Going back to the office represents a challenge, but also an opportunity to work in better, more collaborative ways.
 

As more people get vaccinated and we continue on the road out of lockdown, companies are faced with tough questions about how and when to return to the workplace safely. My question is: how will the workplace adapt?

The pandemic pushed companies to take risks and change ways of working, some of which proved advantageous. Returning to a physical workplace doesn’t have to mean a return to the old ways of doing things.

Division of labour

Quintessence Group provides workplace consultancy services and workspace transformation solutions. Through our work we are finding companies making positive, clear divisions on work tasks that needs to be undertaken in the office and undertaken at home. For example, emails: do you really need to come into the office to email someone else who’s there, and then both go home?

On the other hand, client presentations and collaboration may best be suited to the office, where the conversation can flow more smoothly and it’s easier to gauge people’s emotions. Even so, will we ever have a full meeting without some form of virtual attendance again?

Hybrid workplaces

Responding to these challenges, many companies are looking at new hybrid ways of working, This includes “hub and spoke” models, with a central company headquarters in a major city coupled with a spread of local hubs nearer to employee homes, perfect for drop-ins.

Inside the office itself, many companies that we are consulting with are considering reshaping their workspaces into clusters for “task-based” zones. Video meetings have been accepted as cost and time saving tools, which will need to continue after people return to the workspace. However, the current typical setup is not geared for 6 people at a desk holding noisy collaborative conversations next to employees that need quiet time.

A solution is meeting pods with collaborative touch screens embedded for agile meetings. One company we are working with is looking to ramp up their pod spaces to approximately 50/50 desk spaces for this very reason.

We are also consulting on the implementation of local town centre drop-in pod collaboration locations, bookable via app membership, Uber-style. We’re looking at Enterprise zones with a mix of drop-in collaboration and presentation spaces. I would expect to see co-working and managed service office spaces following suit if they are not already doing so.
 

Keeping people safe

There is the added challenge of providing a healthy working environment. Staff welfare is of primary importance, and people will need to feel confident that they are safe in order to creatively conduct business and thrive.

Knowledge of usable space is power: it will allow companies to manage the return in phases, making sure everyone does not drop-in to meetings on Monday morning at the same time, while monitoring performance in the office and at home.

For large companies this will require an app to turn bookable spaces into a safe connected ecosystem managed by the organisation. Spaces might include the corporate HQ “hub”, local drop-in meetings in smaller “spokes”, or simply home working doing administrative tasks. It is essential that the home workers are engaged in a strategic programme and not forgotten as companies are forced to take on flatter structures rather than the old corporate ladders.

Back to the office

To summarise, technology and furniture combined will play a role in meshing “hub to spoke” workplace strategies for companies. It will be “open office” as we like to call it, where the office furniture becomes enabled, zoned and personalised and then measured digitally to optimise spaces for better performance and productivity gain.

It is time to start making the transition so that your company can compete on a level playing field. Caring, retaining, empowering, and optimising your future workforce, investing in the technology needed to progress safely and wisely into the future.

If you would like some advice on helping with your strategy or to explore the workspace solutions available, please do contact us and we can arrange a visit to our new showroom in Clerkenwell or a virtual visit upon request. Drop me a line at rob@quintessenceltd.co.uk.

Return to the workspace: how to make it smart and safe

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