Our recent enforced experiment of working beyond the traditional office demonstrates that we now have real choice over our working lives, writes author Chris Kane.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought untold suffering and hardship to everyone across the world; it has not been easy coping with the unprecedented challenges facing us all at every level. It seems that many leaders are now starting to consider how we cope with the "fallout" and one of these issues is seeking ideas on how to re-shape the ways we work.
In recent weeks, the binary debate of working from home/remote work versus a return to the office has attracted a host of media commentary. Yet I suggest that the ‘home versus office’ debate is only part of the picture. This recent enforced experiment of working beyond the confines of the traditional office demonstrates that we now have real choice – and it has also opened up many other questions.
For example, on the business management side; there are concerns about team building, collaboration, inducting new joiners into a virtual office and filling the vacuum of not having everyone together in one place.
From an employee perspective, individuals are asking themselves: what's the purpose of the office? Why do I need to go to the office? Especially now with the risk associated with commuting by public transport and the fear of whether organisations are deploying adequate health precautions in their premises.
In my view, there has to be some innovative approaches to help us navigate safely through all this uncertainty and risk. Especially when all past precedents or playbooks are of little or no use now.
Here are six themes that may help frame your thinking around a way forward.
A new workplace dimension
There is much to commend the office in terms of its capacity for collaboration, creativity and the social aspects of how we work.
A key question is the fixed nature of the pre-pandemic system – before, everything revolved around a physical place with four walls. What about the potential of multiple workplace dimensions, rather than the traditional binary either or choice - the office or work from home?
Consider 'distributed working'
We are placing undue focus on the physical workplace purely as a destination where work is carried out. Isn’t it about time that we consider not only the option of a distributed workforce but distributed working?
Maybe we need to start thinking about the ‘individual as the workplace.’ After all, the most significant element should be the outcome of the work produced and not where and what time it was done.
Make space for a new reality
We need to accept that as everyone adapts to a different way of life, leaders, work processes and work locations also need to adjust accordingly.
Many people hanker for a return to some form of normality, or to life as it was pre-pandemic, some now talk about the ‘new normal’. COVID-19 has marked the end of the traditional ‘9-5’, five-day week office model and has ushered in a new reality.
Move away from siloed thinking
To support people to do their best work, we must move away from siloed thinking and join the dots in aligning people, process, and place, thus enabling them to work holistically as a more effective entity.
Consider the organisation as a whole
We must try to build understanding between departments and consider the wider perspective of the business. Therefore, HR has to go beyond its focus on just ‘people’ and take in the views of other organisational functions – after all everybody working for the enterprise is there to support and add value to the entire business, not just to their particular sector.
In order to motivate people entrenched in narrow 20th century thinking around traditional workspaces, we should frame a strategy based upon the old adage – “necessity is the mother of all invention”.
Now is the time for all stakeholders to come together to innovate and design a new fit for purpose, people-centric and sustainable model of 21st-century working.
Where is My Office?: Reimagining the Workplace for the 21st Century by Chris Kane, in collaboration with Eugenia Anastassiou, is published by Bloomsbury Business on 15 October 2020. Available at Bloomsbury.com and at all good bookshops. Hardback & ebook, RRP £25.