Is the office heading the way of the high street?

I’ve recently been involved in several conversations with customers and within ComputerWorld regarding office space and the future of the office.

Whilst this isn’t an area I profess to be a specialist in, it does tie in with something that’s close to my heart. That is “workspace transformation”. Or to use a less fancy phrase, the way we work and get stuff done.

Analysing the office of the past

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Before we look forward, I think it’s important to look back and consider the ways we have worked in the past, and why we have done so. The nature of the office and office-based jobs was based upon the need to bring people together. It was about centralising resources and giving staff access to your processes and procedures - first paper-based and more recently through the technology that’s delivered on a Local Area Network.

Offices of the past have been designed for function. In the US, cubicles separating individual work areas; in the UK, from my experience, beige uninspiring workspaces. We have seen evolution, with open-plan offices being favoured alongside natural light. Many of the most inspiring companies stimulate their workforce with design cues like bright colours, interesting furnishings, industrial looks and even graffiti on the walls.

Harnessing the digital revolution

However, whilst all of this has been going on we have also seen the latest digital revolution taking place, which is being driven by our customers and our users. Today users and organisations are embracing new ways of working. We are seeing the rise of the mobile cloud era. Applications are deployed in a mobile fashion direct from the cloud. This allows users to pick up any device and work in the way that suits them - when and where they want.

For the first time, we aren’t simply talking about delivering a remote Windows desktop to a tablet or mobile device. Now we are talking native mobile experiences (indeed I am writing this on a train to London using Microsoft Word on an iPad).

The challenges of the new digital landscape

Whilst these ways of working suit the users, it causes a number of challenges that the business needs to overcome.

The first is from a security perspective. IT needs to adapt and move from a position of delivering security by control, to delivering security by design whilst enabling the users to work in the ways they desire. Great examples of this are technologies like VMware Workspace ONE. This embraces the mobile native ways of working that our users desire, whilst allowing IT to secure the applications, data and identity by design.

But this isn’t where the challenges for the business end. With users now being able to work in a more mobile and remote manner, there becomes a big issue of trust and governance. No longer can you test an employee’s work ethic by the time they get to the office and leave at the end of the day. Work is no longer a location but an activity.

This is a big challenge for some organisations and some roles. It is one that I can’t offer a single answer to. But if you have thoughts on this subject reach out: let’s discuss, blog, podcast... because I think it’s a really interesting and relevant subject.

So what does the future hold for the office?

So work’s now an activity and not a location. Technology like Microsoft Teams and Zoom bring us closer together than ever before. We have new ways to collaborate without even visiting the office. So what does the future hold for the office?

We have seen the high street and even more modern malls affected by the way consumers now choose to shop online. They are having to reinvent themselves to offer new experiences. Successful high streets and malls have become a destination for entertainment. They offer a higher quality niche experience that’s difficult to get from online shopping.

And I believe the office is in need of this same reinvention. Sure, there are roles in your organisation that inherently need to operate from a central location. But looking at your organisation, if and when you fully embrace the modern ways of working; when you sort employee governance out; why do the users need to come into the office at all?

Gaining a new perspective on the purpose of your office

We need to be looking at our office space in a completely new way. Not simply how we cram enough desks in for every employee to have their metre-squared. But what should the office be offering to our employees? Why is it a destination that our employees want to come to? How can it help them be more productive in their role and be more successful?

This thinking isn’t that new. The larger companies such as Microsoft, VMware, NVIDIA all get this. But I believe it’s time that this thinking should spread far beyond the top organisations, and should be considered by all.

The office should be designed for face-to-face communication. It should be an inspiring space where people are given the time and space to think. The environment should be comfortable, and offer a variety of different experiences depending on the activities being undertaken.

Within the office, your technology should be transparent and easy to use. It should allow the user to work how and where they want, potentially inside and out. I personally feel that lighting really matters in these spaces. All too often, lighting within an office space is harsh and ceiling-based, and in my opinion (I would love to discuss with a lighting expert) different types of work and different activities call for different forms of lighting.

I really like the video below from Bath, UK, based Workplace Design and Build specialists, Interaction.

Please note we have no connection with Interaction, they just stood out to me whilst researching modern workspaces.

Including all your people and functions in the transformation

The supporting teams and processes should be designed in such a way that staff can get the support they need, when they need it. This will help them to be as successful in their role as possible.

Look at your service desk. How does it function? How open is it? Does it offer a user-centric experience that really works for your employees? Or do you have a “LOG A TICKET” mentality? We should be delivering an open “Genius Bar” approach to support that can really help users, when they need it.This level of service goes far beyond your IT though. Are you offering a similar service for financial, HR, wellbeing and all the other functions in your organisation.

Beyond the great new ways to work, past the inspiring office spaces, I think employee mental health including wellbeing and mindfulness is the other side of this transformation. With our new ways of working, the gap between work and home becomes even more blurred. We need to ensure we are supporting our employees with all of this too.

And what about your customers or clients?

All of this is before we start to think of customers visiting our offices, and what experience we want to give to them. What does it say about your brand, and how are you going to differentiate from the competition?

This is something that I am really passionate about. I am lucky enough to be engaging in these types of conversations within ComputerWorld as we shape the future of our business, and as we take our customers on transformation journeys.

For many aspects of our business, it’s time to just stop business as usual, question why we are doing it and transform.

Do you have insight to add to the discussion?

Many thanks to the ComputerWorld team and my customers that have helped me form these opinions. If you are a specialist in any of these subjects and would like to expand on what I have discussed, please do get in touch as I would love to hear from you.

Want to understand how your business can work in a more modern and mobile way?

Join us on 29th November 2018 at Ashton Gate Stadium, Bristol to hear from industry leaders about how the workplace is changing and how you can support your employees with this change.