Five takeaways from Mark Dixon’s talk at The Economist’s Innovation@Work summit

Five takeaways from Mark Dixon’s talk at The Economist’s Innovation@Work summit

As we emerge from Covid-19, companies of all sizes are recalibrating and reorganising. At The Economist’s recent digital summit, IWG CEO Mark Dixon gives his predictions for the future of work

The Economist’s Innovation@Work Summit saw plenty of lively discussion around the future of the office, and the shift towards a hybrid model of work following the pandemic. In a Q&A with Callum Williams, IWG’s CEO Mark Dixon shares his expertise on the subject of hybrid working and how companies should be adapting to the new era.

1. Remote working shouldn’t impact productivity

While it’s now a given that many companies will want to reorganise their real estate to allow for a hybrid style of working, the hot topics are now retaining high levels of employee engagement and productivity. “Productivity does not go down [for remote workers],” says Dixon. “In fact, it can improve. The speed of getting things done using technology means there’s a leap forward, because people aren’t meeting all the time for unnecessary things. They’re just meeting when it’s really important.” With technology cutting out the middle-man in countless tasks per day, an Airtasker survey found that remote employees work on average 1.4 days more per month than office-based workers, taking an average of 22 minutes of breaks to the office worker’s 27 minutes. Retaining this productivity, Dixon believes, does mean companies investing in the technology remote workers need to do their job fully and efficiently – and providing the training to use it, as well as IT support and the option of a professional-quality workspace closer to home, where needed. “Employees want a local workplace – companies are accepting that now,” says Dixon. ”But it needs to be professional, so that no productivity is lost.”

2. Expect a shift to the suburbs

Companies should expect to expand their vision of the workplace outside of major urban centres in the next couple of years, added Dixon. The major focus for IWG at present is catering to the surge in demand for suburban and rural workspaces, closer to where company employees live and play. “That is the majority of our growth now, and has been for a while,” explains Dixon. “It’s undersupplied at the moment, but it’s what people want – to be able to walk, cycle or take a short car journey down the road.” Many organisations are currently polling workers to find how their roles have been affected by remote working, in a bid to see what type of facilities or support they may need closer to home. In France, says Dixon, local authorities are leading the way: “Mayors have a mandate to provide things in their local community, including workplaces, You’ve got a government policy behind it – they want to spread the work out to every part of the country, not simply concentrate it in Paris and the big cities.” Across the rest of the world, organisations including Fujitsu, BP, Salesforce and Standard Chartered have all started the process of giving employees access to remote and suburban satellite offices.

3. There are ESG benefits to a hybrid model

Efficient, green buildings are a huge priority for companies coming out of the pandemic, suggests Dixon, thanks to conversations that have been generated at every level while daily commutes and international business travel have been put on pause. “ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) is high on the agenda – companies, their investors and their workforce want to make sure they’re doing everything possible to have a low-carbon footprint,” says Dixon. The single biggest thing companies can do to meet their sustainability commitments is to reduce their workforce’s commute. Another benefit of hybrid working is the lack of wasted space: companies are increasingly opting to procure only the size of space they need, when they need it, rather than holding on to large buildings that may have swathes of unused space. “We’re building workspaces that have a low energy footprint, that are 15% more efficient – and building so there is no waste, rather than converting buildings that were built for something else,” Dixon says of IWG’s vision going forward.

4. Employer-employee trust is key

Far from the headlines around staff surveillance and employees taking advantage of remote working, organisations that want to modernise will have to take a positive, proactive and trusting approach to a hybrid model, says Dixon. “Jobs are going to have much more of a purpose,” he predicts. “There has to be more trust between the company and its team.” And the focus shouldn’t be solely on employee hours clocked online, software used or video calls attended, says Dixon – an approach that arguably achieves little more than a new, digital form of presenteeism. Instead, the goal for organisations should be maximum productivity and output: streamlining processes and communications using the technology at hand, and measuring what can be achieved. “It’s going to be a different workplace: one not so much based on attendance, but instead on trust and output,” says Dixon. In this sense, redesigning the geography of an office goes hand in hand with redesigning the employee contract – negotiating where, when and how work takes place with optimum productivity in mind.

5. Companies still need an HQ

Businesses shouldn’t assume that this move to hybrid working renders their corporate headquarters redundant, says Dixon. The HQ is still very much a part of the picture – though its chief functions and the way it is seen by employees, clients and customers are changing. Most central to the need for an HQ or a permanent office is having a physical manifestation of the company culture, suggests Dixon. “Modern, successful companies will have to put more effort into not just having a culture, but communicating that culture regularly to the team,” he explains, efforts that might translate into holding company-wide events, introducing newcomers to the spirit and ethos of the organisation, and innovation-inspiring events – all of which require a central meeting point. It is not a matter of eliminating all space in urban centres, then, but reducing your permanent real-estate footprint, leaving only the space you need for the new-function HQ. “It would be very hard for companies to operate successfully without ever bringing people together,” says Dixon. “There would be no camaraderie, no learning from others around you. While there’s a whole new world coming, all companies have to invest more time, effort and money into making sure that remote workers don't become dislocated workers. An office is a great way to do that.”

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