|There are many benefits to working in a shared office away from home.
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By Grant Powell
MAY 17, 2020
After being in the co-working office space sector for close to 10 years, I’ve seen it change immensely during that time. It started with a few early adopters and is now much more mainstream as a new way of working.
As the first glances of a post-pandemic world creep into view, one of the biggest questions remains around how we will all be working in the future. The pandemic forced many to work from home, who were confronted with a whole wave of both challenges and benefits. Undoubtedly, the world of work has been permanently changed, with flexible work arrangements now much more feasible.
While big tech firms such as Facebook and Twitter have promised to promote a flexible working environment, they continue to build and invest in office spaces around the world.
In a recent email to all Google staff, CEO Sundar Pichai wrote “In-office collaboration will be just as important to Google’s future as it’s been to our past.” It seems clear, as I covered in a previous article, that the office is far from dead. But why is that?
During my time as CEO of Central Working, one of the very first businesses onto the workspace scene in the UK, and now CEO at The Arterial Group, I have witnessed firsthand the benefits of flexible work. While remote working offers huge amounts of flexibility and has had productivity benefits for some, innovation and in-person collaboration work hand in hand. Here we will take a look at some insights from the co-working world and why the future of the office work, albeit significantly altered, will return once more.
The Human Touch
If we can take anything away from a year of being separated from each other, it’s that people want and need human connection. It’s something that we all took for granted before lockdown life, but I’m sure we will see many people heading back to the office later this year as a welcome relief and change of scenery to their home environment.
While technology has progressed immensely in the past decade, meaning that video conference calls are within everyone’s reach, we have all learned they are significantly limited. While crucial in keeping the world connected, this software drains the life out of any social interaction. Experts agree that it is much harder to process non-verbal cues over video, and the added pressure of awkward delays consumes a lot of our emotional energy.
When we’re back in the office, natural conversation will be able to flow once more. We’ll be able to openly discuss issues to find the best solutions, make friendly introductions to new faces and discuss what we got up to at the weekend. These watercooler moments that we all took for granted are a cornerstone of an effective and coherent team.
Human connection breeds innovation and it’s this innovation that drives our economy forward.
Innovation and Collaboration
Anyone who has tried to conduct a brainstorm over a video conferencing platform will know it’s far more difficult to have spontaneous and free flowing conversation. The chief executive of Next even coined the term “death by deck” in reference to video calls that “transform meetings from productive exchanges of ideas into boring, one-way lectures.”
While some find it easier to be creative in isolation, it is hard to be a true innovator in such an isolated environment. From this, there is a serious concern that many potentially great ideas are being missed during our time away from the office.
Another aspect we are missing from office life is the ability to learn from how others work, picking up the best workplace practices and culture of the business. Watching and learning how a colleague or a manager conducts an interview or approaches a project can be vital elements in an individual’s career and personal growth.
In co-working spaces, this connection and innovation is heightened as you bump into individuals working in totally different areas. Even though you might not frequently interact with this satellite group of people, a vast array of social science suggests that the value of these weak ties is key in widening perspectives, pushing the boundaries and developing innovative ideas. Serendipity can be engineered and workspaces are the perfect place to see these moments flourish.
I see this all the time at 25 EP, a recently re-designed 30,000 sq. ft of co-working space in the heart of London. The office design plays an integral role in facilitating these moments, as “watercooler conversations” have migrated to shared lounges, allowing for natural, unhurried conversations.
Mixing with someone outside of your usual group means you can become aware of subjects you previously had little to no insight on. You don’t know what you don’t know till you know it, and without a little outside help, filling these knowledge gaps can be immensely difficult.
The new world of flexible working
Undoubtedly, flexible working is here to stay. Workers have learned to fit work around their lives, rather than the other way round, and employers must keep in mind this new found perspective when they start to define their working guidelines.
PWC recently announced their flexible working strategy, which will allow all their staff to do their job from home for two or three days a week. The £75 million investment in this new strategy not only goes towards equipping their staff with the latest tech to help them work from home but also re-designing their office spaces across 15 cities, including London, Manchester, Bristol, Edinburgh and Cardiff to include more meeting spaces.
Technology has been the saving grace of the pandemic for usual office workers. Everyone had to become experts at Slack, Zoom, Teams and/or Google Meets overnight and without such tools, the modern workplace would have struggled even more. As technology continues to innovate and restrictions lift, an employee’s working locations won’t mean just at home or the office. Access to the high speed internet and the cloud opens up powerful server based working, allowing individuals to work from anywhere they choose, be that the boardroom, the bedroom or the beach.
I have a favorite saying that drives me forward: ‘’If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got’’. This saying is true for the future of work; we can’t apply the same rules that we once knew to now, one of the most disrupting moments undoubtedly of our generation.
With flexible working soon to solidify itself as the future of work, companies will find they need more than just a headquarters. They need a place for their employees to call a creative home, where they can have effective meetings, come together to collaborate and most importantly rekindle that shared culture.