Future of workplace — reimagining the role of the office

A tiny strain of RNA forcing the world to shelter in place sounds like a plot for a blockbuster movie and not a real-world factor impacting business. But COVID-19’s impact, while Hollywood in description, is very real and has forced us all to rapidly adjust to new ways of working. The forced change of “going remote” has flipped a switch for many companies, accelerating their adoption of digital transformation initiatives, demanding a rethink of how they can deliver their products and services, and define new ways of working for all of their employees.

Highly collaborative and productive activities that were once thought only accomplishable when employees were together in a physical office have been effectively recreated virtually. In Gallup’s recent study on the State of the American Workplace, the productivity of remote employees was shown to have the potential to increase by 20-25% over onsite colleagues. And in a survey conducted in May 2020 on our own business, 75% of our employees reported they had little-to-no impact on productivity when transitioning to remote working. With supposed productivity boosts and physical boundaries redefined, we must ask ourselves: what will the role and complexion of the workplace look like as we recover from crisis and settle into a new normal?

Well, we know it won’t be the same as before. Instead, a brand’s workspace will live on a new spectrum, finding a home where the physical office takes on a more flexible role than ever. While still providing focused work spaces, “the office” will need to step into the shoes of innovation centers and collaboration hubs—enabling activities and moments of human interaction that are either too difficult to recreate virtually or work that isn’t well created in isolation. Take Microsoft’s APAC headquarters, for example. We helped the tech giant build a glass-walled Innovation Factory in the middle of the office, creating a home for group ideation and hackathons. We also developed an Experience Zone, where part of the office doubles as a consumer-facing space that allows select visitors to experience their solutions first-hand.

Every organization will need to find their unique place on the spectrum, determined by new workplace expectations, talent demands, and needs. And armed with this knowledge, companies will be able to optimize their spaces and enhance their office experiences like never before.

We see three themes that will be critical in shaping future brand workplace experience:

Quality will drive both pace and place

Brands will continue to be defined by quality, and our workplaces—remote or physical—will need to adapt to support the pace of our businesses, the lives of the people who work with us, and the products or services our customers buy. No one universal pace or place will exist, and it will need to modulate often. We’ll need to use our brand as a guide to rethink how we work, what we value, the behaviors we exhibit, and the policies that govern our people in order to provide the necessary adaptability to succeed.

Physical = High Impact

We’ll also need to redefine workplace as a metaphor that describes the way we interact to create the greatest impact. The majority of branded physical spaces will be used for “high impact” moments and remote spaces, for “focused, individual” moments. In the context of our business, we measure the quality of idea and execution through the lens of our purpose. Extraordinary ideas and moments of creative brilliance can happen anytime and anywhere. Tying a young generation to a desk in an office space is non-sensical. However, the processes of unsticking, designing, prototyping, critiquing, and the like take on a different flare when conducted together. The future workplace must be designed around high impact activities that align with your brand, drive quality, and accelerate your business.

Humanity and connection

While forcing distance, COVID has in many ways brought us closer together. It’s removed the physicality of a corner office or what it means to work on different floors or in different locations; it has flattened organizational structures overnight, removed titles, and opened a window into everyone’s personal world (kids, pets, living rooms, etc.). And it has allowed businesses to finally hire the best and most diverse talent, not just the best and most diverse talent within commuting distance of an office. Our people are the fuel for our business and brands, and our future workplace must be designed to empathetically connect our people in ways that enable them to produce the highest quality work.

No matter the industry you are in, COVID has had an unprecedented impact on how you work. As you look to shift from reaction to recovery, finding your place on the brand workplace experience spectrum will define your ability to compete and succeed in the post-COVID world. Your brand and business will depend on its ability to combine pace, place, impact, and connection to create the highest quality output—and your brand’s workplace experience is a key component in this equation.