By Joanne Bushell, Managing Director IWG Plc. South Africa
One year after the start of the pandemic, the office is not going to disappear, but it will require a fresh, new approach. People will still need places where they can come together, connect, build relationships, and develop their careers. The size, scale, and openness of the modern office can be detrimental to the quality of those relationships.
MOVING TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE WORKPLACES
More than 40 years ago, in his studies of the nature of public life in cities and spaces, the sociologist Richard Sennett found that people in work settings need the freedom to distance themselves in order to maintain the quality of their social relationships. But as much as we need private places to go to when we seek separation, we also need public places to bring us together. To sustain work relationships, and ensure employees best performance, we need to revisit the scale and structure of our offices to better balance the levels of connectivity and distance amongst the workforces.
Marc Woo, managing director of Google Malaysia, believes that the hybrid working arrangement will be the status quo of the future.
The pandemic has shown that many employees are able to get work done at home, and it is no longer taboo to do so. Woo says that working culture rather than office space should define the company’s identity.
Beyond relationship building, offices matter for a host of other reasons. Both people and organisations use work settings as a means of expressing their values and aspirations. The design of physical places helps us express our professional identities. While the ever-present virtual work is working — for now — many of us are still functioning from cultures, norms, relationships, and practices that were in place prior to the pandemic. If we wish to change or adapt any of those factors in the future, it will be difficult without some degree of physical presence.
“In the wake of the global pandemic, the world of work has undergone a wholesale evolution”, IWG Managing Director South Africa, Joanne Bushell said. “While employees have wanted the ability to work remotely in recent years, many still want to return to an office environment at least part of the time. The pandemic has shown how employees can be productive and efficient in this changing model, and we are already seeing significant shifts in work policies that will allow a hybrid workplace model going forward”.
IWG and its family of brands, including Spaces and Regus in South Africa, have seen a surge in demand for office spaces in secondary and tertiary markets since the onset of COVID-19. That demand is fuelled by employees’ increased desire for options that allow them to work in more convenient locations to match their lifestyles – and changing corporate policies that allow for more flexibility.
HOW IS THIS EFFECTING THE LANDLORDS?
Many forward-thinking landlords have embraced these changes in the market and have partnered with flex space office providers, such as IWG, to help them transform their property into a place where people and their businesses work more productively. IWG opened 104 new properties between February and September 2020, across its nine distinct brands in Europe, North America and Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific.
Working with IWG has enabled landlords to draw on the company’s local, national and international infrastructure in order to add value to their property and reach a global audience of high-quality commercial tenants. From private offices and coworking solutions, to business lounges and meeting rooms, the partnership helps landlords to create whichever format and style meets the specific needs of their buildings and customers.
FLEXIBILITY IS KEY TO FOSTERING A GOOD CULTURE
Of course, the first priority when the pandemic retreats and companies bring their workers back to the office will be to ensure that social distancing is in place, and that people are safe. But following close behind will be this focus on creating more productive environments
This means leaders will need to create, encourage and nurture culture when people are working in multiple places.
The complex and sensitive responsibility to create constructive cultures will be made even more complicated by people working from everywhere. But people are adaptable, businesses are resilient, and cultures will survive—The future of the office depends on it.