Goodbye office working.. hello collaboration spaces and cultural glue

We’re no longer talking about returning to ‘business as usual’.  The conversation has moved on at pace.  When Boris Johnson said that employers will be given “more discretion” to consider how their staff can continue working safely (July 17) there wasn’t a seismic shift in mindset.  In fact by 20 July, Royal Bank of Scotland were being applauded for communicating to 50000 staff they’d be working from home until 2021.

It’s a message that’s I’ve heard repeated in conversations with numerous clients and connections too.  Tim Jones, Global Head of HR for London Stock Exchange Group shared this week (CIPD Coronavirus Webinar: Company cultures post COVID-19) the results of a poll of 5000 worldwide staff.  The answer to ‘what % of time would you like to work remotely when things return to normal’ stood at 59% .. with higher %’s in the junior associate levels, decreasing to 53% at the Exec level.

So more than half a week.  And that’s against the context of ‘when things return to normal’.

It’s a loud and clear declaration of a reverse to the usual rhetoric.  We’re hearing more and more ‘we’re going to need a smaller office’.

(Well maybe not that small….)

But it’s not just the size that matters.  There’s a very real need to shift the ‘what it’s for’ focus of the office.   As one L&D head told me this week, ‘we know we can do the work, outside of the office, so we have to be clear what do we go to the office for?’

The demise of the non-valuable working space should mean the end of desk based solo workers, bound by functional title or geography, but with little ‘shared responsibility’.  Who wants to travel to a space to sit alongside, but not actively ‘work with’ colleagues?

The valuable working space is somewhere that provides for collaboration and grounds us to the organsational culture.  A space that’s big enough for collaborative conversation, for creative thought, for energising interactions, and for social human engagement.  Somewhere that enables the ‘casual collisions’ that spark innovation, enable problem solving and create a sense of community aligned to your business culture.   It’s not necessarily about pingpong tables, neon lights and beanbags (although they may be useful cultural artefacts for your organisation). It’s about an authentic representation of your brand and it’s ethos as a facilitator for the people who work within it.

The glue for the team and the organisation will be less about the routine and location of work.  The purpose and priorities, the intent and the engagement will be the stuff that bonds us.  There’ll be lessons to be learnt from TEAMGB, who’s culture and purpose lives on in the span between the 4 years of summer games, and from international sport teams, who meet for a matter of weeks before delivering high performance on the pitch as a cohesive unit.

Redefining the ‘office’ as an engaging collaborative space that enables could be an amazing business enhancing by-product of the current situation.  But to really maximise the impact of ‘location’ flexibility, we’ll need to ensure our ‘cultural glue’ is strong enough to invisibly bind us in the organisation, even when apart.