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Offices preferable to home-working?

Image: batirama
Image: batirama

In its report entitled ‘Purpose of Place, History and Future of the Office’ (produced in partnership with senior researchers at George Washington University), Cushman & Wakefield starts by reflecting on why we have offices in the first place. History suggests, the report states, that there are four main reasons for organizations to bother to be in offices at all. These are the reasons we have offices today and, to varying degrees, they continue to drive the need for office space in a post-Covid-19 world. The importance of each has shifted over time as the office moves from a place of management to a place of engagement and inspiration.

The four reasons are: the social needs that reinforce the culture of the organization. This includes personal social needs of employees, but also the corporate benefits of collaboration, mentoring, learning and development, and creative ideation. Secondly, providing a productive environments for office workers. Next come capital requirements unique to the office space and location, and finally management requirements for centralized command and control. While this may have been a primary reason for office space historically, says C&W, it is now the least common of these drivers.

Productivity and innovation

An office workplace environment can drive productivity or erode it, depending greatly upon a worker’s role, personality and job complexity, as well as the tasks to be accomplished on any given day, while remote working can increase productivity through reductions in commuting time, perceived stress and ongoing interruptions. Productivity is also impacted by the type of work being done, how much interaction with others is required for success, and the quantity and quality of space available when employees work outside of the office.

Turning to innovation, the report suggests that the impact of remote working on creativity is mixed and supports that a mix of remote and office-based work is advantageous. Getting away from the office periodically has measurable benefits for innovation by creating ‘head space’ for workers and offering new ways (or ‘fresh eyes’) to look at projects. These gains, however, have not been proven for long term, permanent virtual work. Measurable creativity and innovation gains from remote work have consistently included environments where employees were also regularly together face-to-face.

Company Culture and Branding

The importance of the company as an entity and the interaction of employees to it, are covered by both C&W and remote offices operator Regus. Regus, first, looks at a concept known as ‘open-book management’ or OBM is a business theory where companies give access to their financial information, so employees can fully understand the economics of the organisation they work for. Proven to increase productivity and profitability, companies that practise open-book management also have a more open, inclusive work culture. The reduced hierarchy, lessened sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and added financial incentives means everyone feels more invested in making the business a success. OBM has been proven to result in a more engaged, committed and loyal workforce. Employees who can see the economic impact their individual decisions make on a business will often go the extra mile for the company, especially if there is a financial incentive in it for them.

Remote working may not appear to be relevant to this, until a statement by C&W is taken it account. It says that less face-to-face interaction means employees are less likely to be engaged in the corporate culture, and managers find it more difficult to foster certain values through traditions and customs. Half of employees struggle to connect with their company’s culture during the covid-19 induced remote work experiment. Employee satisfaction and retention is part of this equation too, says C&W. Offering choice in where work is completed is a net positive for employees. However, working from home exclusively is often associated with lower employee outcomes. And it finds that only 55% of employees engaged in remote work during covid-19 restrictions have a ‘sense of wellbeing.’

A final word to Cedric Van Meerbeeck, Head of Research & Marketing, Cushman & Wakefield Belgium: “The office of the future will be seen more and more as an incubator for learning, collaboration and innovation. While employees will embrace more remote working, the impact on the office take-up should be, at least partially, balanced by an increasing need of interaction and collaboration spaces and a lower density in the office. This combination should contribute to a healthy, though challenging, office market in the coming years”.
Tim Harrup
17-11-2020
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