number of different places. The need to implement social distancing measures has made us all aware we continue to function very successfully without going to the office.
Different working environments
Now that we have let the genie out of the bottle, and we have proven employees can successfully work remotely, our default location will no longer be the office. The default location will now be the location where you are the most productive and the most creative. That could be at home, it could be from a 3rd space like a serviced office, it could be an office location close to home, or it could be your current office location. The decision to go to the office will be based on collaboration with colleagues, where you see that you will perform your role most effectively, and where you are productive and creative.
Now business software applications can be accessed from anywhere, in this reimagined future you will:
- Travel to the office to work with others, not because it’s the only place you can do your job, you will travel to the office when it is the best place to do your job.
- You will decide when you want to collaborate and meet with colleagues, you will search and see when they plan to be in the office, where in the office they will be, and you will book time with your colleague, book a meeting room, reserve a desk for the rest of the time you are in the office, and the parking space for your bike or car, and all from your mobile.
- If you are going to the office for a customer or partner meeting, you will make all the arrangements for any catering, the visitors to come to the office, and any additional workspace you need around that meeting, you will do it quickly and easily from wherever you are. If plans change and you don’t need to come to the office that day, you will move all your meetings to another location and free up all the space in the office you had booked.
Employee satisfaction will rise along with productivity, yet operational costs will drop dramatically as you need less space at the office as the workplace extends to become a blend of the physical and digital.
No longer will the only people without permanent desks be the sales and service people who are often out on the road, every office-based job function will choose the best place to work from, why have an empty fixed desk? If someone in finance now works from home even only a day a week, they will confirm what days they will be in, and release their office-based workspace for others to use when they are not. When you empower the employee to work where they are most productive and deliver them the flexibility to work from the office when it makes sense, then they need to schedule their time in the office. They need to schedule their workspace so their desk, office, and room, has the right equipment in it to perform their role. If it is finance it may be the screen size, if a designer or in marketing a 4K screen, if HR it may be a space that is not overlooked by others.
The office was just turned into Uber or Airbnb where fractional leasing of the space by the employee delivers a better work/life balance, greater productivity, more convenience, and is cheaper. As Uber changed the way we think about transportation, the COVID-19 crisis will make us realise the worker is no longer tied to the physical office, all we need do is give them the digital tools and workspace scheduling technology to ensure the right space is available in the right place, at the right time for when they decide the office is the best place for them to be productive.
*Thank you to Mike Pilcher, Chief Sales Officer, Condeco, for writing this article.