The new modern workplace

How Covid-19 has instantly redefined the modern workplace

Through sheer necessity, Covid-19 is redefining the modern workplace overnight. It is forcing a reconciliation between previous workplace models and visions.

From the traditional ‘employee in the building workplace’ has spawned several aspirational ways of working:

  1. Fully mobile
  2. Work from home
  3. Activity based working

Very quickly we have discovered that the answer, not surprisingly, is a combination of these three, but the reality of recent experience has seen more scrutiny of these ways of working. Because of Covid-19, the work experience is now being driven by ‘the worker’ rather than top down ideologues and management.

In short, the ‘modern workplace’ is not one physical space, rather a combination of physical, virtual and mobile spaces where people can work productively and generate output and outcomes.

Many large enterprises have embraced activity based working (ABW), which has largely been driven by architects, designers and the many beneficiaries of these expensive fitouts. Such workplaces have been a corporate showpiece – and they do look great. The underlying principle is that work consists of distinct tasks that are best performed in different physical environments, eg, from individual concentration on a particular task to group collaboration.

But in reality, activity based working has focused more on ‘funky collaboration spaces’ rather than facilitating individual productivity. And as people are inevitably working more from home, the productivity and utilisation of these real estate investments is being questioned, both in terms of output, and the management of all the different workspaces – lots of time is wasted trying to find workspaces that are free – either for individual work or collaboration.

The good news is that the productivity of these physical spaces is being enhanced by huddle boards or ‘smart stand ups’ where a group of colleagues can meet quickly around a touch screen or kiosk that accesses the organisation’s business intelligence platform. It is a great way of making fast, informed decisions. And presentation and collaboration technology in meeting rooms and boardrooms is becoming more user friendly.

Often overlooked, digital signage is an important communication channel to staff in physical locations. It is visually engaging and helps to build a common culture which is becoming increasingly difficult as people are working from home or on mobile devices.

Close to universal ‘working from home’ has happened virtually overnight as a result of Covid-19. For many, it’s been fun, interesting and different, but the reality is that for most people, the experience has been clunky. There is now increasing pressure from employees to have their organisations provide a ‘working from home experience’ that is on par with their working from the office experience. The revolution is happening.

Covid-19 has caused a light to go on. While working from home has been forced on many people, they have quickly discovered that working from home is actually better for many tasks, plus there is the time saving from no commuting and the positive environment consequences.

When the pandemic crisis passes, many people will be negotiating to work one or two days a week from home. Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, predicts that 20-25% of the workforce will be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.

So the way we will work is changing, quickly. The modern workplace is not one place, rather a combination of traditional physical spaces, our homes and anything in between using mobile devices. There is now a great opportunity to proactively decide how we want to work and organisations need to have a digital engagement strategy for their employees as well as create physical spaces that promote a sense of belonging, drive a common culture and facilitate productivity – while optimising the utilisation of physical real estate.

One of the positive outcomes of Covid-19 is that each organisation now has the opportunity to define their own ‘modern workplace’.