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Working the Future blog: our latest insights and future of work sensemaking

MAKING THE CASE FOR SPACE

2021-08-05 14:00

Cathryn Barnard

Blog, HYBRID WORK, BUSINESS RESILIENCE, FUTURE OF THE OFFICE, HYBRID WORKING, FUTURE OF WORK CONSULTING, WORKFORCE TRANSFORMATION,

MAKING THE CASE FOR SPACE

As businesses start bringing their people back to the office, the case for space is clear. With the pandemic still, regrettably, in full swing...

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As businesses start bringing their people back to the office, the case for space is clear.

 

With the pandemic still, regrettably, in full swing, scientists studying the virus advocate for both good ventilation and continued social distancing as key mitigation measures in enclosed spaces. Employers will need to do all they can to protect staff.

 

Leaving that to the experts, I’d like to make a different case for space.

 

In the past six weeks, we’ve heard from a range of business leaders who’re struggling with staff who’ve vowed never to return to the office – they say they’re more than happy to work from home forever.

 

Personally, I’m not convinced that ‘all-remote’ working is effective, unless the organisation has an exceptional culture, high engagement, and work-class internal communication. Most all-remote organisations openly acknowledge the requirement for regular get-togethers, to nurture team cohesion, relationship, and community building and to ensure strategic alignment.

 

A strong sense of community is foundational for any thriving organisation.

 

As a social species, human beings aren’t designed to live in isolation from one another. While digital communication technology has accelerated speed and quantity of interaction, it’s eroded the quality of exchanges we have with one another.

 

There’s something about sitting in the company of another and sharing a good quality conversation, that can’t be understated. We need relationship and rapport to build trust. Research shows a global erosion of trust, particularly in the last five years. Various think tanks are considering the impact of the erosion of trust on democracy.

 

I’d argue that digital communication has a key part to play in this. Beyond all the recent findings that bad actors purposely manipulate social media to create dissent and undermine the democratic process, at a granular level, it’s harder to trust an entity or a person that we don’t have a personal and proximal relationship with.

 

Resilient and future-proof organisations will prioritise community building, both internally with their teams, and externally, with their customers. Face-to-face, in-person gatherings are integral to this.

 

Earlier this year, we listed the myriad ways in which a physical space to meet adds value to, and strengthens, the resilience of an organisation. While the full list is available in our hybrid work report, we believe having a place to meet helps to:

 

·       Build and maintain organisational culture

·       Provide social anchoring, connection and belonging between people and teams

·       Build social capital

·       Enable creativity and innovation

·       Strengthen problem-solving and critical-thinking capability

·       Facilitate knowledge exchange

 

Commercial landscapes are becoming more complex and turbulent by the week. The pro-social human skills of communication, collaboration and information sharing are key to navigating these uncharted territories. Organisations won’t survive otherwise.

 

When reconfiguring workplaces to accommodate social distancing, let’s not overlook other key criteria.

 

Future workplaces should be proactively designed, led, and managed for community building and relationship. If future success outcomes are contingent on organisational agility, it stands that businesses will be increasingly fluid and shapeshifting, for optimal market-responsiveness.

 

Future workforces will be increasingly on-demand, flexible and transient. Organisations will be increasingly borderless and distributed. As far back as 2013, Colombia Business School Professor Rita Gunther McGrath wrote[i]:

 

‘In a world of transient advantage, the only employees a company will keep are those its leaders believe to be indispensable to its future’.

 

A 2021 report published by MIT in partnership with Deloitte revealed two startling points. The first is that a staggering 87% of organisations now depend on the ‘alternative workforce’ to some extent.

 

The second, which is altogether more worrying in our view, is that most organisations lack effective engagement strategies for off-payroll workers.

 

The pandemic has presented an extraordinary opportunity to redesign work for the better. While we’re reconfiguring desk layouts, let’s in parallel think more deeply about why we meet, what it affords us, and how, by refocusing our efforts on community and relationship building at work, we might solve the productivity puzzle for once and for all.

 

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Access our #hybridwork resources here. Alternatively, get in touch today if you’d like to see how we could help strengthen your organisational resilience.

 

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Looking to dive deeper into some of the other areas covered in this blog post? Check out our Navigating Talent RiskRecruitment and Retention and Foresight Focus reports and products.

 

[i] Gunther-McGrath, R. (2013). The End of Competitive Advantage: How to Keep Your Strategy Moving as Fast as Your Business. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press

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