Forget talking about ‘the good old days’, now everybody’s talking about #thenewnormal. There are webinars, blogs (here’s another one!), Zoom chats…..but the truth is, none of us really know what the ‘new normal’ will be like. The one thing we do know is the world of work has changed and for the better in some ways – more trust from employers, online yoga or Joe Wicks instead of the commute, meetings in our PJ’s! But there’s also the negatives – the lack of human contact and banter with colleagues; the support when work is challenging and you need picking up; the brainstorming when you hit a wall.
Whatever you feel about working from home, it’s not always conducive to productivity. There are distractions and it requires a huge amount of self-discipline and motivation. As a freelancer, I am well set up for working from home and even as an extrovert, quite enjoy the solitude. But that’s not to say that I’m not missing my weekly visit to one of my client’s, The Busworks. It’s great to feel connected to a business community and interact with the other creatives there. The Busworks was one of the first shared office buildings in the UK over 40 years ago and has faced many economic challenges in that time, as well as different attitudes and trends in working. They, like many other workspace providers, are now faced with this enormous new challenge of predicting the change in demand and meeting it head on through adaptability and flexibility – something they may be better equipped to do as a long standing independent, than other more corporate providers are perhaps.
So, what does this new normal look like for office space providers like my client, The Busworks?
Whilst we’ve seen that virtual working and teleconferencing through platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams are now being successfully championed by businesses – originally down to necessity rather than choice – moving forward, I’m convinced there will still be a need for physical spaces to bring workers together. Yes, businesses will need to allow staff flexible working that includes hours of their choice, to fit in with other commitments; and commuting holds even less appeal now that it represents such a health risk. But the fact remains and all the science points to it, as explained by Matt Phelan, CEO of the Happiness Index, that as human beings ‘we have a natural tendency to seek each other out.’
Without some kind of base for teams to come together, it will be difficult to build and maintain a corporate culture. Collaboration works best face to face. We are designed to build relationships, form bonds, share ideas and although we can do this remotely, it doesn’t allow for the one key thing – an exchange of energy. Your ‘aura’ – more specifically, your magnetic field – is key to human bonding, or repelling! That just doesn’t translate in the same way over Zoom I’m afraid!
Flexible workspace with short term lets will be key too, something that The Busworks offered way before the Covid 19 pandemic, which gives a sense of reassurance, especially to start-ups and small businesses. Indicators show that companies may reduce the size of city centre offices, considering multiple bases across the country and potentially giving staff a budget for co-working hubs.
Prestigious post codes will be less important and other elements will dominate decisions. Matt Phelan of The Happiness Index talks about saving up to £20,000 a month by quitting their central London high spec offices, now choosing to have staff meet-ups in various hubs once a week, plus an overnight Airbnb stay with the whole team each month. As a forward thinking, people driven entrepreneur though, he intends to invest that money saved each month back into the business and the team’s development. Music to the ears of a Personal Development Coach like me!
I suspect open-plan trends may be reversed, with several smaller offices with well-spaced desks, natural daylight and windows for natural ventilation, replacing them. Data from The Happiness Index indicates that many introverts do not cope well in an open-plan working environment anyway, and teams will always have a combination of personality types that now, more than ever, we are considering, as the ‘Putting People First’ workplace culture grows.
External meeting rooms and hubs will be booked and used more frequently (in addition to virtual on-line meetings) rather than designating and paying for space within your own office, therefore reducing overheads. Marion Morohan, Ops Director of The Busworks says she will consider increasing their meeting room facilities to meet a possible increase in demand.
And there will undoubtedly be more demand for improved systems; essential as businesses recognise the need for reliable technology and software to allow for remote working and virtual meetings. Companies also need to collect data from their people as to ‘what’s gone well and what’s not’ during this Covid shift to working from home, says Matt Phelan, as it will allow them to adapt and shape the future of their business in a positive way for all.
So, what will this new normal mean for the employees?
Most importantly, it will mean more flexibility. Time-shifting of staff will be key and employees may be encouraged to work in a flexible fashion across the day, removing the need for rush hour commutes. In fact, the rush hour as we know it may not exist for much longer. HR teams have got a huge job on their hands thinking about the challenges that lie ahead, but as Marina Farthouart said in a recent webinar about The Future of Work, “the biggest challenges are often the biggest opportunities. We must all be more visionary now.”