Your office isn’t going away

ghattas-treva-col-sigThe businesses that survive and thrive are the ones that adapt. This has certainly been the case this year as companies were forced to respond to the threat of COVID-19. Some of the changes will be short-lived and others will have lasting impact.

Research has shown that organizations need a physical workplace in order to drive innovation, attract new talent and create a cohesive company culture. Working shoulder to shoulder builds trust and helps form the personal connections that teams need to succeed. (I’m currently reading “The Innovators,” by Walter Isaacson, and this is a central theme in the book). So how have companies adapted this year to convince people that it’s safe to come back to the office?

Many have adopted new, flexible working arrangements. Limiting office capacity, rolling workplace attendance, and establishing safety protocols, such as wearing masks in group settings, daily temperature checks, and visitor restrictions, have become commonplace. Some employers have installed higher screens to separate workers, eliminated workstations as well as extra seats in meeting spaces to ensure physical distancing.

Technology is also available to help maintain employee safety. Sensors, for example, can offer real-time data on how and how often spaces are being used so that proper cleaning takes place and appropriate modifications can be made. Some businesses are adding mobile set-ups, such as smart boards for video conferencing, to make workspaces more flexible than traditional, hardwired meeting rooms.

Essential connection

Rather than scaling back or eliminating the office altogether, businesses need to recognize that the workplace continues to represent a powerful tool that helps maintain their competitive edge.  While being face-to-face in the workspace on a daily basis may never become the norm again, the office remains essential in connecting workers to their company culture, advancing new company initiatives and collaboration, and ultimately, optimizing employee performance.

Recent studies by both the Prudential and the Society for Human Resource Management demonstrate conclusively that an exclusive work-from-home approach can lead to corporate culture decay. The bottom line is that employees feel more connected to their company’s culture when they are working together in an office that is specifically designed to reflect their employer’s vision, mission, and ideals.

Such a setting better enables employees to understand how they fit into the company as a whole, providing a sense of shared purpose and aligned objectives.

With that in mind, some businesses are transforming the workplace from a space where employees go in order to work into a destination which allows workers to choose where and how they can work best to be most productive.

Many companies are moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach by equipping offices with a variety of work settings, furniture applications, and technology solutions. Such options help employees to feel more connected not only to their space, but also to the work they are doing.

Offices are also critically important for encouraging spontaneous interaction. While communication certainly takes place during a Zoom call, it’s simply not the same as the interaction that occurs and the relationships that are forged through in-person meetings (even if they are socially distanced).

The office also encourages chance encounters with fellow staffers, particularly those from outside of our own department, which can be invaluable in providing different perspectives and ultimately sparking new ideas.

As humans, most of us crave this kind of social interaction, at least on a part-time basis. We can be creative anywhere, but innovative problem-solving is sparked by exploring different perspectives.

Coming together energizes and stimulates thinking. It enables us to rapidly exchange concepts and build on each other’s ideas, unhampered by the fits-and-starts of technology that never seems to be quite fast enough. Ultimately, all of this can result in greater opportunities for collaboration and innovation.

Right kind of office

With that in mind, businesses need to focus on creating the kind of office setting that enables employees to do their best work. While the pandemic has changed a great many things, business remains fiercely competitive.

By investing in the resources that motivate workers and maximize their productivity, companies will be in a significantly better position to maintain their edge in the fight for both customers and talent.

Going forward, the office may look different. Coming together there may happen more infrequently than in the past. But the office isn’t going away. Rather, it remains an essential component of any company’s competitive posture.

It is incumbent on that business, though, to transform the office into the kind of space that provides a sense of belonging and purpose which is critical to building a strong corporate culture and fueling continued growth and innovation.

Treva Ghattas is managing director of the Baltimore office of dancker, an interior solutions firm working with clients to create spaces that maximize the flow between people and ideas.