To sustain a balanced future with engaged people, organisations must fundamentally shift their concept of real estate. Our offices, once the central place of heads-down productivity, must become the place of heads-up horizon scanning.
The flexibility of working from home continues to be a huge benefit for many. Simultaneously, the detrimental effects are being keenly felt.
Water cooler conversations can’t happen, so the potential for synchronicities drops. Without huge intentional effort, new team members aren’t infused with the culture they’ve joined. Learning by looking over the shoulder of a colleague is more difficult.
Most damagingly, it’s less likely we hear the stories of our colleagues’ lives outside work. The glue of personal story that holds teams together, ebbs without the opportunity to pop out for a shared lunch, or exchange news in the lift.
And it’s disheartening to make it to the office only to field a diary full of virtual/online meetings, because everyone else is still at home. I mean, what’s the point of that?
So, what’s the answer? How do we encourage our people back to the office, without losing the benefits of flexible working?
Change … is the answer. It was much heralded at the start of the pandemic wasn’t it? If something good can come from all this madness, it must be that we embrace change and new ways of working when we ‘get out of this!’.
And yet, here we are potentially slipping back into old habits. I even hear whispers of some companies considering mandating (by contractual obligation) at least 2 days back in the office a week…even after their people have proved that business can be conducted efficiently and effectively (notwithstanding the points above) when working from home.
To sustain a balanced future with engaged people, I believe organisations must fundamentally shift their concept of real estate. Our offices, once the central place of heads-down productivity, must become the place of heads-up horizon scanning.
How about we repurpose offices forming fun, interactive, collaborative working areas – fewer desks – much more creation space? The office of the future, rather like museums and galleries, curated to inspire forward thinking.
There’d be no more going to the office to Zoom or Teams. Instead, we go to the office to think, collaborate and innovate. Topics are examined and explored, and innovation courted, on days of the week allocated “agenda-free”. This will require careful formation, suitable space, and a clear vision.
And for those who can’t make it that day, can they dial in? No. That would defeat the purpose.
Open Space Theory says: “Whoever comes is the right people. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have. Whenever it starts is the right time. When it is over, it is over.”
Stepping into that uncertainty, letting go of an agenda, making space for fresh ideas and the alchemy of many brains in the same room, will make it worth the commute. Those who don’t make it can catch up on the outcomes later.
If certain demographics are less likely to make it into the office – working parents for example – we’ll need to work around this creatively. Perhaps inclusion might be the first innovation session …?
Why not use our unique place in time as an opportunity to dream more, dream bigger and solve the world’s, and our clients’, challenges in community?
Tania Watson is based in Edinburgh and works globally at senior level as a consultant for over 20 years supporting Boards and Business leaders. Tania is a long time friend of Harmonics and has worked with us on several coaching assignments in the UK. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org