Collaboration and socialisation to be at the heart of post-pandemic office life
The office is expected to become much more about collaboration and socialisation when people return in greater numbers and no longer the default setting of where work happens.
At TheBusinessDesk.com virtual roundtable on The Future of the Office, in partnership with Warrington business park Birchwood Park, brought together property professionals and business owners and managers to discuss how they see working life changing in the wake of the pandemic.
John Adlen, growth director at Cheshire and Warrington LEP, said: “I hope that out of this we have a reevaluation of what work means, and we get a better work-life balance and increase productivity.
“If you look at the UK, it’s got a real productivity challenge. We work some of the longest hours in Europe, if not the longest hours and we’re one of the least productive economies.
“If we use the office as a place for collaboration and a place for community, rather than just expecting to be in the office eight hours a day, five days a week, we can get a lot more productive and that will be a boost to the economy.”
Martin O’Rourke, commercial director at Birchwood Park, described the office as “a power station of ideas” and agreed that it is the best place for collaboration.
He said: “The challenge that I see going forward is the flexibility in itself.
“People are going to be expecting to come in the office Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. But are we going to have that be able to accommodate more, and people might be disappointed it might be you have to book in as a hotel. And if you can’t get into your room or your desk or your workstation, then does that mean you have to go in on a Monday?
“There’s a discussion coming soon about how we meet those challenges in terms of commuting. We’re used to a nine-to-five, train at six or seven o’clock in the morning, and vice versa in the evening. But as those patterns change, is society going to change and follow that as well?”
Futurizon futurologist Dr Ian Pearson believes offices will become focused on two areas.
He said: “You need two areas in the future offices – collaborative areas, where you can work constructively with other people and make the most of being right next to them and having all that body language and interaction to do things together, but also the social side as well.
“Socialisation areas in the offices are very important because that’s ultimately why an awful lot of people will be going to the office. All the other admin stuff and the information work they can do from home. But they go to the office to meet people, to influence people, to mentor people.”
The ability to mentor and develop members of the team is something that Professional Liverpool chair Philip Rooney worries has suffered over the last year.
He said: “From a professional services point of view, it is important to get back to being able to see the next generation face to face and helping them and training them. As a trainee or someone who’s newly qualified, you absorb so much from what your colleagues are doing.
“You can’t do that when you’re at a distance, no matter how much you do the one-to-ones, it’s not the same as sitting opposite somebody in a desk, and just listening to how they behave, what they do. And vice versa for the person who’s mentoring them, to hear what they’re doing, and to just pick up where they may be under a bit of stress.”
But as well as looking out for problems, office life can also be celebratory, as colleagues mark milestones with each other – another aspect of working life that has been minimised during lockdown restrictions and the shift to working from home.
“We’ve always had a brilliant team spirit in our business,” said Angela Maher, founding director at Acumen Financial Partnership. “Last year, we had a 21st, a 40th, two 60ths, a wedding. Ordinarily, we would go out as a team, we would get away from work and celebrate with all those people who had something good going on in their life.
“It’s that aspect of just being able to get together as people, as friends outside of the office. That’s something I’ve really missed this year.”
Explore the office of the future via Birchwood Park’s virtual walkthrough, designed by office interior experts: