What do the events of 2020 mean for the future of the workplace?

Jitesh Patel, CEO Change management, Workplace strategy

At the start of this year, nobody could have predicted the seismic changes that would take place in almost every aspect of daily life. For many, the biggest change has been the transition from working in an office to working from home either full or part-time. Now, the legacy and learnings of the past year will shape our future ways of working. So, what does this mean for the workplace of tomorrow?

As 2020 draws to a close, we were invited to join a panel hosted by EP Business in Hospitality to share our perspective on what 2021 may hold for the workplace. Head of Workplace Strategy Leeson Medhurst, shared latest industry insights, as well as his thoughts on what society has learned from a turbulent year, and how this will impact the way we work. Leeson was joined by Cemal Ezel of Change Please, a social enterprise fighting to end homelessness and build a better world, and Anthony Groombridge of Liquidline, creators of touchless coffee machines.

Of those who joined the discussion:

• 78% believed that Q2 of 2021 will mark the return to the workplace
• 97% believed that offices will change
• 91% think that sustainability and innovation will be of upmost importance

The importance of choice

Leeson: A series of local and national lockdowns throughout the year forced a mass exodus from cities to a home-working lifestyle and many have not stepped foot in an office since March. While our “Office of the Future” report showed that 25% of respondents feel their wellbeing has been negatively impacted by WFH, there are many who have performed well and have even enjoyed being able to work from home entirely. The key learning from this is that the office of tomorrow needs to offer our workforce the same level of choice that they’ve experienced while working from home. Blended working will become the new norm and the office landscape will be dictated around the experience we can offer our employees when they enter the workplace. Now that some people don’t believe they need to be in an office, they have to be convinced that they want to be there.

Cemal: No longer is it just important to make your clients or customers happy, it’s about making your employees happy too. The future of the workplace will be a place where the values of the space match the values of employees, giving them a good quality experience.

Anthony: The office of the future will be a place that invests in the people who work there. For example, the coffee industry has evolved year on year, and people are more aware than ever of what they’re drinking. The same will apply to every aspect of the workplace.

A catalyst for change

Cemal: I believe that the events of 2020 have instigated a decade of action. This action has now been accelerated by coronavirus and the effects it has had on the way we live. Throughout the year we have already seen action take place. We clapped for the NHS workers, we rallied in support for Captain Sir Tom Moore, and we’ve seen people start to invest more and more in social enterprises. Millennials and Gen Z workers especially want to be employed by places that will make a positive change to the world. Creating workplaces that consider issues like volume of carbon emissions will become more and more important.

Leeson: The pandemic has also accelerated the conversation around wellbeing. For example, we’ve seen the effects that lockdown has had on loneliness and we’ve seen many younger workers in flat shares struggle to work effectively from a bedroom or sofa. Now, because we’ve started to openly discuss these issues, it’s becoming less of a taboo topic. Wellbeing is about your set-up at home, your financial situation and your mental health, and the workplace of the future will have to be designed to support the wellbeing of your organisation in every sense.

A workplace that will invest in the next generation of leaders

Leeson: While there are many positive elements to working from home, it’s impossible to share knowledge remotely in the same way that you can in the workplace. I predict that the office will become a learning facility, even a sort of faculty where you’ll nurture your pool of talent and cultivate the next generation of leaders. So many of our learnings occur through ad hoc meetings, by overhearing telephone conversations or observing interactions between colleagues and it’s important that we continue to invest a space to develop of our people.

Cemal: It’s the companies that adapt to create a workplace that satisfies the needs of their employees that will attract and retain the best talent in the industry.

Understanding the value of culture

Leeson: Culture is a topic that we’ve talked about for years. The office acts as an enabler to build and nurture a cultural ecosystem that can play a part in achieving business goals. There’s a resounding belief that the right office design encourages the right behaviours and attitudes amongst the workforce. Understanding that culture eats strategy for breakfast will shape the future design of our workplaces, which should be a place that fosters a shared sense of beliefs for every organisation.

Cemal: The offices of tomorrow will offer a service that is embedded with culture. It’s about creating a community within the workplace which we’ve seen organisations start to do by working with social enterprises, which speeds up an engendering of culture.

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