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The workplace debate has shifted from 'place' to 'work'

11/15/22 2:52 PM

“Work is not a place, it's what you do - and when and how you do it”. We've been talking about the office for years, but now we're changing the conversation. We've moved from a place-centric view of the office to a work and human centric one. It's not that we don't need to have an office anymore - it's that we don't need to have one in the same way.

Hybrid work

A paradigm shift in work life

If you could summarize the year 2022 in one word, it would be “crisis” – a word that we have seen paired up with words like “climate”, “energy”, “economic”, “food”, “refugee”, “COVID”, “humanitarian”, “mental health” and “inflation”. The takeaway from this should be, that we should be better prepared for global uncertainty and volatility that affects the way we do business, live and work. There are many drivers for more flexible corporate real estate and workplace strategies to support better business resilience. The “Great Remote Work Experiment”, caused by the COVID pandemic and lockdowns, taught us it is possible to work from home and other locations. The consequent “Great Resignation” again showed us, people don't want to go back to the office anymore full-time.

The way we use technology and view our work enablers, and our values around human connection have changed for good. The purpose of the central or main office is changing, as we continue observing record low utilization rates long after reopening. Offices are becoming primarily places for coming together purposefully to “chillaborate” – to chill and collaborate. People still need human interaction and will need the office more for socializing and face-to-face working - than for individual heads-down desk work.

Presenteeism and properties are taking the backseat

The workplace debate has shifted from "place" to "work," and we're now seeing more and more articles about how our work lives are changing - and not just where we work, but how we work. Work is not a place but what you do; it's a process that happens in many different locations and asynchronously at different times, often alone or in groups, sometimes face-to-face with coworkers, sometimes over video chat with colleagues across oceans. And that’s what your business and organization is for too: not “to be someplace”, but to achieve something. Spaces are simply one of the enablers. Process and prosperity before property, productivity before presenteeism.

The more important measure of work productivity is no longer hours spent at the office (presenteeism), but your effectiveness and output as a worker and as a team - meeting your joint goals and targets. That is why it makes more sense for most organizations to look at different approaches to how and where you work as teams and individuals: the best fit for one person or team, may be very different to the best fit for another.

Community managers are taking over

So, we are never going back to the office, right? Well, maybe we are, when there is reason to. The office is not going away. We need it for socializing and for our brains that like the human interaction and hearing different views, with more nuances and body language than mere video or virtual collaboration tools can provide. And we need someone to facilitate, communicate and coordinate this. Community managers, at the heart of fostering the workplace culture.

Workplace professionals need to better understand the nature of work and be more human-centric, to support productive and motivated working with the right set of workplace solutions. People don't hate their offices as much as they hate commutes, which cost both time, money and personal productivity. Offices (like any other place we travel) must become destinations worth traveling for - and this will likely be people-driven around events and communities rather than the walls and spaces.

Workplaces must be flexible and attractive enough to support both remote work and face-to-face collaboration with colleagues across the globe, and they must be designed from the ground up to help employees focus on their purposeful presence instead of just flashy expensive spaces and abundant amenities. More on this topic in later blogs.

Hybrid work

The takeaway

A new working paradigm has emerged, where work can be done anywhere, or at least more flexibly from several locations and at different times - depending on a number of variables. Many new models are somewhat flawed at this point. Many are simply creating new rigid working models that still are top-down directed (eg. the binary home/office “hybrid” model and the “3-2 office/remote days” policy). Nothing about these models provide more choice and flexibility for employees and teams to manage themselves.

A bottom-up work design approach better prepares the organization for fast and agile adaptation, in response to changes in the environment, day-to-day needs, processes, the organization and the business. Thus, a companywide choice-based work design model based on “work design principles for teams” rather than “policies and rules for all employees” has greater potential to improve our trust, autonomy, motivation and productivity - and enable us to be more adaptive to do more things with less money in less time. There is plenty of space, time and money to be saved.

Work is becoming more flexible, and the workplace must evolve to support new styles of work.

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