“The notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past”

– Jes Staley, CEO Barclays

So, it’s all up for grabs.

With COVID-19 as a catalyst, the previously painfully slow move towards a new way of working has been accelerated. Years of change have happened in months and there’s been no time for pontificating. But now the dust has started to settle, we’re questioning everything we used to take for granted.

Here are just a few of the conversations I’m having right now:

Should we ever go back to the office?

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. With larger businesses, a new way of working could look different across geographies, businesses and functions. This is a tough conversation to have with your HR, tech and business functions. The answer is different for every organisation and will come down to:

  • Where your offices are located
  • How much do you need to collaborate to get excellent results?
  • Where your talent needs to be. Can they do their jobs well remotely?
  • Whether you’re able to pivot if this doesn’t work over the long term
  • What’s the culture of your organisation? How will you protect this even your workforce is dispersed?

It’s important at this stage not to go back to what was in place before COVID-19. To stop this natural desire for things to be safe + easy as you strive to define your new normal, you could start with the assumption that you have no office and brainstorm how this might work.

If we keep an office, of any type, do we need to go there every day?

Organisations need to be clear about which roles NEED to be carried out in person, and to what degree: fully remote, hybrid or on site. For fully remote or hybrid roles, talent sourcing will benefit from the lack of geographic constraints. As part of your new way of working it may suffice to have a monthly trip to Head Office or a shared destination: a winning proposition for all involved.

When we do get together, how can we set ourselves up to optimise collaboration?

At this stage, it’s wise to design your office to support interactions that can’t happen remotely.

If your new normal including having your office as a collaboration hub, you’ll want to devote more space to collaboration rooms.

Perhaps your new way of working includes your people mainly working remotely. If staff are going to be asked to work from home, what does that say about the size of office you need, or its location? What about your tech? Do you have the videoconferencing facilities and remote collaboration spaces that you need?

How will your new office space foster your desired outcomes for collaboration, productivity, culture, and the work experience?

In light of COVID-19, as part of your new normal, you’ll also need to think about which employees come to the office and when, the safe movement of people, social distancing, air flow and how often the office is cleaned.

Where should your office be?

Achieving a truly new way of working requires a fresh look, with all presupposition out of the window.

Many companies are questioning where offices should be located. Big cities? Suburban campuses?

And what about the financials of owning or renting space? Is more of a portfolio approach a better idea for you + your new normal? Do you need an office at all? The cost savings could be significant.

Whoever you are, and whatever your business does, the space where you work must be productive and above all these days, safe. Whether this is an office, your home / another remote location or a combination of both remains to be seen.

Perhaps you may consider a Remote-First model? I’ll be discussing that in my next blog.