The future office space: what the post-pandemic workplace could look like
COVID-19 provided many human challenges alongside the global health battle. Companies around the world had to move quickly to protect employees and implement new ways of working as cities and industries closed their doors, redefining the meaning of ‘flexible working’ for many.
Across industries, including the property industry, small and large business owners continue to use lessons from our large-scale work-from-home experience to reimagine how work is done and what role offices will play in the future.
Will Davies, owner and founder of Car Next Door, has experienced this firsthand – reimagining his office space to align with the future ways of working.
“Car Next Door is a peer-to-peer car-sharing platform with teams in both Australia and the Philippines. We’ve had the technology to support some form of remote working in place for several years, but COVID-19 took this to a new level where every employee was remote”, Will said. “Our existing office space no longer met the needs of our business or our staff, and we had to think about an entirely new approach to the physical workplace”.
87% of global leaders agree they will offer more choice and control for employees when choosing where they want to work post-pandemic (a 38% increase from April to September 2020)1.
When thinking about the future office, business owners will need to consider the type of premises that will suit their teams. Some may choose to buy office space or build their own, others will rent or even explore co-working/shared office spaces.
Global software giant Atlassian has made a bold statement, commissioning a brand new Sydney headquarters in a planned NSW government-backed technology precinct surrounding Central Station. The company acknowledges COVID-19 has forced business owners to make tough choices and consider how they will operate within the new normal, serving the needs of both those working from home and from the office. It believes physical offices are here to stay2.
Gone are the days of office spaces with individual standalone workstations piled high with paper or adorned with family photos. The future office will be a place to brainstorm or plan work, where people collaborate, and the deep, focused work is carried out at home or in other quiet locations dedicated to doing so2.
To meet the needs of all types of work, the future office also needs to support collaboration, privacy and movement1. Employees want companies to create a substantially better work experience than what they had before the pandemic.
At Car Next Door, Will has introduced new policies better suited to flexible working. “When searching for our future office space, we decided meeting rooms weren’t important. Instead, we implemented a policy whereby if anyone in a meeting is connecting remotely, then all participants must be remote. It’s been very effective in creating fairness and removing the feeling of people missing out if they can’t be in the room.”
Will also explains how all staff at Car Next Door must get a ‘work from home’ licence. “Working from home involves a strong bond of trust between the employer and their staff. We ask all employees to demonstrate they have a suitable quiet space, with a good internet connection and ergonomic set up to ensure they can be productive and free from distractions”.
Research supports the importance of addressing factors that affect productivity and satisfaction levels. Physical discomfort can be a major distraction, so it’s vital people have a distraction-free place, where they can focus, regardless of whether they are working at home or in the office1.
It didn’t take long for the excitement of working from home to wear off and for people to experience feelings of isolation and distraction instead. Companies and individuals soon realised that the physical office space met a combination of personal, collaborative, social and learning needs, reinforcing the need for more areas where people can work together safely and less space allocated to individual workstations.
Business owners must now rethink the purpose of physical premises as the future office – shifting their attitude from it being simply a place to work to becoming the infrastructure for building social capital and fostering a sense of purpose and belonging1.
“We asked our staff how many days a week they wanted to work at home and in the office. No one said they wanted to do five days in the office, but no one expressed an interest in working entirely from home either,” Will adds. “We also asked them where they’d ideally like an office to be located and the overwhelming feedback was close to a major transport hub to reduce travel time.”
Because of this feedback, Car Next Door now has a new office space in Surry Hills. It’s significantly smaller than its previous space in Pyrmont, only accommodating a maximum of 16 staff on any day. But the staff are happier because their needs are better catered for. They can choose where and how they want to work each day based on the tasks they have to do.
Whatever type of office space companies decide on, implementing a good technology infrastructure will be critical.
Will believes COVID-19 has made companies and business owners far more aware of technology and suppliers have stepped up to provide greater efficiencies. Car Next Door uses a wide range of tools and technology to help maintain productivity whether staff are working in the office or from home.
“On a simple level, we have an electronic booking sheet for staff to choose which days they want to work in the office each week and so far, we’ve had no problems with too many people turning up to the office”.
“But we also rely on a range of tools for better business management. After trialling quite a few, we’ve settled on Slack as our collaboration hub, Asana for project management, G-suite for sharing and collaborating on documents, and Zoom for meetings. And we’ve had technology support from the bank with a business banking feature that allows me to delegate invoice payments to other users, relieving my admin burden”.
Car Next Door has also turned to technology to help maintain staff motivation and community. “There is a huge opportunity still in this space. The future office will have to work hard to promote social interaction and help build a sense of belonging. We use HeyTaco as our peer recognition platform. People ‘hand out tacos’ to others which they can cash in for rewards, shopping or donate to charity and so on. It’s basically a simple way to say thanks, and for someone to feel valued. We’ve had fantastic feedback so far”.
It wouldn’t be right to talk about the future office without also considering health and safety. The workplace has always emphasised employee safety, but this is no longer just about occupational health and safety standards. The future office space must also prioritise mitigating the spread of disease.
Property owners and developers will need to come together to ensure buildings can support the necessary requirements, particularly where it comes to things like air quality. There are a new set of standards, where a building’s carbon footprint, level of emissions and sources of natural ventilation are all paramount.
Employees are also concerned about factors like cleanliness, appropriate physical distancing and density, as well as their mental health1. The pandemic has heightened everyone’s awareness of how easily and rapidly airborne diseases can spread and made people think twice about their proximity to others in confined or shared spaces.
There’s no doubt the corporate office still has an important place in future work patterns. But companies must learn from their experiences during the pandemic to meet the new demands of the future office and create a workplace environment where employees feel safe and secure.
There isn’t one ideal solution for each company, but themes and patterns have emerged from which companies can learn and develop a future office space that meets the changing needs and demands of their employees.
This information does not take into account your personal circumstances and is general. It is an overview only and should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter or relied upon. Consider obtaining personalised advice from a professional financial adviser and your accountant before making any financial decisions in relation to the matters discussed in this article, including when considering tax and finance options for your business.
Conditions, credit criteria and fees and charges apply, credit provided by Westpac Banking Corporation ABN 33 007 457 141 AFSL and Australian credit licence 233714.