As more and more businesses adopt hybrid working, what will the next generation of offices look like? Here’s what your clients need to know.
We’ve come a long way since workplaces consisted of just a desk and meeting room. 1980s-style cubicle walls have been torn down to make way for open-plan designs with hot-desking, soft furnished breakout spaces and Wi-Fi hotspots. Now, a third iteration of the office is rising from the ashes of the pandemic.
Covid-19 and long periods of lockdown saw offices shuttered and millions of people forced to work from home overnight. Yes, it was a shock at first – but over time people adjusted to the new arrangements and began to see their benefits. Nobody seemed to miss the long, busy commutes, video conferencing no longer felt awkward and people found they had more time for quiet, focused work – not to mention their personal lives.
Unsurprisingly, many people are reluctant to give up this enhanced work-life balance now restrictions are being lifted. The majority of workers say they would prefer to work remotely either full time or at least some of the time, and believe the workplace needs to change after Covid. But how?
Many companies have responded by adopting a hybrid model of work, which allows employees to split their time between the office and a remote location – whether that’s the home or a local flexible workspace.
The hub-and-spoke approach is proving popular with firms, and involves the maintenance of a company HQ alongside the development of a local office network – often via flexible workspace providers such as IWG. NTT and Standard Chartered bank are among a variety of global enterprises that have signed deals with IWG in 2021, with such partnerships adding two million new customers to its network of 3,500 flexspaces so far this year.
While such strategies ensure the ongoing importance of the corporate office, they also demand a change in how it’s used.
The term ‘Workplace 3.0’ was coined by office design expert Morgan Lovell to describe its vision of the workplace in a post-pandemic world. Unlike its predecessors, this office has a purpose beyond serving the practical, job-centred needs of its residents.
In a world of work where the corporate HQ is a destination for connecting and collaboration – not simply the space people use for day-to-day tasks – its layout, appearance and atmosphere need to change in line with its shift in function.
The Workplace 3.0 will be a creative space where people meet to share ideas, make decisions and craft solutions. In other words, it will be a place where employees do the things that – when they’re in disparate locations and working remotely – can be challenging.
Businesses are already reimagining their offices with Workplace 3.0 in mind. For example, by removing half its desks, WeTransfer was able to create more meeting spaces, workshop rooms and recording studios at its company HQ.
IWG’s Spaces locations were designed with collaboration in mind. The business club, a large space that comprises 20% of each location's total square footage, is at the heart of every Spaces. This is laid out with a patchwork of areas suited to meeting and collaborating, including tables where whole teams can work together, brainstorming rooms and formal sitting areas.
Alongside such ‘opening up’, there’s a move away from open-plan office designs in favour of those that also allow the type of concentrated ‘deep work’ that workers find easier to do remotely. Spotify, for instance, is overhauling its office space to help strike a better balance between discursive and silent work.
Connection and culture
In a hybrid world, central offices also have a crucial role to play in connecting employees with company culture. Surveys have highlighted the sense of disconnection from firms’ values and vision that workers experienced during prolonged periods of home working – so visits to Workplace 3.0 must combat this.
Strong cultures can be built, and kept healthy, by ensuring that the corporate HQ is a place where people want to be. This means creating offices that offer comfort and give people some sense of control over their surroundings, as well as stimulation and inspiration. Rooms dedicated to quiet, solo work, specialist phone booths and break rooms can all make a positive difference to employees.
According to IWG Founder and CEO Mark Dixon, Workplace 3.0 will remain “important in terms of corporate identity, learning and cohesion. It will provide somewhere for people to congregate when needed, giving them a focus for the link between an employer and its workforce.”
All in all, though, the change in the purpose of the office in the wake of Covid-19 is irreversible. Dixon is clear that what was a slow evolution towards hybrid working practices has merely been accelerated by the pandemic. “Hybrid working is what people want,” he says. “And it’s already delivering spectacular benefits for employees and employers alike.”
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