Workspaces have historically been driven by the wishes of leaders rather than employees. Because of this, organisations need to update their understanding of how the work is done and see what those spaces should do to help their teams to become a more productive community. The thing that has changed the process of modern work most significantly isn’t the pandemic but the advent of Wi-Fi. Before 2004, work was tethered to cubicles or workstations. Distributed working has been advancing but most organisations don’t realise how low their office occupancy might have been pre-coronavirus. The pandemic has changed the way in which we think about the office but the future of the workplace is brighter than it has been for a long time. Most people don’t want to work in their bedrooms.
So, what is the office good for and what is it bad at? It’s certainly bad in terms of assigning people to individual spaces where you expect them to do all of their work. A recent survey suggests that people value the office for social reasons: camaraderie, different types of collaboration and team-building. And then there was a whole cohort that listed it as useful for focused and concentrated work.
If I were a CEO, I’d be paying attention to the fact that what we have today is not flexible working. What we have today is a crisis response to a pandemic: days that are, for many, filled with video meetings. And it’s harmful. We hear this from employees in our research all of the time. What people don’t want are rows of desks or generic conference rooms because these support outmoded ways of working. They’re a remnant of the era of desktop computing and a view of management that suggests that offices are there to supervise work. We need to move beyond that.
Ryan Anderson is vice-president of global research and insights at MillerKnoll. A version of this essay appears in our new book, ‘The Monocle Companion: Fifty Essays for a Brighter Future’, which is out now.