This was one of the questions asked at the recent Business Insider Breakfast and it got me thinking that, while I talk a lot about remote working, it is not for all and there is much the office has to offer: it just takes a slight change in focus.
Not where you go
The office used to be the default place of work, but now the office is not so much a place you go as wherever you are: with cloud, mobile devices and greater connectivity, the modern office is at hand anytime, anywhere. Work can still be carried out at the office, of course, but it could also be done at home, at the library, at the coffee shop, on the train and countless other third places.
So the way we view the office has changed: for some it is still the place they would rather be, although it may still seem a bit soulless at times; for others it is the place that is a pain to get to and from every day, or a place that ties them into a set working pattern that does not sit well with the rest of their lives.
So, what is the office?
The office is not the point. The office is a meeting point. It is a means to an end. It works for some, not for others and even those it works for need more from it.
According to Richard Jelfs, of Seco Tools, Boden have a rubbish HQ. What is important is the clothing and what their customers want from them. The staff delivering the product and service are more important than the accommodation. On the other hand, Seco’s new building was built around generating high staff engagement – using design, layout, acoustics, etc to create a collaborative, fluid workspace that encourages interaction.
Whatever view you take, the important thing is that the office does not need to be the huge drain on income and the status symbol it used to be. The Boden example is almost inverted snobbery, whereas companies who spend money on the space, do so knowing they will save on the amount of space they need (as not all staff will be in the office at the same time) and are creating a space which will help improve staff happiness and welfare and, therefore, performance.
The other important aspect is that, whatever way you go, the decision has been made through sophisticated and genuine engagement with employees to assess their needs, how they want to work and create a suitably supporting environment. The office as a physical space then becomes the admin hub, the place from where systems and processes emanate; a place for idea-generation and knowledge-share, to engage face-to-face. Around this hub everybody works in the best way for them and the organisation and the office begins to make sense again.
So, yes, the office does need to prove itself. It needs to be cost-effective, it needs to work for the business and everyone in it, it needs to improve performance and it needs to help focus business activity on the customer. And it doesn’t matter if it is for 5 or 500 people, the principles are the same. How difficult can that be?
Ok, so it is a tall order, but unless businesses want to waste money on things that don’t work well for them and risk going under or allowing their competition to beat them to the prize, then someone is going to have to work out how best to work.