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The Office of the Future – Considerations

As hundreds of thousands of Canadian workers are working remotely since the end of March, what conclusions can be drawn from the experience, almost three months later? This ad hoc telework experiment is challenging companies on the future of office space, beyond immediate health and safety concerns. From “How can we redefine office space in times of COVID-19?” to “Does the office still have its place in corporate life?”, these are questions that companies are already pondering.  

Here are a few considerations to inform the reflection of decision-makers, both from a leadership and an employer standpoint.  

The Role of Physical Space for Individuals

Let’s go back a few months. Many organizations were thinking of redesigning their workspace to attract talent, create an unparalleled employee experience and foster a collaborative and productive workforce. There were numerous articles and seminars on this topic – including one hosted by Les Affaires, which was in its fourth edition. According to Jacob Morgan (https://thefutureorganization.com/why-employee-experience-matters-now-more-than-ever/), who conducted an in-depth review of the employee experience, the physical space accounts for approximately 30% of the employee experience; the quality of that space can drain or energize employees. Ingrid Fetell Lee concurs. A professional designer, she has studied extensively the effect of spaces on individuals and has identified the characteristics of physical objects that create a sense of joy in humans. Her TED Talk presentation of less than 15 minutes will provide you with a glimpse of her research’s fascinating findings. What if, instead of wondering whether office spaces are still relevant, we continued – and intensified – our reflection on creating meaningful spaces for their occupants, given that physical spaces have fostered human creativity and inspiration for centuries?

Employee Health – Flexibility and Diversity

Mass telework has certainly accelerated a shift towards a trend that was still modest: giving employees more flexibility in managing their work schedule and location, a shift grounded on a solid relationship of trust and enhanced accountability. Continuous teleworking has also highlighted some of the adverse effects of this work method, such as “Zoom fatigue” which was discussed in numerous articles – but also, a sense of isolation and the struggle of creating boundaries between one’s personal and professional life. Recent studies on this matter have already shown that most employees would prefer to continue working in an office space, with its benefits, on a regular basis. It will be crucial to take this preference into consideration before making drastic decisions on office spaces. Companies willing to provide an increased flexibility in this matter (which has been sought after for a long time), combined with inspiring and functional office spaces, will stand out and be able to attract the best talents once COVID-19 risks will recede.  

Costs

Certain corporate leaders, who saw how quickly their employees adjusted to teleworking and managed their duties, could be tempted by the potential savings related to downsizing their workspaces. In some cases, downsizing could be possible at first glance. Investing in workspaces requires extensive planning, and the intangible benefits of office spaces are difficult to quantify.    Embracing telework provides a unique opportunity to reconsider current workspaces in order to promote employee well-being, and therefore their productivity. Potential rotation of workspaces enabled by teleworking practices would allow the allocation of some spaces for collective and collaborative purposes. It’s also expected that there will be a reversal of the “desking” trend (in which workstations are in close proximity), which will result in an increase of the space allocated to each worker. Companies must ask themselves this fundamental question: what can employees get in an office that they can’t have at home? Other than providing human contact (which is important in its own right!), companies could use this opportunity to present unique architecture and interior design assets, including furniture, technology, arts, biophilia, etc.   

Executives who often have homes with an office space comfortably set up for teleworking at their disposal should think of some of their employees who live in tiny apartments, the charm of a colleague's smile you pass in a hallway, or the efficiency of a problem that can be solved “in a doorway”. Let's look beyond the short-term conundrum and let’s shape together an inspiring vision for our corporate life.

Physically distant – but closer than ever.  

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Sandra Lécuyer
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Sandra Lécuyer

Vice PresidentTalent and Organisation