The shape and form of offices has never transformed so quickly. Previously we saw a slow transition from cellular offices, to open-plan, to hot-desking, then activity-based working. Now, this physical space is changing faster than ever before.
No longer are we getting up, showing up, clocking in, clocking out, eating, sleeping – repeat. Now it’s all about productivity, collaboration, health and wellbeing and technology.
Companies are moving away from traditional spaces and gazing into the future, in response to a pandemic which has forced new ways of working upon us.
I have long believed that the places we eat, sleep, shop and work are becoming increasingly similar in terms of design in the sense that we look to create spaces that support the function the occupant wishes to undertake. Offices have dragged the chain in this regard until recently with many businesses still having large open-plan areas (or holding pens as I sometimes call them) and have not added ancillary spaces for focused work, collaboration or team meetings.
With the pandemic enforcing working from home, we have now added a new dimension to how and where we can work. The trajectory we were on of moving from open plan to hot-desks, to activity-based working, now needs to take a substantial leap forward.
Other aspects also disrupting the physical space include technology. We can now easily ‘work from anywhere’, a term I prefer to ‘working from home’. Once the pandemic releases us from the need to work from home, we must apply what we have learned to working from anywhere that suits, provided it is in the best interests of productivity and efficiency.
We have Zoom and Teams, cloud computing, remote work communication solutions – all of which had been available but were often only seen in the technologically advanced workplace. Necessity has forced us to learn and adapt so we all can make the leap forward without leaving people behind.
The office of the future is a purpose-designed space, curated in a way that understands who it is serving, what it will be used for and the purpose and output of that space. It will not necessarily be smaller, in fact it could well be the same size but it will need to be more purposeful.
We have seen first-hand that companies cobble together an office based on a cost-cutting consolidation solution rather than looking at the positive gain a space can deliver. In most cases we can deliver on the positive objective with a consolidation consideration. However, it must be completed from the perspective of what can be gained from a physical space rather than what can be cut from the cost.
Increasingly, we are seeing the adoption of a flat structure in the physical space; gone is the CEO’s large office or leadership teams in prime positions. There is growing understanding that hierarchies and siloes inhibit cross-communication and thinking, limiting innovation and business agility. When leaders sit with their team, quick conversations and contributions can be made, allowing a business to be agile and flexible.
We will continue to see further adaptions to the Neighbourhoods and Activity Based Working (ABW) concepts. With Neighbourhoods, many businesses cluster groups by what they do, so that sales and marketing might be together, as are production and operations. In other businesses Neighbourhoods are focused around industries, ie all the people that serve the food and beverage industry are together – a mix of accounts, creative, planners, finance etc. Each of these Neighbourhoods usually has its own space to work from for focus and collaboration.
Activity Based Working is focused around creating spaces for the function that needs to be performed, such as meetings, focus, collaboration or socialisation. We have found this successful in smaller companies where the staff count is not large enough to lend itself to Neighbourhoods.
The physical office of the future is about Connection, Purpose, Flexibility and Technology.