Should you return to the office or shut-up shop?

opening the office

In real life telephone conversations, almost every CEO and Director that I have spoken to has had something to say about the future of the office. In our recent Leadership Survey their views were: 

  • 60% believe that home-working would become a right
  • 73% thought that a head office would be retained 
  • but 65% said that the purpose of HQ would change

I’d hazard a guess that if you are middle-aged, coupled, have children or live in the country, you are probably not that keen on returning to the office. But, you are not your workforce. Whilst the office as we know it might not suit our new normal, can we afford to turn off the lights completely? 

Some of these leaders have polled their teams but are questioning whether they really know what they want yet. As some of these CEOs have recognised polling is fraught with danger (Cameron et al: Brexit Vote 2017) and can be significantly influenced by the ‘moment’. 

The consequence for businesses of a misstep when it comes to the return to the office is significant.

Being a CEO means having the ability to take a read the data and take a view on the future but before you make that call, perhaps you should consider the following.

7 things to consider before returning to or removing the office

You are not your team

Whilst commuting from a four bed in Hertfordshire might be a bind and take an hour, the majority of your team live very different lives. For your younger team members, living in a bed-sit or flat-share commuting is 100% worth doing, to get to where they want to be.

Office socialites 

Whilst many of us may have embraced elastic waistbands, some people do enjoy getting dressed and heading to the office. For junior staff, in particular, it can play an integral part of their social life, making lifelong friends and even romantic interests. The office is a place to inspire fashion and creativity. Introverts can get the buzz of being around others, whilst extroverts get much-needed interaction. The office can also provide a much-needed escape, a space to show your personality and leave behind the responsibilities of home.

Training and development 

When it comes to on the job training as an intern, junior or mid-manager, how will this happen if you are not together? You can do a lot can digitally, but does that compensate for face to face? 

How do you allow access for those middle managers trying to make their way? They need to be seen and heard to have an impact and practice the skills they will need as future leaders.

WFH warriors

What will you do with those that don’t want to come back to the office? Dismiss? Gross misconduct? What if they have a good reason? Can you shield forever…? Don’t be surprised when those that you thought would like to work from home ask to come back to the office and vice versa. Try not to make assumptions about your team. 

Chance encounters

Serendipitous meetings do not happen on the stairs to your bedroom, they happen on the way to the office kitchen. How can you encourage chance moments away from the office? 

Culture and community 

If you are going to close the office, consider how you are going to build community and common purpose. How will you keep your company culture alive without Friday pub trips? 

Making use of office space

If you are going to reduce the volume of office space how is it going to be used? It might not make sense to go back to banks of desks but then….what do we do instead?

If collaboration is key for the way your team works, such as creative departments, how will your spaces change? More auditorium, small working rooms, open collaboration areas? Will you need open spaces between functions for cross-functional discussion or more small places for intimate one-to-ones. If agility is important, how is this reflected in your office design? An open door….come on its 2020, not 1998!

We don’t think you can simply shut the office doors, nor can you go back to how things were. These considerations should help guide your decision making and build a better picture of what your employees need. 

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