The Human Centric Office of the Future

It’s time we got excited about returning to offices!

This pandemic has shown us some strange things and made us think in even stranger ways.

One of the strangest has been our relationship with the office and I must admit there have been times when I thought it was a goner.

I envisioned a conversation with my future grand-kids about work ‘back in my day’, that went something like this…

Offices were big, energy guzzling buildings in the middle of hectic, overcrowded, and polluted urban spaces. To get to them we would wake up early (earlier than natural for many people) and travel on fast moving metal tins (with windows kindly added so we could have a nice view as our faces were squashed against them).

After this; we would walk across a train station (in reality, much like the stampede scene in The Lion King) before we got onto another moving metal tin, this time underground; so with no views.

You would spend your time trying to avoid eye contact and navigating away from the stranger’s armpit that you keep getting pressed against.

Finally, an hour after leaving the comfort of our homes, we arrived at ‘The Office’ (not be confused with the humorous sitcom of the same name).

For some reason we had to stay for a rigid 9 hours (often longer) trying to be productive amidst constant distractions.

You would stumble about from one meeting room to another lost in the waves of details. If you worked in an open plan office, many of these problems were compounded instead of reduced. 50% of the people you worked with in the office were clearly burned out. Spent.

Then - you guessed it grand-child - we reversed our steps. Back to the moving metal tin and stampedes. You can see where I’m going with this…

A recent YouGov survey reported that ‘fewer than four in ten want to leave their house to go to work’. A Slack/Future Forum survey of 9,000 workers in 2020 showed that 72% of workers preferred a hybrid office/home approach, 15% home only, and a mere 8% office only. The survey showed that:

“Remote work is a net positive”, with “knowledge workers reporting higher levels of satisfaction when compared with office work, for work-life balance, stress and anxiety levels, productivity and overall satisfaction.”

A huge 75% are even willing to take a 14% cut in salary to stay working remotely.

Is this the death knell for the office?

Not quite…

As with everything, there is another side of the story.

There are clearly big upsides to communal, IRL workplaces. The Slack survey also showed that “the experience of remote work varies across job roles, genders, seniority and other factors. For instance, experienced remote workers tend to report higher levels of workplace wellbeing and productivity than their less-experienced, often younger peers.”

There are plenty of good things to celebrate about the workplace.

Enhanced creativity, ease of conversation, water cooler moments and not cutting out mid-sentence, like a malfunctioning robot because your Wi-Fi is playing up.

It is a better, richer way of connecting with each other. Indranil Roy, Executive Director, Human Capital practice, Deloitte Consulting puts this well:

“Over time, face-to-face interaction is required to facilitate collaboration, build relationships, solve complex challenges and generate ideas.”

So, the challenge it seems, is convincing those people who don’t want to return to the office part time or at all, that there are advantages.

We need to entice people back into the office, to a sufficient degree, for at least one or two days a week, to ensure we don’t lose the extra opportunities for creativity, employee wellness and other benefits of face-to-face interaction.

The companies that understand this will attract the best talent. Vaibhav Gujral: Partner at McKinsey & Company lays it out:

“Organisations that get it right may emerge from the crisis ahead in the war for talent, with policies that employees prefer, and workplaces that are purpose-designed to be vibrant, foster collaboration and productivity for the new way of working.”

But we now know that we could work on a desert island if it has a good Wi-Fi connection! Bye bye commute...

The cat is well and truly out of the bag now, and it’s a tropical cat with turquoise water and white sand beaches.

So how do we make the workplace as appealing as Bermuda?

At least for a couple of days a week.

Here’s three ways:

1. Put mental health at the top of the agenda

As if mental health wasn’t important enough pre Covid - with rates of stress at an all-time high – people are facing even bigger problems now. Figures from the Princes’ Trust Youth Index are showing 1 in 4 young people in the UK have felt ‘unable to cope’ during the pandemic. A harrowing statistic and unfortunately one of many similar stories.