The Exciting Future of the Office
Companies are imagining new ways to optimize the office’s future in a broader framework of how work gets done. These strategies must tackle one of the biggest liabilities of the physical office—the commute.
WHY WE TRAVEL FOR WORK
The modern office’s role as a “factory for knowledge work” has evolved over the years. Office spaces have followed suit, transitioning from layouts with dedicated offices to more ubiquitous open-plan configurations.
With the onset of the pandemic, organizations quickly adapted to new work arrangements.
Thus far, the Work From Home story is the surprising success of collaborative teamwork and focused work in a time where nearly all employees who can work remotely are doing so. A recent Cushman & Wakefield survey of over 50,000 people working from home found three in four people agree or strongly agree that they collaborate effectively with colleagues in the current environment. This is up 10% from before the pandemic.
The Cushman & Wakefield survey also confirmed that personal productivity remains strong due to the improved capability for focused work and fewer distractions for remote employees.
Employees are reporting they have the ability to focus when required. This is not to say that the current situation has been without challenges…but for the most part, people have been able to adapt and overcome.
While collaborative teamwork and focused work thrive in a remote work context, two other aspects of work—socialization and learning—have suffered. In some ways, dispersed workforces are still running off the fumes of interpersonal connections and learning outcomes established before the pandemic.
Cushman & Wakefield’s survey found measures of “bond” scores between employees weakening over time with employees working from home. Fewer than half of surveyed employees reported feeling connected to their colleagues, which negatively impacts their connection to company culture and personal and professional development.
Successful employee onboarding is also proving difficult. “Many managers wing the onboarding normally, doing it on the fly, but with everything being virtual, more structure is needed, meaning manager coaching is more important,” says Brent Pearson, the CEO and founder of Enboarder, in this recent guide to virtual onboarding created by the Society of Human Resource Management.
These trends are surfacing what is truly valuable about the physical workplace and hinting at future ways of organizing work that combine the best aspects of working from home with new strategies to optimize the office.
“As time wears on, people are realizing that they miss things about their workspace that have little to do with production,” Jennifer Magnolfi Astill told Harvard Business Review. “I continue to believe that the pandemic is distilling for us the value of workspace. It’s given us a meaningful perspective on what we do and what we value in an office.”
Companies, property managers, and real estate professionals are crafting exciting new office space designs to function within a total workplace ecosystem that balances office, home, and third places. The office of the future will feature more shared spaces for complex problem solving, specialized learning, social bonding, and employee engagement.
An important liability remains for the office of the future: the commute.
On days employees work from the office, they must commute to and from the office. And not commuting has been the top-reported benefit of not working from the office.
In research conducted by UrbanTrans North America, employees report the top two benefits of working from home are cost savings and stress reduction from not commuting.
The role of the physical office is evolving. So should the ways we think about commuting.
First, eliminating the assumption that employees commute to the office five days a week has massive benefits—for employee pocketbooks and sanity and for regional congestion and emissions.
Second, rethinking the assumption that employees all arrive and leave work at the same time can mitigate some of the worst aspects of the commute. This is where workplace flexibility and strategic approaches to scheduling come in. Check out How to Conquer Your WFH Scheduling Woes for more.
Third, planning for improved commute experiences should be a cross-departmental affair, just as it should be for planning the future of the office. Astill notes, “If until recently real estate executives managed most aspects of workspace facilities, working during the pandemic has taught us that more expertise will be involved in envisioning future workspaces, from CTOs, CHROs, to internal communications, etc.”
Finally, look to external resources, including local commute strategy experts and peer organizations, for ideas and inspiration. Learn more about how the free services of Carlsbad Commuter can help.
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