Although the future of the workplace is evolving into what its employees want, will this transformation last?Many would agree that the workplace is experiencing significant post-pandemic change. But how can we describe this transformation in twenty years?
Although we may be tempted to declare, “This is the rise and fall of the hybrid era in the workplace”, we need to remember that hybrid strategies are responses to other fundamental changes in the workplace, not the root. We should instead understand that the core of the transformation underway is a fundamental review of the purpose and function of the workplace. If we were to speculate on how we might look back at this era, it would be this: The workplace is becoming what its employees want it to be.
It’s been called the consumerization or the recognition of employees as customers in our workplace environments. Organizations across the entire spectrum of workplace strategy, from office-first to office-first to hybrid and remote-first, are realizing that investing in corporate real property is a waste of money if it doesn’t meet the needs of their employees. This is a major shift in the way we think about the workplace. This type of thinking was not uncommon in the pre-pandemic world. The workplace was synonymous for most companies, and office design was based on a well-known template that dates back over 100 years.
Let’s be clear that the initial origins of the office were driven by the needs of management (more commonly called “bosses” in those days), and not the workforce. Offices began to appear near manufacturing plants and storefronts in the mid-to-late 1900s. They were created to allow the bosses to be close to their top employees, as well as the clerks responsible for the bookkeeping and logistics. It should be noted that these clerks wore white collared, heavily starched, white collared shirts. This is how we got the term “white collar work.” Although there were many changes in the design of offices over the years, most offices resembled rows and rows of open desks. These rows were created to allow bosses to oversee work, communicate with one another, and impress clients.
In 1950s Germany, two brothers by the name Quickborner started to promote the concept of Burolandschaft (or “office landscape”) as a more open, navigable space design that would encourage employee choice and movement. The rise of the computer desktop changed everything. It tethered employees and made it impossible for employees to move around. Office design was now based on the location of computers and how power and data cables are routed to them. It is not exaggerated to say that office space design was influenced by IT networks from 1980 to 2010.
We entered a transitional period when mobile technologies, WiFi, and the cloud began to converge between 2010-2020. This set the stage for what we are currently experiencing. Work became distributed, spreading out across floors, cities, and the globe. Office utilization rates fell significantly from year to year. Some organizations, especially those from Europe and Australia, adopted activity-based work (ABW), and other workplace strategies. Most other organizations in the world just dented their floor plans with smaller, more generic desks.
Future Of The Workplace
The workplace, despite all its advancements, still resembled the one from a century ago. With the advent of the pandemic, and years of remote work, leaders began to question the design and purpose of their workplaces.
Most organizations’ historical investment in corporate realty was second only to their investment in people. These same companies recognize that finding and maintaining the right people in today’s economy is more expensive than ever, while real estate costs are lower. While the economy might be slowing down, investments in corporate realty will still be seen with a new perspective. It’s an investment in the ability to accelerate the impact of their people and a cost that should not be increased to allow for higher compensation. It’s not worth paying for office space just to keep them. They either work for their employees or they don’t.
What does this mean for us? The most important lesson is that the planning and management of spaces must be redesigned so that employees are heard more than leaders. We must move beyond the traditional program development and post-occupancy satisfaction surveys to create new ways of conceptualizing the future of the workplace as a product driven by its customers, the employees.
These are the exact same questions that should be asked in the office. This new customer-centricity requires us to consider all aspects of the user’s needs and recognize that not everyone is the same. By offering a variety of work environments, spaces can be more attractive, inclusive, and adaptable. This will allow us to accelerate the process and increase our returns on real estate investments. The office can be transformed from a management platform into an empowering resource for employees. We can transform these spaces into the workplaces that employees desire.
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Signature Workspace, owned and operated by Cantor Fund Management, offers services and amenities such as private/ traditional/ studio offices, virtual offices, meeting/conference rooms, and more. Locations ranging from offices in Tampa on Dale Mabry and Northdale and one office in Clearwater offer great physical office space amenities. Contact Signature Workspace for more information today and check out our 5-star reviews.
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