Former President, BCO & Projects Director. U+I
The pandemic has created a discussion around the future of the workplace, with more employees wanting to return to the office, we need to use space to nurture productivity.
Once, at the start of this pandemic, it was common to hear people sermonise about the end of the office. “It’s over!” They proclaimed. “See how we can all just work from home!” Well, they were right – to an extent. We can only work from home. But we don’t want to.
Independent polling, commissioned by the BCO, finds that most office workers want a return to the office, while working flexibly from home or satellite offices closer to home one or two days a week.
Reducing office spaces
And yet – there is talk of companies reducing their office space. The reasoning goes that, with workers spending more time at home, the number of workers in an office will be lower than pre-pandemic, meaning there is less need for space.
While the first part of this argument may be right – it is offset by the fact that offices will be less densely occupied – it is wrong to see this as a reason to cut space. Less occupied offices should provide an opportunity, not a cost saving.
For decades, the average British office worker – and especially the average London office worker – has been forced to work cheek-by-collared-jowl with their co-workers. Office space is expensive, so employees become less human and more sardine.
An office is, after all, an investment to recruit and retain the best staff. A good office helps you get more from your staff and now, in a world where we can work from home, it also attracts them into the office in the first place.
Giving workers more space
This approach has many negative effects. Workers work best when they have space, it boosts their wellbeing and so too their productivity. If they are denied it, their wellbeing and productivity suffers. They also work well when given natural light – something harder to find in cramped deep plan offices, often left for senior staff who are allocated window seats.
Offices in other regions – particularly Scandinavia – follow these principles brilliantly and are full of space and light. The Danes have a word, arbejdsglæde, which means ‘work joy’. It’s a concept that’s much easier to understand in a bright, spacious Copenhagen office than cramped workplace back here in Blighty.
Now, though, we have an opportunity to do better. Companies have vast office spaces – already costed for, already designed – that will now be less densely filled as social distancing pervades and as workers spend some of their time at home. Rather than cut space back, companies should retain the space and utilise it more effectively.
Space increases productivity
New space can lead to better workplaces. Workers can be given more room to breathe. More light, too. Space can also be used to create new areas that help workers work in different ways, with some areas providing solitude and others encouraging collaboration. No longer do we need to be crammed in.
An office is, after all, an investment to recruit and retain the best staff. A good office helps you get more from your staff and now, in a world where we can work from home, it also attracts them into the office in the first place. This is beneficial. Offices help foster company culture, provide learning opportunities and boost creativity. Without the promise of a good office to come into, workers may opt to stay at home in conditions bad for their productivity and isolated away from the company and their colleagues.
So, we return to the office, let’s not see all this new open space as a cost, waiting to be cut. Let’s see it as an opportunity to do better, to create offices that are more enjoyable and help us all be more productive.