As we steadily approach the one-year anniversary of the day we went into a worldwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our way of life has undergone significant changes – both personal and professional. From the outset, the fortunate amongst us entered what is perhaps the greatest social experiment of ‘remote working’. A huge adjustment, considering most of us spend typically 70% of our week at the office.

Our living space became our office space, blurring the line between home and work life. Initially, the adjustment brought uncertainty… client meetings, team meetings, the daily running of the business: how could this all be done from our homes? How would employers and employees adapt to overcome operational challenges? How would businesses stay connected in a socially distant world? Luckily, everyone was in the same boat. 2020 proved that through ‘remote working’ and a little flexibility, the world would keep turning. Organisations have suffered but they have survived and – in some instances – even thrived.

 

Fundamentally we know we can make it work. The present state is not something we want as ‘the norm’, but what are the lessons learnt from the new approaches that businesses have adapted? In the BC era (Before-COVID) we began focussing on the importance of employee experience. Higher recognition of the experience economy within an employer’s environment, if done right, proved to significantly contribute to a business’ success, productivity and talent retention. The shifts encountered over the last 12 months have accelerated the importance of employee experience up the priority list of all businesses, and the positive takeaways from how we have addressed our work life balance should not be forgotten.

 

Businesses can now operate from a multitude of environments including the home. The office is no longer your place of work, it has a more important function. It is the cultural hub for driving the purpose of your business. It is a place where you have a platform to connect with those you work with daily and, upon discovering a new-found respect of the power of personal connections, the office has a duty to connect with its employees like no other environment can. Office environments should be the soul of a company, where everyone is given the opportunity to share goals, visions, ambitions and purpose.

O12 are true believers in culture – that it sits at the core of all organisations, and that it is elevated throughout all aspects of the business. Offices can now support the life priorities as well as the professional ambitions of an individual. A balance of office-based and remote working should be perceived as mutually beneficial. Businesses can free up desk space, promoting flexible working environments that rotate staff via ‘hot-desking’ practices. Practices that will allow the office to accommodate more employees than was originally designed for, subsequently optimising floor space and cost. Those spaces liberated from desks can be re-imagined as creative, collaborative stations and social activation areas that heighten employee engagement. Effective use of technology will be layered into the office, continuing to promote inventive means of connecting with all employees, regardless of their location. A focus on biophilic design also promises to explore creative ways of connecting to nature within architectural environments, sustaining our passion for the outdoors and the sense of wellbeing this offers to the employee.

We have all been asked to make changes by recent events, but we are now able to ask something of these changes, that they return a positive approach to the way we work and that we exercise change for the better. This is a prime opportunity for businesses and brands to re-establish the working environment, future proof and provide a space that contributes to success. Bringing culture to life through the design of workspaces and the experience of the employee promotes a sense of belonging and heightens employee engagement. The positive effects on productivity and financial performance, together with client and talent retention, are all well documented. We are now making our plans to return to work soon, and we hope to support the innovators in creating workplaces that celebrate change and culture.

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