The office will bounce back, but not as we remember it

Manchester officeLooking back, who could possibly have predicted 2020? It’s been such a difficult pandemic year for so many individuals and companies. Yet it’s also been a transformative time, which has seen dramatic shifts in the way we work. So, with some trepidation, here’s my forecast for the near future. This year will see the office bounce back, but not as we remember it. The office of the future will have an important new role as the physical embodiment of a changing corporate culture.

It’s hard to comprehend that in less than nine months, agile working has now become commonplace and firms have integrated working from home into their company culture.

Not being tied to a regular commute has improved the work-life balance of many employees and organisations have also found there are certain tasks where staff can actually focus better at home. Work is no longer about rows of staff sat at desks for prescribed hours solely focused on the bottom line.

However, when that disappeared, so did the incidental chats and informal team get-togethers, along with those serendipitous moments of ingenuity and innovation that they often sparked. People, teams and organisations thrive on a sense of collective purpose and shared experience. So the successful office of 2021 will be one that reflects this more flexible way of working.

People will still do many of their focused tasks away from the main office, but some of the aspects they have missed most during lockdown, involving socialising, collaboration and creativity, will take place in reconfigured office hubs.

At Wellworking, our clients are already looking at ways to transform their rows of desks into create team hubs, smaller multimedia meeting rooms, break-out spaces and inspirational, relaxed working areas.

The successful 2021 workplace will change from a task orientated centre to a creative and social space. A place where teams will plan, ideas will be bounced around and colleagues catch up over a coffee. It will support critical engagement, reinforce a sense of belonging and purpose, and, of increasing importance, support the mental health of colleagues.

In a recent speech, Andy Burnham, Mayor of Manchester, described the city of the future as a place to have fun, rather than simply commute to, and the same goes for offices.

The best companies, and in turn their workplaces, will encourage creativity and create a sense of belonging and wellbeing, things that are difficult to do working solely from home. It is these things that will increase engagement and improve the attraction and retention of the best staff going forward.

The office of 2021 will need to be flexible and adaptable. It may need to be smaller, with more people working for much of the time from home. And above all, the workplace that thrives will be a vibrant environment that encircles, enthuses and recharges the workforce.

This piece appears in the current issue of IN Magazine