The most recent Future of Work Hub “In Conversation with...” podcast featuring Philip Ross, Founder and CEO of Ungroup and Cordless Group and Jeremy Myerson, Director of WORKTECH Academy raises an enduring question: are physical workplaces still fit for purpose?
This question has already been debated heavily during the fallout of the pandemic where we’ve seen unprecedented levels of hybrid working. However, in the podcast Ross and Myerson challenge traditional notions about the workplace further and discuss how businesses need to unpack, or rather “unwork”, time-honoured practices so that office footprints can truly align with new ways of working.
Perhaps one of the most interesting analogies made in the podcast is the comparison of the office of the future to a campsite. It is predicted that rectangle spaces in box-like buildings will be replaced by softer lines and circular spaces, and similarly that long meeting tables headed by a chairman will give way to more inclusive and democratic horseshoe areas for everyone to use. No longer will senior management reside in large, plush corner offices; instead, everyone, it seems, will be camping together.
Hybrid working undoubtedly promotes flexible and fluid workplace set-ups, often with no assigned seating, and so any successful future office will need to adapt accordingly and be ready for those ‘campfire’ meetings. Indeed, organisations might consider going back to basics completely to reassess their culture in a new working world, perhaps by asking themselves: What values do we want to reinforce through our shared office experience? How can we encourage diversity and inclusion in the way we fit-out our workplace? How can our office layout help us lead our team and drive a sense of belonging and purpose? As Myerson comments, the “use of space and the use of form is actually a very real and tangible manifestation of what the culture of the organisation is all about” and, with the rise of hybrid working, we expect to see space being used differently and to be less reflective of hierarchy.
However, while the upsides of such re-evaluation exercises could clearly be beneficial, the time and investment associated with making it happen should not be underestimated, particularly if a complete overhaul is needed to reconfigure office space. After all, it is not always easy for tenants to make changes to existing offices. Often, business occupiers will need to obtain their landlord’s consent to make alterations and so lease terms / tenant handbooks should be checked carefully before any works are instructed.
If wholesale changes are not feasible, businesses might nevertheless consider whether there are still ways to foster a campsite mentality even when their office space is not conducive to it. Softer, subtler steps could include experimenting with lighting, colours, soft furnishings and furniture, and making changes to policies around hot desking and seating arrangements, perhaps encouraging casual ideas sessions where different parts and levels of the business can come together in ‘fireside’ conversation.
In any event, one takeaway point from the podcast is the idea that the physical form and use of space in the office is being unravelled and re-pitched in a time of continued workplace experimentation. While there may not always be marshmallows and guitars, many are likely to see changes in the way office footprints are used in new ways to bring people together around the metaphorical campfire.
The Future of Work Hub
Recognising the impact of the changing world of work on businesses, HR and employment regulation, Lewis Silkin LLP launched the Future of Work Hub initiative to inform and connect people engaged in forward thinking about the future of work.