Let’s Get Real Episode 18: Hybrid Working and Finding Balance in the Workplace

Discussions on the Workplace and Corporate Real Estate Podcast

Written by Sandra Panara, Director of Workspace Insights

Some of the highlights of the show include:

  • Space planning has slipped out of the realm of human capabilities—we need to turn to technologies to successfully occupy our workplaces.
  • Old data collection methodologies are just that—old. We need dynamic, day-to-day, real-time data in our new working world.
  • With only a partial return to office, is there going to be enough raw data to provide actionable insights?
  • Do we even accurately remember what being in the office was like? We were as productive as we remember ourselves being, and how do we re-appraise that now?
  • The arguments for a return to office are lacking an evidence base—we need a period of objective data gathering to deal with this disagreement in our sector.
  • At what point will an organization reach “critical mass”, at which they’ll no longer need to intervene in the return-to-work process? What does a workspace need to be like to attract employees naturally, without compulsion?
  • What is the value that people derive from being in the same physical space, and importantly, who decides on that value? The individual, or the organization?
  • We need to focus more on inter-team interaction, including mentorship and learning, co-operation, and strengthening existing relationships. Can an enterprise social media be the solution to this?
  • Before the pandemic, we continually added amenities and services to our workspaces to make them attractive. Post-pandemic, the way forward involves integrating with local, urban services instead.
  • We may need to re-think our ideas of when and where we’re most productive—maybe we should switch to In Office notifications?
  • Balance is ultimately the key—between hybrid and office working, working alone and working with others—to thriving in the workplace and as an organization.

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Transcript

Sandra

Hey everyone, welcome to Let’s Get Real with Sandra and Friends, a workplace consortium podcast brought to you by Relogix. I’m excited to be sharing conversational musings about current events and how we envision the ever-changing world of work. I’m Sandra Panara, Director of Workplace Insights at Relogix. With 25 years of hands-on experience, I help value engineer global workplace portfolios and employee experiences by aligning workplace analytics with corporate real estate needs.

Have any questions, comments, or suggestions for future podcasts? Please drop me a line at [email protected].

Sandra

This week I’d like to welcome Neil Usher to our podcast. Neil, welcome! Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Neil

Thanks for the invitation! I’m delighted to be here. I’m Neil Usher, I’m the Chief Workplace and Change Strategist at GoSpace AI, which is a unique AI-driven dynamic reservation system, you’ll be hearing and seeing a lot more of it in the coming months. I’ve been in what can be described as corporate real estate for around 30 years. In fact, almost exactly 30 years, mainly looking after large corporate and occupier portfolios in various parts of the world.

Sandra

Excellent. So, you and I have interacted on LinkedIn a couple of times but never actually had the pleasure of meeting in person. But you seem to be very drawn to technology in the workplace. What do you think the role of technology will be in the workplace in the coming months and the coming years?

Neil

My last qualification was a Masters in IT but that was in 1991, so I think I worked out that it probably took me about 27 years to get a job in tech. It’s probably not a surprise that I’m quite enthusiastic about it now. I think what’s been really interesting the last two years in the pandemic period is that matching supply and demand, which is a task that most corporate real estate or particularly workplace teams have to master, has slipped out of the reach of human capability. We’re now very much in the complications of time and variable attendance and hybrid working, very much in a period where we need technology to help us, to match that supply and demand. We need technology to understand what’s going on but to make sure that our colleagues are able to access the space they need with the people they need to work with, when they need it. Then that can continue into the future, and we can look at our space requirements based on all of the data and the insight we gather from that. So, we’re in a period now—and are likely to stay in this period—where space planners beavering away in the back room creating allocation scenarios are just not going to keep pace anymore. It needs to draw on dynamic technology in order to successfully occupy our workspaces.

Sandra

So, we know that a lot of companies right now are kind of stuck, because obviously you can’t rely on old data, with people being out of the office for the last 2 years and a bit. Prior to the pandemic, a lot of companies were using existing data like security badging data, other data sources that they might have had access to, and then we had this dry period for 2 years where there really hasn’t been too much activity in the office. Added to that, there’s discussion around what the return to office is potentially going to look like. How do you envision hybrid playing itself out in the workplace?

Neil

It is interesting, that the data collection methodologies we used to use (utilization studies, satisfaction surveys, interviews put into reports and strategy recommendations) aren’t really suitable for the hybrid world we’re in. We need a much more dynamic day-to-day real time flow of data in order to draw some insight and understanding. So, we’ve probably got a bit of a crisis on our hands in terms of what sort of data and therefore what sort of evidence we’re gathering in the field of workplace strategy going forward. And I think we still have to work that out.

The difficulty for us is, how much are we going to learn when people are only going back to the workplace at variable times and certainly not at the scale we’re used to seeing? Someone I was working with recently said the only way to do this is to get everybody back for 3 months, 5 days a week full time. He said this because when we were in the workplace full time, we weren’t gathering that evidence because we didn’t think we needed it, because that was the normal way of things. We’ve actually been gathering a lot of evidence over the last couple of years on the power and the benefit related to productivity of working from home, or not working in an office. So it’s all out of balance in that sense.

As we move ahead, how do we re-appraise what being in the office was actually like? It’s difficult for us because we’re reliant on this memory, and we’ve had quite a seismic event that sat between our experience of a couple years ago and today. Consequently, we’ve got to find a way of building that evidence and that experience in order to be able to make a more informed judgement going forward. It’s quite possible that we might have to have targeted periods of being back into an office, even if that means we reject it, but to be able to do it on a more objective basis, to be able to actually reappraise what was good, what wasn’t good, what worked, what didn’t. Because actually, all of the campaigners for more of a wholesale return to the office are still reliant on anecdotal evidence and emotional responses, but there isn’t an evidence base to support that. That’s why we get into these difficult arguments. We need a period of objective data gathering and evidence to deal with this disagreement in our sector and industry generally to be able to move forward from here.

Sandra

That’s interesting. I, too, came from a workplace strategy background, I’ve been doing it for 25 or so years. I did all the number crunching and helping companies transition to a flexible way of working from way back in the 90s. Early 2000s was probably when I felt it started to pick up a little bit more momentum.

But it’s funny, observing what has transpired in the last 2 years, the way employees are reacting to return-to-office mandates for more of that structured plan where it’s a set number of days per week. I often wonder if the whole data collection process, and the need we had for it to drive design, is a thing of the past. It often feels to me like it’s too late, because the data we’ll collect from here on in will be very small scale, in terms of the number of people who are coming in to the office. You’re not going to get that critical mass like you would have prior to the pandemic, to give you the big picture from a design perspective. That’s how it feels to me.

Do you see that as well, or do you think that it will be just a matter of time before we get back to some level of normalcy, where we’ll need to invest in technology to help companies understand how people work? Because that feels very 2020 to me, or 2019.

Neil

I think it’s varying wildly across the globe. We think that everybody’s hybrid working and everything has changed. But if we look at certain industries and sectors and parts of the world, there has been very much a return to the way of working that preceded COVID. We’ve got to be careful sometimes to look through the lens of our own industries or our own locations to broad geographical regions. There is a huge global disparity in the way that we’re approaching the office and approaching being in an office. It could well be that the useful thing to do would be to go and learn from some of these locations where a different route is being taken. We need to cast down a little bit wider than as far as we can see, and make sure that we’re taking much more of a global perspective in all this.

I think the sources of evidence and data are out there, but echoing what I said earlier, I do think with only a partial return to office, I’m not sure we’re actually learning much until as you suggest, that critical mass starts to build and people see the benefit of being in that space and will return without instruction. We have to remember as well that hybrid is a very broad umbrella for a number of different strategies, and it ranges from complete freedom of choice to come and go as you please right through to the worst aspects of it, which is this enforced quota. You’re going to come in on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. That could still be regarded as hybrid if you are still effectively working in two places. I think understanding that whole range of hybrid is incredibly important. There’s a need for a whole reappraisal of the sort of data we’re gathering, how we’re gathering it, and the conclusions that we’re drawing from and formulating some kind of strategy.

Sandra

Interesting. What do you think about the use of what I recently started to call “micro-data”? One of the things that we see, for example, in using sensors is you don’t really need the critical mass per se to start to see new trends emerge. You can start to see behaviours from a relatively small number of people. So, of the people that are coming back to the office, you can quickly start to see what spaces they’re gravitating towards. And obviously that’s going to be impacted by policies—so for example, if you’re only allowed to be in a meeting room at 50% capacity, or certain spaces might be off limits or whatever the case may be, then obviously traffic is going to be directed based on those policies. But do you think that there’s value in using things like sensors and that kind of tech to help companies to at least start to trend the data in the return-to-office process?

Neil

I think the use of technology broadly is going to be important in that sense, whether it’s specifically sensors or other means of collecting data. You mentioned gate data, which is something that I think our sector has ignored for quite a long time. There’s a ready source of data without any investment, from the access control turnstiles, that tells us how many people are in that space. This actually became quite important during COVID, because it was very important to set limits to that and to realize when a limit was approaching or being exceeded.

As I said earlier, I think we’re getting beyond the ability of human beings to calibrate what’s needed in respect of the dynamism we’re seeing now and the way that space is being occupied. That includes the observation, that includes its actual day to day use as well. Because this working environment now is in general terms far more dynamic than it used to be. And that’s the sort of thing that I don’t think anybody sees declining in any way. In fact, I think we’re starting to really believe that that dynamism is only going to be increased.

And that has to do with time. Time is what really complicates this. It’s very easy to plan the right people to the right space. That’s what space planning used to be about. It was about filling seats and making sure that even if it was neighborhoods or agile workplaces and fairly loose associations of people to space, now that we’ve introduced the variability of time in the whole equation, it becomes beyond the means of human beings to calculate that.

Sandra

I completely agree with that. It’s interesting, I’ve been thinking about the role of space planning and design in the traditional sense—what exactly those functions did. And thinking about how it seems there’s been a transition right now that’s happening, leaning more towards workplace experience. But it still very much feels like the experience is limited to a white box. It’s still about the office. What are your thoughts about how the workplace might evolve because of those dynamics, because of that flexibility, and all of the different ways in which people will work, and how that will extend beyond the traditional office?

Neil

I think we have to be careful in this debate about thinking and assuming that people being together will naturally be in the office. First and foremost, what we’re looking to understand is the value that people derive from being physically together in the same space. Then, the challenge for those of us in the business of creating and providing offices, is to make sure that that becomes the place of choice. That that becomes the place with the right amenities, services, and is in the right location and gives us the ability to be together and to achieve what we need to. So first and foremost, the argument is about the value of people being together. That’s where we don’t have much more than an emotive response to that, and our data and our evidence is rather based on this innate feeling as social beings that we ought to spend some (and there’s a big question mark over how much of that constitutes some) of our time physically in the same space together. Whether that’s people from our own team, people from other teams, from the same organization, or people outside of the organization.

Then the office really has to stack up against all the other options. Is it easier or better or more enjoyable to meet in a café or a pub or a hotel lobby, or is the office actually outstripping all of those other options, because of the features, amenities, and services it offers? And actually, I think going forward, it’s meshing what the office can provide with what that whole urban infrastructure can provide too.

A trend in the last 20 years leading up to the pandemic was to continually add more amenities and more services. Our instinctive response to creating a better workplace experience was just to continually add more stuff. It’s always been an accumulation. It’s much harder to take features away from anything we create than it is to add new ones, so we just keep adding new ones.

You could argue that with utilization levels only just nudging above 50% for the decade before the pandemic, that actually, there was no marginal gain from continually adding more stuff. You could argue it was actually counterproductive—it was an environmental risk, it was a drain on the organization’s resources, and to a degree for people occupying this space, it was just confusing. Features kept arriving. How do we make sense of all of this? With most of what we have available to us (think about work tools like your standard office suite of software on your computer), we use a tiny fraction of their capability.

I think one of the really interesting things here is looking at some of our workplaces and working out, what percentage of this whole facility do people actually use? And has this whole process of thinking that a better employee experience means adding more and more, has it actually delivered no marginal gain and has it actually forced people away from the office? One of the things we could argue is that for 10 years before the pandemic, it wasn’t really working. And we’re still now talking about adding more, more services, more amenities, more work settings. Is that actually the right thing to do at all?

I think it’s time to pause and say, maybe what we need to do is integrate the workplace far more with the urban community where a lot of these services and amenities are already provided, and probably start stripping the workplace down. Actually making sure that what’s provided in the workplace is targeted, specific, and what we do, we do it extremely well. We should narrow the range of what the workplace offers instead of continually increasing it.

Sandra

A lot of truth to what you’re saying, and I completely agree. The point that you made about the value of being together—you hear dialogue every day about incentivizing people to come back to the office, how it’s going to be about having great amenities and services, anything you can add to the experience to try to get people to come back, but really, it begs the question, who ultimately is it that decides on the value of being together?

I think that it ultimately comes down to the individual. If I’m going to wake up today and make a decision about whether I’m going to go into the office today, it’s got to have a value that’s meaningful to me. There’s a lot of discussion around the fact of the value also having to be meaningful to the team. Because obviously we’re not all operating in a bubble, so there has to be the team benefit as well.

I recently had a conversation with someone around the fact that businesses (or at least it feels like) want to still have a significant amount of control over how people work. How people come together, collaborate, all of that. I’ve been working from home for large organizations for a number of years, working with national companies here in Canada where the team is scattered throughout the country or even, when I was working at CBRE, across the world. And there is no overarching hand reaching in saying ok, this is how you’re going to collaborate, and you’re going to come to the office and you’re going to do this and that. I sat back and looked at how the team actually functioned – it actually worked really well. People just figured it out.

It’s mindboggling to me that companies’ HR and Facilities are trying to basically put structure around something that I think doesn’t really need structure. When we look at the future of work and flexibility and all that entails—it doesn’t need structure. It needs the flexibility for people to make the decision on their own. It’s almost like you’re using that old way of thinking about the workplace and trying to now bring that into this virtual world or this flexible world— that doesn’t really work. It feels like there’s a bit of a fear of letting go, that something horrible is going to happen if people suddenly start making decisions on their own. Are you seeing the same thing? What are your thoughts?

Neil

I do think it’s down to personal decision. I’ve had two years to sit and think about how I work, it’s not a surprise that we’ve become personally focused in this time. And I don’t think we’ve ever really had a difficulty working with our own team. Most teams have been very responsibly self-organized and have known when to get together and how to do that in the last couple of years.

However, I think once you start to get outside of the area of our own team, that’s where we start to get into interesting territory. What’s the cumulative effect of all of our personal decisions on when where and how to work, on the way that the rest of the organization hangs together and also how we relate to those people outside the organization? Working with a number of clients, I see a very strong focus on the team, and when they’ve been allowed to be together physically in the same space, they’ve taken those opportunities.

What hasn’t been happening is that inter-team interaction—when teams work with other teams. Not just individuals within their own team. And this isn’t about people making new connections necessarily, because in a way, social technologies can introduce new connections. But actually, the missing piece is the layer between those two, which is where teams need to be, whether it’s digitally or physically, co-located and working closely together. That takes us beyond the realm of individual preference. When we used to look at the way teams were organized in an office space, we used to think about adjacencies. We thought about the benefit of people being in close physical proximity, we were aware of what the Allen Curve told us—it was very instructive in terms of physical distance being a barrier. But what we’re actually finding with random occupation of space, and people just going into a physical space when they decided to do that, is that a lot of that inter-team working and those inter-team relationships are not happening.

So how do we resolve that? Do we resolve it through a lot more messaging and self-organizing and people actually taking those initiatives? One of the things that I think has been fascinating in this period is the extra amount of administration we’ve all been subject to, to make sure that these sorts of interactions happen. Or can we use the technology to make sure that these inter-team relationships have an opportunity to thrive? That is how organizations really work. It’s not just individuals in their own teams. We’ve become insular. It’s about how those teams interact together. These are relationships that already exist. These are relationships that need developing and nurturing, rather than new relationships.

So, I think we’ve got several strata to think about. And it’s not just all about us. It’s about everyone else in our organization and how we interact with those people. When we were brought into an organization, it was on the basis that we were missing pieces of a jigsaw. I think we have to re-understand what that jigsaw is all about.

Sandra

Thinking about what you were saying about adjacencies and going through that process to understand who worked with who pre-pandemic and thinking about space planning and how you figure out the teams, especially if you had business units and departments—you have companies that are moving away from that. They’re looking at it more from a neighborhood perspective with drop-in centers where you don’t have boundaries per se of team areas. There are companies that are experimenting with that. I’ve had a few conversations in the past around what would make you want to go back to the office, and the responses were, it’s not so much a random decision, it’s much more orchestrated. I need to coordinate who I’m going to meet with or who’s at the office, because that might be a value to me to be there.

I think the piece that’s been an eye-opener has been the ability to make connections with people. So rather than, as you’re saying, throwing stuff in the office, how do you make it known to people who is actually in the office? Obviously visibility is still something that’s important to some people. But there’s also the consideration about learning and mentoring and all of these different things that go beyond your typical team. You work with your team every day, but then you might have an interest in working in a different department or working on a different team, or maybe there’s a project that’s going on that’s of interest to you, or you want to learn from different people.

How do you bring that kind of information forward so that you have visibility on that? I think that even in an in-person workplace environment, that’s always been somewhat hidden. People didn’t really share that information, you basically were in your own little siloed team. People talked about working together, but it always came back to, you work within your own nucleus of your team, and it was rare for you to really stretch out into other areas of the organization.

With this way of working, there’s higher value for organizations to share that kind of information more openly. So, sharing projects that the organization is working on, who’s leading them, different things that are happening within the organization where you might get natural gravitation from people towards certain things because of their interests. I think that’s where innovation and creativity and greater engagement will happen, because people might have other interests and learning experiences and opportunities that they might want to engage with. In the virtual world we tend to be stuck working on our projects and doing our initiatives, and it’s very hard to then tap into other projects and things that might be happening, unless you’re aware of them. There’s a need for increasing awareness, and how do you create that, when you’ve got some people in the office and some that are not there?

Neil

That’s where a really effective and effectively-used enterprise social networks come to the fore. They’re not just a chat forum. Most of the time you think of an enterprise social network as just being a messaging service, but actually the information stored within them, around peoples careers, interests, experience, other ongoing activities, can be vitally used. I would like to think in the last couple of years particularly with people being more distributed, that they are more prevalent in organizations than they had been before. But all of those tools need to be invested in by each one of the employees of an organization and they need to buy into that and understand what they’re likely to get out of it, in order for it to be successful. Otherwise, there’s an imbalance where some use it actively and others don’t. So, it’s something that people do have to commit to, across the breadth of an organization to get the most out of it.

Back to one of the points you made about the attendance in the office—we still have this idea that when we exercise that choice to go to the office, that somehow, when the doors open, what we’re going to see is what we saw before the pandemic. Everyone’s going to show up for our benefit. Everyone will be there that we want to see. There’s going to be this huge vibrant lively space that is going to make our commute and time and money all worthwhile. But there might actually be a sort of shock and horror, going through the doors to find that less than a fifth of the people in the organization are there and there are huge tracts of empty space…there’s so little background noise that you can hear every single conversation going on. And you think, I made the effort today to come in to this space and there’s no one here, so why should I bother coming in tomorrow?

So, the idea of critical mass is quite interesting. In physical terms, it means, we keep adding enough material until we have a sustained chain reaction. It basically means we don’t have to intervene anymore. Pre-pandemic, organizations were intervening. They were creating offices and expecting everyone, for most of their time, to be there. Although utilization levels were in generally about 50%, there was far greater dynamism of coming and going. There was every chance, if you were in for most of the week, that you would see most people in an organization, even if fleetingly, you could potentially interact with them and there was energy and life in that space.

What I’m fascinated about is in each organization, what is the point at which they might reach critical mass, as in, they don’t have to intervene anymore and there is enough presence and traction and enough going on in an office to make people, when exercising their personal choice, decide to go in to the office. That’s a challenge our industry hasn’t really faced before. We might have done it in isolated organizations and locations, and there’s always going to be exceptions. But this idea of critical mass is an interesting one for our industry to play with a little. It would conclude that there was enough going on in the office that we, when making our decisions, were happy to exercise that choice to go in, because there was enough going on to make it worthwhile and justifiable. No compulsion, no one’s telling us to go in, and no one’s set out the benefits. There was no list of all the reasons I should go into the office. We just sort of instinctively know it’s good for us. Whether it’s a whole day or part day, whether we use a desk or meeting room, it’s about the actual being there and it’s about the value we’re determining personally from being physically in the same space as other people.

The question for our industry is, will we ever reach that critical mass? Will it require intervention on the part of organizations where they continually add the material, meaning human beings, and continually instruct people to be there? Or do we think we can create workspaces and understand what’s happened and create enough critical mass in our workplaces? I think if we can do that, then that’s a very different situation than the decades that led up to the pandemic.

Sandra

On the point of critical mass, is it relative to the place, or is it critical mass in terms of how we work? Is it about feeling comfortable with whatever this new definition of work is going to be, therefore it’s hands off? Because we’ve heard reports in the last two years of how companies’ productivity levels have gone up, people feel way more productive working from home if they’ve had some flexibility. We’ve also heard the office side of that, where people who don’t have the space at home still rely on some kind of office space in order to remain productive. So obviously, there’s that flex for people to decide what environment they need to be productive, and that obviously we should continue to support that. But it begs the question again, it feels like (because we’re in corporate real estate) the whole critical mass discussion, the whole return-to-office discussion, is very place-centric, versus taking a step back and thinking about the whole concept of work, especially when you have other options that, before the pandemic, were not a consideration.

So, thinking about workplaces and workplace design and companies that establish their brand and their physical place, there was the coolness factor. If you worked for a company that was a great brand, you walked into the space and you felt a sense of pride, of belonging to an organization when you walk in the door. Some other organizations that don’t have that have other things going for them—you walk in and it’s not a showstopper, but there’s something there that has made you want to work for that company.

I’ve also been thinking about the transition we’re going through right now with the Great Resignation, with people changing jobs and reflecting on their lifestyles, reflecting on what they want for themselves and what work means to them. This begs the question again, what is that attraction to work? Is it going back to the way it was? Is it something new and different and having more control over it, as an individual to say this is what works for me, and then trying to find an organization that fits the way you want to work? Is it a blend of those two things? That’s the thing that I think is really fascinating about this time. Everyone is so different in terms of their needs, and while there is definitely a requirement for people to work together, because that’s what being a company is all about, the dynamics of how people work together is interesting.

I personally think that a lot of that was taken for granted. There was a workplace, you got a job, the expectation was you went to the workplace to work, and nobody really cared. It was just the way it was done. And suddenly you’ve got the pandemic thrown at you and the workplace is gone, and it’s sink or swim. It’s interesting to see how the physical place is going to fit into the future of work because of all the things we talked about. So how do you incentivise people, what is the value of people coming back, what is the purpose of the place vs the purpose of people coming together regardless of where that actually happens.

Neil

I think we can sort of unpack that a little. You were talking about productivity—I think we’ve pretty much cracked productivity in the last couple of years. We’ve learned a lot about it at a subjective level—you said “feel” productive. That’s whether I think I’m being productive. I had a list of things to do, and I’ve ticked every one of them off. And I’m ready for tomorrow. Cause realistically, we spend half our time doing stuff and the other half of that time changing stuff. Because everything that we do today that enables us to be productive was yesterday’s innovation. Someone came up with a process or a technology or a tool or a way of working, that was all done to enable us to be productive today. Organizations have miraculously learned to start measuring their own productivity in the last couple of years, because we’ve got much better measures of productivity at an objective level. Not just “feeling’ productive, but the organization is producing more, or doing more of what it does.

So, then we start to think about the use of the physical space. A lot of the reason that we become or feel more productive is that we’re not commuting, we haven’t got all those interruptions, the usual things that we’ve explored ad infinitum in the last couple of years. But a couple of things happened recently that were useful that help with this. One was a client of mine who said, I just can’t fit a day’s work into a day in the office anymore. A great statement, but actually the response I had to him was, could you ever do that, really? Perhaps what I was saying was that we could never quite be productive enough, and a lot of our frustration about being in the office all day every day is we have things to do, and because of the people we bumped into and all the requests and things that have gotten in the way, somehow we ended up doing half of the things we set out to do and we came home with another half as many again to do tomorrow.

So we were constantly feeling like we were catching up, we were never in a position to get on top of it. Hence people working at home on a Friday which became quite a thing, because they could finally take a breath and catch up and they could be super productive on a Friday, and get through the stuff they didn’t get done during the week. So that pattern was pretty well established. We spend four days getting ourselves behind and then a day catching up.

So, we actually had the clues to how this was going to pan out during the pandemic, well before the pandemic. It wasn’t a big surprise—hey, we can be more productive at home. Thankfully we’ve got technologies like Teams and Zoom to help in that respect, but we kind of already knew that. So now, when we think about physical space as opposed to just working in our own personal or digital space, I’m not sure where it came from, but there’s this idea that instead of putting on our Out of Office when we’re not going to be there, we actually put on our In Office. Because when we’re in the office, we’re not going to be as productive. Don’t expect I’m going to respond to the emails because I’m busy being with other people.

We’ve actually flipped that completely. What we’re actually saying now is, don’t expect a response if I’m here with other people because we’re doing the sort of stuff that I can’t do when I’m at home. Actually, our In Office days are not likely to be productive in the sense of ticking things off a list. Doing jobs. Doing things that need to be done. They’re going to be important discussions and they’re going to be unimportant discussions but they might sow the seeds of something in the future, we just don’t know that at the time. It’s an investment not just in the present but in the future. Because potentially this is where some of these innovations will come from.

Now, that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to innovate when we’re not in the office, because I think that’s true as well. We’re just saying there’s going to be a lower level of productivity when we’re in that physical space, but we’re going to be getting something else out of it that we don’t get when we’re busy being productive working out of the office. So, the balance is absolutely vital. But as I say, we kind of had the clues to that balance well before COVID. There are a number of organizations who are far more mature in that sense, far more used to that balance, and they didn’t let people save it all up for Friday. I’m convinced that’s why Friday working at home became such a thing, because we weren’t as efficient as we wanted to be during the week and we needed some time to regather ourselves effectively.

All we’re saying now is we’re just moving that dial a little bit, and giving ourselves a bit more time, so that we’re not saving it all up, because if something happened on Friday, we’d start the following week at a real disadvantage if we’re not careful. And we don’t want to spend all weekend catching up either. It’s supposed to be getting some sleep and having some fun.

So realistically, what we’re back to again is balance, in all of these things. It’s balancing face time with time alone, it’s balancing being physically present with people with spending time away from people. All of those things are just as important. Back to what we were saying earlier, if we just leave it up to our own personal preference and not thinking about those concentric circles and relationships and other people within our organization, and we’re just purely relying on our own personal choices, are some of those relationships going to be developed? Are some of those new relationships going to be discovered? Or over time, will all of that erode? We’ll still be exercising that personal preference but in a much smaller sphere. I’ve maintained for a long time that workplace in just about every respect is about balance. I don’t see that being any different now, in the sense of balancing all those aspects of our working lives—it’s absolutely vital.

Sandra

Neil, this has been fantastic. Thank you very much for your time today, I really appreciate the discussion. I learned a lot! Thank you again for your time.

Neil

Thank you for the invitation, and really enjoyed the discussion! Hope we can carry on.

Sandra

Wonderful, thank you!

About the Author

Colour headshot image of Sandra Panara, Director of Workplace Strategy, Relogix
Sandra Panara, Director of Workspace Insights

Sandra has both a deep and wide understanding of Corporate Real Estate and Technology. With over 25 years hands-on experience she is able to apply non-traditional approaches to extract deep learning from the most unsuspecting places in order to drive strategy. She has developed an appreciation for always challenging the status quo to provoke and encourage new ways of thinking that drive continuous improvement and innovation. Sandra believes square pegs can fit into round holes and that the real ‘misfits’ are those environments that fail to adapt. Her expertise ranges broadly from CRE Portfolio Research, Analytics & Insights, Workforce Planning, Space & Occupancy Planning & Workplace Strategy.