Guest blog: The inevitable return to the workplace

Hybrid working, Wellbeing, Workplace strategy

Article by Tobi Crosbie, CEO & Founder, Making Moves

As a real estate professional with over 17 years in the industry, I’ve learned that a business’s most important asset is its people.

We’ve all heard the famous quote, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, so how do businesses, especially start-ups and young businesses who have been going through years of rapid growth, continue to build, or in some cases, rebuild their company culture which has diminished throughout the Covid-19 pandemic?

Diminishing company culture

We’ve all read about the perks of the past when joining a start-up. Businesses would give their workforce everything - flexible working, high-end equipment, free food throughout the day and even slides in the office. Now that the workforce is saying they do not want to return to the workplace – what happens next?

Having worked in the Old Street office district for 10 years, people assume my world would be all about assets but the main drivers behind our business are the people and the culture. Over the past few months, we’ve had lots of clients approach us and say, “what are you doing about company culture - we have run out of ideas?”

Businesses are looking for ways to keep their team together – the Office of the Future report by Peldon Rose showed that 84% of business leaders say a physical workplace contributes to instilling vision and purpose to its employees. Right now, there’s no central office culture. It’s been fascinating to see from Making Moves’ social media accounts, the content that has gained most traction has been around business culture - moving away from talking about rents and business, it’s clear we’re all looking towards one another for inspiration.

Take for example, a leading tech client based in Shoreditch that we’re working with. They are a young business trying to find a common ground between their leadership and a 100 + workforce, and are searching for ways to reignite their workplace culture, whilst addressing their real estate needs for the coming years.

We’re predicting businesses of this size will be looking to reduce their floorspace by 25-50%, where working from home becomes a part of an agile working programme – the reality is we’ve been pitching this concept to clients for almost ten years, 2020 has just seen an acceleration of this method and the opportunities will address the future challenges of businesses.

Productivity vs performance

The biggest challenge I see, aside from the current market conditions, is whether the future of business will be impacted for those that continue with a full-time work from home strategy. This comes down to the productivity vs performance debate.

In the first national lockdown, productivity increased from people trying to demonstrate their worth - because people were scared, there were mass redundancies being made which in turn led to employees working longer hours to demonstrate their value to a business.

However, trends are showing the longer people have worked from home, productivity has now dipped because of lack of motivation – in the report 48% or business leaders admitted employee motivation has proved to be the greatest challenge, and 33% have said that productivity has been adversely impacted within their workforce. We’re also seeing the impact of people newly recruited into businesses and going through virtual inductions, are missing those open workplace environments to learn on-the-job, in turn having a fundamental impact on performance.

The key takeaway: productivity doesn’t always link to business performance - and once we have done a full year of working from home, I believe we will see a downward trend in business productivity.

The inevitable return to the workplace

What are the next steps to return to the office? Because a return will happen, and businesses need to ensure that their environment suits the activities needed to be carried out, are technologically advanced to create one workplace between the home and the office, and provide a space that creates collaboration, buzz, and those all-important social interactions, because after a second national lockdown - that’s what people are craving.

The reality is, the expectations of the workplace are now higher than ever before - the office needs to provide autonomy, social interactions, and collaboration space - the workforce aren’t willing to sacrifice their comfortable home life to go back to a mundane work setting.

The need for a workplace

So, what does this mean for the future? A business needs 2,000 sq ft of office space to cater for 20 employees - can the current office accommodate the workforce? And of course, what happens when the workforce starts to phase their return. We're working with lots of clients who are venture capitalist backed, tech clients that are facing these challenges.

My prediction is we’ll see ‘workplace FOMO’. Those who are keen to get back to the office will, and culture and collaboration will naturally start to rebuild, and people will begin to progress, this will naturally draw others back into the workplace – not necessarily full time. I do believe we’ll have a balance of office and home-based as a part of activity-based working.

Businesses need to ensure their space is set up to cater for a flexible number of employees, we’ve seen this demonstrated by our client MATCHESFASHION when they relocated to Here East – the culture was the driver to move the workforce to their new location.

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