The challenge for the office is to stay relevant

The world is going through some painful changes at breakneck speed. As a result, the word unprecedented has reached number one spot on our ‘words to avoid’ list. What’s the big deal with unprecedented anyway? Our obsession with all things unprecedented taps into our fear of the unknown. But life itself is an unknown: Life is beta. Nothing is permanent. Every single day things happen that are unprecedented. Damn, said it again.

So given that we, as a herd (another word for the shit list) are afraid of change, but we also accept that change is constant, we therefore prescribe to a life in constant fear. And we seriously wonder why anxiety is on the rise? Maybe the current shock factor is the realisation that we cannot actually eliminate all risk and new unforeseen threats can develop, disrupt and destroy whilst we’re all busy watching Netflix.

Consider some of the most successful music artists of the last century, I’m talking MJ, Whitney, Bowie, Madonna. How did they maintain their appeal in a world in constant flux? They changed too. They provided the soundtrack to cultural shifts in society and stayed relevant, giving people what they want. Instead of following, they led cultural change.


Keeping fresh

This leadership pattern applies to all industries and many aspects of life. Sir Alex Ferguson – the most successful manager in football – embraced change, turfing out big names at the height of their careers and rebuilding his teams amidst heckling from media, pundits and fans. Nelson Mandela, Alfred Einstein, Steve Jobs, Christian Dior, Elon Musk and Bill Gates are all protagonists of change.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The question is whether our economies can change quickly enough to rebuild and reposition themselves[/perfectpullquote]

Whether you’re change averse or a sucker for the next big thing, our societies and economies are being unwillingly transformed by the ongoing pandemic, erasing jobs and destroying whole sectors in the process. But we are seeing growth areas too and companies are rushing to respond. The question is whether our economies change quickly enough to rebuild and reposition themselves? Writing for the Evening Standard, Rohan Silva points out that whilst furloughing has provided much needed financial support, many jobs will still inevitably be lost and will not be replaced. This happened in UK mining towns in the 80’s and left many permanently unemployed as their skills were suddenly no longer relevant.

Silva goes on to suggest the (UK) government should adopt a Danish strategy, whereby the government financially support those who have lost their jobs and have to retrain to gain new, more relevant skills. The economic shift could create the biggest opportunity of a generation, or if ignored, the biggest economic threat.

And so we consider the office, the future of workplace, a theme currently being discussed on an unprecedented scale (bum-tish!). Scaremongers claim the office is obsolete, others hope things will just blow over and return to pre-Covid normality. Neither is true. The office can and will adapt to respond to this latest challenge, it always does. The question we need to ask is how? What do we want from our workplaces? Slapping plexi-glass screens on desks and distancing stickers everywhere is not the answer I’m looking for. What we expect from our workplace has changed. Our emotional needs, our health and well-being has quite rightly become paramount.



We can work from home. But we still need to belong. We need interaction, creative spark, teamwork, camaraderie, company culture. Home office is finally accepted as part of the puzzle – but for most, home office alone is not the solution. As WFH is finally accepted as a long term facility, companies can reap the rewards. They can downsize and replan their office space – they have just acquired considerable flexible real estate.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Now is not a time to go backwards and regress into cubicles of fear[/perfectpullquote]

And back to the office. In the face of change we must plan in flexibility and adaptability. To balance home office isolation we must plan in space to meet, inspire and co-create. To combat anxiety we must integrate biophilia and well-being features. Let’s integrate AI tech to synchronise our calendars and meet the right colleagues at the right time, in turn maximising space efficiency and reducing capital cost. Of all the descriptions of how the office should evolve, my favourite is to liken it to a private members club. Spacious, work-lounge, inspiration areas, dining and quiet workspaces.

Now is not a time to go backwards and regress into cubicles of fear. We have to take note from Bowie, Fergie and Madge – let’s reinvent the office. Let’s keep our skills relevant. Let’s keep the workplace fresh, relevant, flexible and optimised. Let’s make sure we get the very best out of our time spent in it. Let’s move forward, together in our diversity. Smart buildings for smart people. If we leave our offices to fester and die, the blood is on our hands.

Image by pascal OHLMANN